IOWA CITY --- One week into spring practices, Lester Erb finds himself in all-too-familiar territory.
The Iowa running backs coach is once again looking for a new leader after a torn anterior cruciate ligament ended the 2012 season for the Hawkeyes’ most experienced running back before it began.
The injury suffered during a non-contact drill in practice Wednesday will likely lead sophomore Jordan Canzeri to take a redshirt season this fall, leaving Erb to yet again seek out a new frontrunner to carry the football for Iowa.
It’s become part of the job description for the 14-year member of the Hawkeye staff, who has seen little stability at the position he coaches since Shonn Greene carried the ball 307 times for 1,850 yards in 2008.
Reasons vary, but in the years since, Erb has watched six Hawkeye running backs leave the program before completing their eligibility and five of those backs had starting experience.
Jeff Brinson opted for a move closer to home after the 2009 season, multiple injuries prompted Jewel Hampton to transfer and off-field situations resulted in Brandon Wegher, Adam Robinson, Mika’il McCall and last year’s rushing leader, Marcus Coker, walking away from Big Ten careers.
And now, an injury removes Canzeri from the mix of possibilities to lead Iowa’s ground game this fall.
Hours before Canzeri suffered his injury in practice, Erb talked about the challenges he has faced coaching the position in recent seasons given the constant turnover.
“I’m getting good practice at it,” Erb said. “The biggest thing, you know, our players are eager to learn and it’s just as a coach, you kind of start over every year anyhow. But, I have had some practice at it.”
The departures leave Iowa green at a position where seven true freshmen have seen action since Greene took his skills to the NFL.
Erb sees some parallels between the players who have left and the youth the Hawkeyes have had at the position.
“We are dealing with 18-, 19-to-22 year-old guys and as you know, 18-to-22-year-olds don’t always make the best decisions,” Erb said.
“As much as we can educate these guys, and Kirk (Ferentz) does a great job of educating these guys on the pitfalls of being a college student, we cannot be with them 24 hours a day. It really comes down to education and hoping guys make good decisions.”
Erb has watched the words of plenty of speakers brought in to talk with the team seemingly go in one ear and out the other of talented young backs.
He finds that to be one of the most frustrating elements of the situation Iowa continues to find itself in.
“It’s an educational process. Whether you are a parent, whether you are a teacher, when your students don’t always get the message, you have to re-evaluate what you’re doing,” Erb said. “That’s something you do all the time as a coach, anyhow, but you have to keep on and continue to try to educate these guys.”
So now, Erb moves forward.
Canzeri carried the ball 31 times last season, including 22 after replacing Coker in the lineup for Iowa’s Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma.
The other two running backs on the Hawkeye depth chart this spring, Damon Bullock and De’Andre Johnson, combined for 28 carries and 99 yards last fall.
Bullock, a sophomore, saw only limited late-season practice time at tailback after working out at slot receiver for the majority of his freshman year.
“He has great vision, real good balance, can catch the ball well and is a little bit faster than people give him credit for,” Erb said. “He’s not going to be a true downhill, punishing runner, but he does have some toughness.”
Iowa’s depth at the position will improve when fall camp begins in August. Two true freshmen, 6-foot-1, 200-pound Greg Garmon of Erie, Pa., and 6-0, 210-pound Barkley Hill of Cedar Falls will add size to the collection of talent at the position, as well.
Erb describes Garmon as more of a slashing-type back who has tough-running skills to go with good speed and he likes the skill and potential he sees in Hill.
He said the potential to play early appealed to both.
“I think it was a big deal for them. Barkley and Greg, they wanted to come in and compete for a spot. I think that was attractive to both,” Erb said.