WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — As Akrum Wadley watched, the future of the Iowa ground game wrapped its arms around the football and ran with it Friday night during the Hawkeyes’ first public practice of the spring at Valley Stadium.
Running backs Toks Akinribade and Toren Young believe the future is in good hands.
“We’re pushing each other every day,’’ Akinribade said. “We’re both working to be ready to go this fall and this spring has been good for both of us.’’
Both expect to complement Wadley’s contribution to the Hawkeye offense.
As a known commodity, the senior who rushed for 1,081 yards last season is being withheld from contact this spring.
That puts the ball in the hands of Akinribade and Young and coaches are getting an idea of what both backs are capable of at this point in their careers.
One of Iowa’s primary objectives during the spring is to learn about players like Akinribade and Young, who filled different roles last fall as true freshmen.
Akinribade carried six times for 33 yards last season in a reserve role, while Young redshirted while working with the scout team.
The pair bring slightly different skill sets to the field.
The 6-foot, 208-pound Akinribade shares some of the elusiveness that has made Wadley effective, while the 5-11, 220-pound Young brings more power to the position, reminiscent of how LeShun Daniels performed on his way to topping 1,000 yards on the ground last season.
“At several spots, we are getting some good reps for the younger guys,’’ Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s something we need to accomplish. We need to come out of spring learning more about the guys who haven’t played.’’
Akinribade and Young are learning as well.
“It’s been a good spring,’’ Akinribade said. “It’s given us both a chance to work and improve and that’s what this time of year is about.’’
Young has concentrated on lowering his pad level.
“When I came in, I had a high pad level so being a physical back, you can’t run high if you want to play that way,’’ Young said. “Being on the scout team, I took a couple of hits. Josey (Jewell), Bo (Bower), Desmond (King), Miles Taylor, they taught me. You’ve got to keep those pads down.’’
Those lessons learned on the practice field are guiding Young this spring, much like Akinribade is learning from the game experience he gained last fall.
“It’s a different route for both of us, but he’s a good back and I can do some things, too,’’ Akinribade said. “We’re looking forward to having a chance to help the team.’’
It comes down to being ready to make the most of any opportunities that come their way.
“We saw it last year. It more than one or two backs to win in the Big Ten. We’re going to need three, four guys over the course of the season. That’s just the way it works,’’ Young said.
“We’re all working to put ourselves in a position to be effective in the fall. We’re pushing each other, and I think that’s helping both of us.’’
Akinribade senses that as well and both are learning from Wadley.
“Competition is helping both of us. We’re there for each other, but we’re pushing each other to become better backs and be ready when it is our time,’’ Akinribade said.
“Akrum is showing us what it takes, helping us understand the blocking schemes and where we can expect the defenders to be. He’s helping us both get ready to compete. That’s the great thing about Iowa, the older guys are there for you, always willing to help.’’