Backfield bureau

Iowa embraces crowded room of talented RBs

AP PHOTO - University of Iowa junior running backs Toren Young, from left, Mekhi Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin pose for a photo during the team’s college football media day Friday in Iowa City.

IOWA CITY — The Iowa football team’s offensive backfield set itself up for a head-scratching offseason. Junior running backs Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin each found success at different points last season, but with all three healthy, the question remains as to how the Hawkeyes will utilize their talented triumvirate.

Kelly-Martin was originally listed as the starter entering 2018, but the speedy back only appeared in eight games. However, Kelly-Martin totaled 419 yards with four touchdowns. From there Young and Sargent both put up respectable numbers as Young rushed for 637 yards and five touchdowns while Sargent led the team with 745 yards and nine touchdowns.

Kelly-Martin brings speed, Sargent brings elusiveness and clear vision that heightens his pass-catching ability and Young, who is looked at as the leader of the group, brings most of the power. The current blueprint for the trio of running backs is to plan by committee and go with the hot hand.

“My biggest concern there is I know we are going to need all of them,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “We told all three of them, individually and as a group, that we need everybody. It’ll be all hands on deck at some point and certainly as an offense, if our best grouping is having multiple guys on the field at once, then we’re prepared to do that.”

For running back coach Derrick Foster, a major difference and key that will play a role is the amount of experience each of the running backs share.

“You have another year of experience of guys that have been here that understand the schematics of what we’re trying to get done,” Foster said. “We were a little younger at that position and what I mean by that is those guys didn’t have as many built-in reps, game-like built-in reps, as you would like. Now I think we’ve put together a full season where they have learned from those mistakes and learned that they can capitalize off of opportunities if you give them the chance.”

For Sargent, his experience has simply made him more comfortable with the program a year after transferring from Iowa Western Community College.

“Coming in out of community college was a learning curve,” Sargent said. “I feel like I had to take it upon myself to do the extra things such as watching films and taking notes and applying these things to practice and in the game. It wasn’t easy. Last year I came on playing straight off talent and you can’t do that at this level. You have to actually know the game and how to read the field.”

Aside from experience, unselfishness in the running back room has not exactly been a point emphasis, but rather placing emphasis on each of the key contributions.

“We’ve got good depth in the running back room and I think that really helps with the run game because we all have different styles and different things we bring to the table,” Young said. “You never know going into a game what style may be most ideal where just the ability to switch some things up [would make the difference]. We might go with some speed here for a second and then switch it up and hit them with some power. There are some different things we can do. We are all aware that we have different roles in the backfield.”

The other main mentality is making sure each running back is making each carry count, but also staying prepared for their moment.

“My biggest worry is that we don’t have enough good players,” Ferentz said. “I worry about that in any spot and we have gone into years where I feel like we have a pretty good running back room and three weeks into the year we are trying to figure out who is going to carry the ball for us. You can never have too many good players. I feel like those guys have the right attitude and they are working the right way.”