IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa typically asks a ton out of its running backs.
The problem is that the Hawkeyes don’t have a ton of proven backs these days — which is why the offseason has been so crucial for the youngsters they hope will be ready by September.
Iowa has a pair of sophomores atop its depth chart, the bruising Toren Young and the speedy Ivory Kelly-Martin. Behind them are redshirt freshman Camron Harrell and Kyshaun Bryan, true freshman Henry Geil and junior college transfer Mehki Sargent.
“Our group is growing a lot,” Young said. “It’s been good just getting to know the other guys and to get to work with those guys. They’re competitive guys, and they’re going to get after it and push each other every day.”
The 5-foot-11, 225-pound Young has just 45 career carries. Yet Young is likely the guy the rest of Iowa’s running backs will be competing against for carries when fall camp opens next month.
Young is about to enter his third season. He has been roughly the same size since arriving on campus and has since been working to get his conditioning up to Big Ten standards.
Young rushed for 193 yards and two touchdowns in relief of seniors Akrum Wadley and James Butler in 2017 and was one of just two redshirt freshmen included in Iowa’s leadership group, typically a key indicator of who coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff think most highly of.
Young said some of the other running backs like to call him the “old man” of the group — even though he’ll be just 20 when the season opens against Northern Illinois on Sept. 1. If Young could prove to be capable and physically mature enough for 15 to 20 attempts a game, second-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s job will likely be a lot easier this fall.
“(Strength) coach (Chris) Doyle puts us through a great program. We’ve got a lot of position-specific stuff that we do,” Young said. “The other part is just taking care of your body.”
Kelly-Martin is also 5-11, but he’s about 25 pounds lighter than Young. Kelly-Martin might be one of the fastest players the Hawkeyes have though, and he rushed for 9.2 yards a carry on just 20 of them last season. Kelly-Martin also looked strong on kickoff returns and as a receiving threat out of the backfield, drawing comparisons to the recently-departed Wadley.
Though the rest of the running backs Iowa has competing for playing time were all highly thought of upon arriving in Iowa City, the competition to back up Young and Kelly-Martin will be a question mark that could stretch into Big Ten play — assuming the Hawkeyes’ top two backs remain healthy.
Iowa’s inexperience at back likely won’t be much of an issue if it can get more of its passing game though.
The Hawkeyes expect to, with talented quarterback Nate Stanley, potential All-American tight end Noah Fant and a host of up-and-coming receivers all back for 2018.
“We know we’ve got to be much better than we were last year,” senior wide receiver Nick Easley said. “I think the younger guys are getting more comfortable and kind of figuring things out.”