By Adam Hensley
The running-back position at Iowa is pretty thin right now.
Iowa’s spring roster lists four ball carriers: Toren Young, Ivory Kelly-Martin, Kyshaun Bryan, and Toks Akinribade.
Having just four running backs during spring drills takes some adjusting.
“It’s definitely a little bit harder,” Young said. “More reps in the drills, when you’re doing drill work, your reps are coming a lot faster. But overall, I think it’s been good, though. We’ve been pushing each other.”
Regardless, the spring season stands as a time in which Iowa needs to develop its ball carriers, especially those without significant playing time. Of the tailback quartet, only Young and Kelly-Martin touched the football last season.
Iowa typically has that one veteran leader in the running-back group — this past season, the Hawkeyes relied on Akrum Wadley, and the year before that, LeShun Daniels was that guy — but this season is different.
Young is that guy, the leader of the position, while only a redshirt sophomore.
“I have more responsibility. I got the younger guys looking up to me now …” Young said. “It’s a good feeling, though, to be in that position. I’m excited.”
Young said that as one of the leaders, he needs to set the tone and show his fellow tailbacks that Iowa “runs the ball hard” and “handles [its] business a certain way.”
Running-back coach Derrick Foster praised Young for his leadership and also included Kelly-Martin’s name among players who have stepped up in the early moments of spring ball.
“I think both those guys give great effort in their attitudes of knowing and coming in every day ready to go to work,” Foster said. “Those are two guys that I can use for example … that take from the film, to drills, to the field. Those are the things we talk about in our meetings.”
Last year, Young ran for 193 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Kelly-Martin ran for 184 and three scores and also saw action in the kickoff game, averaging 21.3 yards on 21 returns. He also caught a touchdown pass.
But Young is the face of the running-back group, and Foster wants to see him make a leap in leadership.
“Toren being a leader of the room, and I lean on him a lot to make sure that he manages the room as a player,” Foster said. “I try to give those guys some accountability, and he’s the one I look for to make sure he takes on that role … he’s way ahead of his years.”
Hooker, from safety to … linebacker?
It’s been noted that during Iowa’s offseason of the potential for some of the defensive backs to move up to provide linebacker help this season.
Amani Hooker, listed as Iowa’s No. 1 strong safety in spring ball, said that if he’s asked to play some linebacker, he’s up for the task.
“If they do it, they do it. I’m just going to take my role and play it the best I can,” he said. “I can play the run well and can cover in space, so whatever the coaches tell me.”
Hooker noted that he’d stay at his current weight of 210 pounds even if he transitioned to a linebacker-safety hybrid position.