The Daily Iowan

Hawk running backs eager


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Since Shonn Greene’s departure for the NFL last January, no position on Iowa’s roster has generated more questions, speculation, and general disquiet among the Hawkeye faithful than running back.

The only certainty at this point is that Greene, the 2008 Doak Walker Award-winner, will not be replaced by anyone with notable experience loading furniture.

Aside from Brad Banks’ 2002 Heisman runner-up campaign, Greene’s departure is arguably Iowa’s biggest hole on offense in the past decade. The Hawkeyes are now faced with replacing his school-record 1,850 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns from a year ago.

Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe predicts a committee of young backs will shoulder the bulk of that load in 2009.

“Shonn, I’m not sure you can replace … with just one person. Jewel [Hampton] certainly is a guy who has put himself in position to really help us at the running back position,” O’Keefe said. “There are going to be a lot of young guys there who don’t have the experience. It’s all going to have to sort itself out. But being balanced is going to be the best way for us to do what we want to do.”

All signs point to Hampton, a sophomore, stepping into the starting spot after a solid season as Greene’s understudy. The Indianapolis native scored seven touchdowns in 2008, the most ever by a freshman running back at Iowa. He finished the season with 463 yards on 91 carries — highlighted by a 114-yard, three-touchdown performance at Indiana.

Hampton was hailed as Greene’s replacement shortly after Iowa’s 31-10 win over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, but he missed a considerable amount of spring practice nursing a hamstring injury.

In July, rumors surfaced that Hampton had torn a ligament in his knee but those were doused following a MRI and a statement by Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who said Hampton would be ready to go for the season-opener against Northern Iowa on Sept. 5.

However, at the team’s open scrimmage on Aug. 15, Hampton was not in pads. Ferentz later told the media the young running back had “tweaked” a knee injury and was considered “day-to-day.”

“The great thing about Jewel is he is still a young guy, he’s still learning, and he brings a passion to this game,” running backs coach Lester Erb said. “Which we need at that position. He’s doing a great job, and he’s continuing to get better. If he continues, he has a chance to have a pretty good career.”

With Hampton’s status in limbo heading into the season, focus has shifted to solidifying the pecking order behind him. Although, junior Paki O’Meara is listed as Hampton’s backup, his skill set is highlighted by picking up blitzes and catching passes more than possessing a dominant or dynamic running style, which likely relegates him to third-down back.

Redshirt freshmen Adam Robinson and Jeff Brinson have also emerged as contenders in the Iowa backfield. Either could challenge for the starting spot, especially if Hampton is unable to go at full speed early, but it is still unclear what order O’Meara, Brinson, and Robinson will fall into on the depth chart.

“I think the competition right now is very intense … All of us [have] a good feeling about it, and everything is equal right now,” Brinson said. “Any of us can be in that starting position right now, and we just strive for the best.”