Spring Central: Iowa RBs are Greene-less, but talented
April 3, 2009
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- If you thought Shonn Greene was a rags-to-riches story last fall for the University of Iowa football program, what about the roller coaster ride for Greene's position coach, Lester Erb? After instructing wide receivers for eight seasons, Erb was reassigned to running backs coach in 2008.
The year before, the Hawkeyes graduated running backs Albert Young and Damian Sims, who combined for 4,677 career rushing yards and 36 touchdowns. That left wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos -- with 19 yards on two carries -- as the leading returning ground-gainer.
"I had never coached running backs before, so making the adjustment was exciting," Erb said. "I embraced it and looked forward to it going into the season. It was new, the guys were new and working with a different group of guys is always fun and enjoyable."
"It was a group that worked real hard and enjoyed playing the game," Erb said. "You knew what you were getting every day you went out there, so that was exciting."
If the transition to coaching a new position wasn't enough stress for Erb, he also had to deal with filling some pretty big shoes. The previous Hawkeye running backs coach was Carl Jackson, who had spent 22 seasons on the UI coaching staff.
The thunderous emergence of Greene is part of Hawkeye lore. The 235-pound bull rushed for 1,850 yards and 20 touchdowns and won the Doak Walker Award, given annually to the nation's best running back. Iowa finished 26th in the nation, averaging 188.69 rushing yards per game.
"The great players don't come along a whole lot in your coaching career," Erb said. "I was fortunate enough to coach Shonn and he was tremendous. People see what he does every Saturday on the field, but the great thing about Shonn was the leadership he gave not only to the running backs throughout the year, but to the entire team. It was a great, great experience."
Hawkeye fans won't see Greene's return to the Kinnick Stadium turf in the fall, but they might notice a similar effort level. Erb said several current Iowa players learned valuable lessons from role-model Greene.
"You're always going to graduate experienced guys and pretty good leadership," Erb said. "One of the things I believe the running backs have taken away from Shonn is the way he practiced every day and the way he worked at the game. His toughness has rubbed off on a couple of the guys, too."
Last season freshman Jewel Hampton rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns, followed by O'Meara with 62 yards and two scores. Murphy had seven yards on seven carries. The Hawkeyes return two experienced fullbacks in Brett Morse and Wade Leppert. Morse started nine times during the season and Leppert had four starts, including the Outback Bowl, where the 9-4 Hawkeyes dismantled South Carolina, 31-10.
"It's been pretty consistent in the effort that they're giving out there," Erb said. "Jewel's been hampered a little bit by a hamstring early on. It's exciting because you have Paki who has played a little bit and done a tremendous job on special teams. We have two fullbacks with starting experience -- both young guys working hard. We're getting a great look at (redshirt freshman) Jeff Brinson. It's been a productive spring and we'll see who emerges."
For the second consecutive spring, the UI running back position has merited a lot of discussion and speculation. The theme from the 2008 season might have been, `Don't judge in March, judge in November.' The same can be repeated now.
"At least this year we have a little bit of experience," Erb said. "Paki has played, Jewel has played, Jayme has been on the field and Jeff Brinson's a guy we want to get a look at. There is youth, but there is also experience. It gives us some leadership which is maybe a little more than we had a year ago at this time."
Click this link to view an exclusive 27-image photo gallery from Friday's practice.
The Hawkeyes will participate in the seventh of 15 practices Saturday morning. The final day of spring practice is Saturday, April 18, and Iowa's season-opener will be Saturday, Sept. 5, against Northern Iowa.