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Pat Harty: Don’t waste Bullock’s talent. Try him in the slot

[ 0 ] March 26, 2014 |

Damon Bullock’s role with the Iowa football team could change this spring.

That’s a good thing.

Iowa running back Damon Bullock. ((Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register)

Iowa running back Damon Bullock. ((Bryon Houlgrave/The Des Moines Register)

With the possibility of having nine running backs on scholarship next season, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz sounds receptive to the idea of moving Bullock from running back to slot receiver, or at least expanding his role.

“He can do that,” Ferentz said Wednesday of Bullock playing in the slot. “I’m not a receiver coach or backfield coach. But some guys just are a little bit more adept at doing things that you don’t have to explain the ABCs quite to the same extent. And some guys aren’t as fluent doing it. But he’s always done that pretty fluently, and he handles it mentally, too. It’s not an issue for him. I think that’s something he can certainly do.”

Bullock should encourage the switch. Why use him as the third or fourth option at running back when he has shown that he can play receiver? The Iowa coaches moved Bullock from running back to receiver early in his career, but he switched back to running back in response to a shortage of backs.

The fact that Bullock was asked to move to receiver shortly after becoming a Hawkeye is a testimony to his catching ability. He also combined for 38 catches over the last two seasons while playing running back.

So with spring practice being the time to experiment, let’s see what the 6-foot, 200-pound Mansfield, Texas, native can do as a receiver. We’ve seen enough of Bullock over the past two seasons to know what he can do as a running back.

He’s made some nice contributions as a running back — he rushed for a career-high 150 yards against Northern Illinois in his first career start in 2012 — but hasn’t solidified himself as the starter, instead playing more of a support role behind fellow senior-to-be Mark Weisman.

And now there is junior Jordan Canzeri to consider. Canzeri came on strong at the end of last season and is listed ahead of Bullock on the spring depth chart, which was released Wednesday. Canzeri and Weisman are listed as the co-starters at running back, while Bullock and 215-pound sophomore-to-be LeShun Daniels are listed as the co-back-ups.

Throw in sophomore-to-be Barkley Hill, redshirt freshmen Akrum Wadley and Jonathan Parker and incoming freshmen Markel Smith and C.J. Hilliard, and the Hawkeyes are knee-deep in running backs.

Bullock would bring more physicality to the receiver position because of his experience as a running back. You don’t rush for 1,000 yards in a career like Bullock has without being physical.

And it’s reasonable to think that he would help to improve Iowa’s ability to gain yards after making catches. That’s been a problem for Iowa’s receivers recently.

So put Bullock in space this spring and see what he can do as a slot receiver. He could always switch back to running back if he struggles or if injuries start to mount.

It just seems like a waste of talent to have so many running backs competing for the same playing time, especially when Bullock is versatile enough to make the switch.

Ferentz also should consider using the 236-pound Weisman more at fullback this spring to get him on the field at the same time as Canzeri or Daniels — and with Bullock if he’s playing in the slot.

Last year’s Iowa team (8-5) doubled its win total from the previous season thanks partly to an improved offense. But the Iowa offense under the direction of junior quarterback Jake Rudock is still very much a work in progress.

The addition of four redshirt freshman receivers could be beneficial, but they’re still unproven at this level.

Bullock isn’t.

So at least give it a try.

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Category: Big Ten, Hawkeye news, 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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