IOWA CITY — Suddenly, the Iowa football team finds itself no longer running on empty.
Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon remain doubtful for this week’s game, but the emergence of Mark Weisman, the speedy recovery of Jordan Canzeri following ACL surgery and the return of a healthy Mike Malloy has created unexpected depth for the Hawkeyes at the running back position.
Canzeri, who was initially expected to redshirt this season, was medically cleared to play last week but is being eased back into a normal workload in practice.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that Canzeri will see the field this season for the Hawkeyes once he is ready to go.
“I think whoever can help this team win is going to help,” Ferentz said. “I didn’t even allow myself to think about (Canzeri returning) during the course of the summer because I didn’t think it was realistic. Now, it’s just a matter of when he is ready to play.”
And when the sophomore who carried 31 times for 114 yards last season — making him the top returning rusher on the roster — reaches that point, he’ll join a collection of backs who provide Iowa with a variety of styles as they craft a running game.
“That’s the one good thing that comes out of these situations,” Ferentz said. “Other guys do get experience and opportunities.”
Weisman, who is expected to start at running back in Saturday’s 11 a.m. home game against central Michigan, made the most of his chance after Bullock and Garmon exited the Hawkeyes’ win over Northern Iowa last weekend with injuries.
The sophomore walk-on, who had been starting at fullback, responded by rushing for 113 yards on 24 carries while providing Iowa with a physical, north-south approach.
“I ran a few sets at running back in practice last week, and I felt ready when I moved over there,” Weisman said. “Nothing changes now. I’ll prepare this week just like I did last week. When I get on the field, I try to go hard. That’s the only way I know how to play.”
Ferentz said Weisman “added another pitch” to Iowa’s repertoire, but he also was encouraged by what Bullock and Garmon provided before they were sidelined.
Bullock rushed for 77 yards on 13 carries against UNI, helping Iowa establish the run before he was knocked out after a knee-to-helmet collision.
“He was playing more decisively, more confident, and that’s kind of representative of our football team,” Ferentz said. “Hopefully we can get him back quickly and he can build on that. … Garmon’s window was pretty short, but we were happy with the way he stepped in there, too.”
Ferentz labeled the potential for Bullock’s return against Central Michigan as unlikely, but said that Garmon had a “little better chance” of returning this week from the elbow injury he suffered.
Iowa team medical personnel will make decisions on the availability of both over the next couple of days. Ferentz said the Hawkeyes will prepare expecting neither to play Saturday.
“If we get one or both of them back, it will be a bonus,” he said.
Malloy, who did not suit up for the game last week after missing practices all week with an illness, is listed as Weisman’s backup. Ferentz said as long as he stays healthy the freshman from Sioux City Heelan should see his first collegiate action this week.
One back who won’t see the field during games this season is former Northern Iowa running back Andre Dawson, a transfer from Iowa Western Community College.
Ferentz said Dawson is attending Iowa on an academic scholarship, and if he were to play in a game, he would have to forfeit that scholarship.
“It’s a complicated deal,” Ferentz said. “He’s practicing and doing a good job, but we are limited on that one. It’s a rule, NCAA rule.”
* With an important third-down catch against UNI, Jordan Cotton took a step toward claiming the role of a No. 3 receiver that coach Kirk Ferentz said remains up in the air.
“All of our receivers made progress last week. It was good to get things going there and now we can work to build off of that,” Ferentz said.
* Tom Donatell has had interceptions in Iowa’s past two games, and Ferentz said consistency in practice allowed the senior to separate himself from Nico Law as the pair dueled for the starting assignment.
* Fans are organizing a “Green Out” for Saturday’s game, encouraging Hawkeyes fans to wear green to the game to show support for former Hawkeye and Pleasant Valley player Brett Greenwood as he continues his recovery from an anoxic brain injury.
* Several hundred tickets remain for the Central Michigan game and are available through the Iowa athletic ticket office.