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Harty: Canzeri redshirting was a plus for Hawkeyes

[ 0 ] April 26, 2013 |

Even without playing last season, running back Jordan Canzeri represents one of the few things that went right for the Iowa football team in 2012.

It went right simply because Canzeri didn’t play.

He saved a season of eligibility by redshirting, making him a third-year sophomore for this coming season instead of a junior.

He also gave his once-injured knee more time to heal and his competitive fire more time to burn.

Canzeri is now fully recovered and the third piece to an intriguing puzzle at running back. He has been listed behind juniors Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock on the depth chart throughout spring practice, which concludes with a scrimmage on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. But it’s widely assumed that Canzeri will get his chance to contribute next season because he is too talented to leave on the sideline.

“Obviously, we all would like to have that starting position,” Canzeri said Wednesday at a press gathering. “But to know that we’re all working really hard for it and that there are several guys that are capable of having that position, it just makes you more confident in yourself and the team that you can be out there doing what you’re doing. And if something happens to you, you’ve got a person that you can rely on to do the same job.”

It’s hard not to be excited about Iowa’s situation at running back, although, you risk being disappointed, considering the bizarre stretch of attrition that has rocked the position under head coach Kirk Ferentz. Running back has been considered a position of strength many times before, only to have it decimated by injuries, disciplinary issues and player defections during the course of a season.

So the best thing for fans is take it one day at a time and hope that everybody stays healthy and stays out of trouble, and that Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis can devise a plan to use his three-headed attack in more ways than just by rotating them.

All three have shown they can carry the load, especially Weisman and Bullock, who rushed for 815 and 513 yards, respectively, last season. Canzeri has only started one game, but it came against Oklahoma in the 2011 Insight Bowl. He held his own as a true freshman with 58 rushing yards and 28 receiving yards.

What none of the three have shown so far, though, is the ability to stay healthy for an entire season. The situation became so dire last season that Canzeri almost has to shed his redshirt in the ninth game against Indiana.

Weisman already was out with an injury. So the plan was to ride Bullock from start to finish and only use Canzeri in an emergency. The emergency almost happened after Bullock twisted his knee while being tackled. He limped off the field, but returned a few plays later.

“The Indiana game I was actually told to get ready and get warmed up,” Canzeri said. “So I was mad with the injuries that I had. But I did get excited because, obviously, I had waited for so long to be able to step on to that field.

“But again, it was good to see Damon get back up. He was fine the next couple of plays. It was still hard to be so close to playing. But I understand why I wasn’t. So I was fine.”

Canzeri would’ve made a huge sacrifice if he had played that day. He would’ve given up eight games of his college career in order to help his team in a desperate situation.

A rumor persisted during the first half of last season that Canzeri was being prepared to play in the next game. The rumor eventually faded because it didn’t make sense to play Canzeri after the midway point of the season.

“Once I was 100 percent, I was pretty excited at the beginning of the season that I would still have a chance to play,” Canzeri said. “But after the first couple of games, I knew that I was ready if I had to go in. But I wished it wouldn’t happen and I hoped that it wouldn’t happen because it would be due to injuries.”

Canzeri appeared in seven games as a true freshman in 2011, capped by his extended duty in the Insight Bowl. He had momentum heading into spring practice last year, but then suffered a major knee injury in one of the first practices.

He was devastated by the injury, but Canzeri has since turned it into a positive.

“I just feel that all that has made me stronger mentally and physically just to be able to go through the rehab and come back even faster and be 100 percent now,” said Canzeri, who is a native of Troy, N.Y. “With spring being here and to be able to work with the team has just been real exciting.”

Much will be expected from Iowa’s running game next season, especially if the passing attack continues to sputter. In addition to providing proven depth, Canzeri, Weisman and Bullock all have contrasting running styles to make Iowa more versatile. The 236-pound Weisman is the bruiser, while Bullock and Canzeri are more dangerous in space.

“It’s really great since we’re all pretty diverse and since we’re all capable of having that starting position,” said the 5-foot-9, 192-pound Canzeri. “Mark is big, but he’s really fast. So is Damon and so am I.”

As for the attrition at running back, Canzeri said the players on the team look at it differently than some of the fans, who wonder and joke about a curse.

“We don’t talk about it in the way that other people do speaking about the bad luck and all that,” Canzeri said. “But we’ll talk about the guys before us because they were all great guys.

“We’ll have students come up to us and make jokes about the running back God and the back luck and all that stuff. And we just laugh about it because we don’t believe it and we’re not going to and it’s definitely not going to be like that next season.”

You hope that’s true because the Iowa running backs certainly deserve some good luck. And the team certainly needs them to be effective.

Reach Pat Harty at 339-7368 or pharty@press-citizen.com

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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