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Bullock bringing backs up to speed
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Flip through the pages of the University of Iowa football team's media day press guide and you'll see a list of offensive positions garnering preseason honors. Quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, and center—all with Hawkeyes on national watch lists.
But locally the focus is on the Iowa backfield, where sophomore Damon Bullock shares the top spot on the preseason depth chart.
Bullock registered just 10 carries last season, but that was seven more than Brad Rogers, his co-No. 1, recorded as a sophomore last year. The Hawkeyes' lack of ball-handling experience is why head coach Kirk Ferentz is quick to say the current depth chart lives in a state of constant change, but it's also an opportunity not lost on Bullock.
"I just need to focus on what I have to do," Bullock says when asked what it's going to take to stay on top of the depth chart. "My job on every single play is to protect the quarterback and hang on to the ball. It's the simple things."
Doing the simple things will keep Bullock on the field, but utilizing his versatility could make him a dangerous asset. Bullock split time between receiver and running back last year as a true freshman. He also saw both sides of Iowa's special teams, averaging 21.5 yards on two kickoff returns and picking up a solo tackle against Tennessee Tech in his college debut.
"My best assets are probably running the ball, catching, blocking, everything. I consider myself a complete back," says Bullock. "I'm a versatile guy who can catch the ball. You can put me outside at receiver or put me back at running back where I can protect the quarterback, run the ball, and carry it like my life is depending on it."
On top of his obvious football ability, this season Bullock started wearing a new hat off the field. As a sophomore veteran amongst a group of position players that features four true freshmen, Bullock has also taken on the role of mentor.
Ferentz has indicated the backfield position is an open competition. He's also said Iowa has candidates capable of doing the job, but the game simulation in practice isn't always indicative of how certain players will perform in games, and Bullock wants to make sure the entire group is prepared to help the Hawkeyes on game day.
"All of the freshmen have potential," says Bullock. "Part of my job is just trying to help them out along the way. We're a team, and we don't want to leave anybody behind. It's not just a single man's game, so whoever can help the team, we're trying to help them as much as we can."
In addition to Bullock and Rogers, who is also listed as the first team fullback, the Hawkeyes competing for carries include sophomore Andre Dawson, true freshmen Greg Garmon, Barkley Hill, Michael Malloy, and Nate Meier, and sophomore Jordan Canzeri, whose status is uncertain after tearing an ACL during spring practice.
Dawson has yet to record a carry for the Hawkeyes, and no true freshman has ever led the Hawkeyes in rushing yards in a single season, so history indicates the majority of the workload will fall on Bullock and Rogers.
"Everybody looks pretty good right now, but you'd expect that," says Ferentz. "Over the course of time usually the picture becomes a little bit clearer, and then the other obvious part of it, and the most important part of it, is how players perform in games.
"That's something you can't simulate in practice. It's a different arena, certainly, so the first hurdle is going to be what do we get done in camp, and who looks the best. We'll try to get that lined up correctly and see how they respond once we go to Chicago and that'll be the next phase."
Bullock shares his coach's sentiment, but he's also ready to be the guy who has his number called in the season opener.
"I can say that I'm ready," says Bullock, "but we have a lot of running backs on this team who are ready as well. We're going to all work hard during camp and we'll see (who gets the carries) Sept. 1 against Northern Illinois University."