Iowa ready to tackle familiar RB obstacle

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri was scheduled to undergo knee surgery Wednesday, reducing an already thin position group from three to two.

"Hopefully, it will go well, and hopefully, he'll be cleared somewhere in the fall," Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz told ESPN.com. "But I don't think we can count on him next year. We're going to do what's best for him, first and foremost. We have to go on as if he weren't here."

Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, it's a situation they know all too well. But it's also a situation they've handled remarkably well in recent years.

Despite having little to no proven depth at running back since 2008, the Hawkeyes have had a rusher finish in the nation's top 60 in each of the past three seasons.

It could happen again this fall. Damon Bullock and De'Andre Johnson both are drawing good reviews from Ferentz and new offensive coordinator Greg Davis through the first five spring practices.

"I'll probably jinx 'em," Davis told ESPN.com, "but they have not left the ball on the ground yet."

Iowa fans aren't too worried about that kind of jinx regarding the running backs. They'll be happy just having both Bullock and Johnson healthy and on the roster come September.

With heralded freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill joining the mix this summer, perhaps a featured back will emerge.

"We've had experience doing it for sure," Ferentz said. "We'll keep bringing those guys along, and when the new guys get here, we'll throw them in there as fast as we can."

Although Iowa wants to maintain its core beliefs of the power run and zone blocking, it's pretty clear the offense will trend more toward the pass under Davis. Senior quarterback James Vandenberg returns, and while All-Big Ten wideout Marvin McNutt departs, he'll have some weapons at wide receiver (Keenan Davis, Kevonte Martin-Manley) and tight end (C.J. Fiedorowicz, Zack Derby). The no-huddle will be a part of the scheme, and Iowa will try and stretch the field.

Like many, Vandenberg can't believe the misfortune that has plagued Iowa at running back, calling it "pretty crazy, actually." He also understands that the uncertainty in the backfield requires everyone else to elevate their play.

"Everybody realizes that we need to pick it up, as well as bring them along," he said. "You can't have 10 guys out there doing the right thing, and one guy doing something different because that messes it all up. So we're just making sure we're bringing them along and giving them confidence."

New offensive line coach Brian Ferentz has challenged his group to help make the running backs' job as easy as possible.

"We had an unfortunate injury with Jordan," said center James Ferentz, Brian's younger brother. "Brian just said no matter who's back there, it's our job to make sure there's holes and that we're making the way for that guy, whoever it is, to get 100 yards a game.

"Because if we can't do that, we're not going to win many games."