Tyler Goodson and Ivory Kelly-Martin are the veterans in Iowa’s running backs room.
But the keys to the position group this season might be the two redshirt freshmen — Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams.
Goodson rushed for 762 yards last season and is poised for a 1,000-yard year. Kelly-Martin has been a multiple-use back throughout his career, but is coming off a knee injury at the end of last season.
It’s a position that needs depth, and the younger players are going to get their carries.
Gavin Williams played in one game last season, with eight carries for 28 yards. Leshon Williams didn’t get a carry, but had more than 3,500 rushing yards in his high school career.
Both backs got significant time in the spring with Kelly-Martin still recovering from his offseason surgery. That made a difference in their improvement.
“They’ve probably had the biggest growth (in the offseason),” running backs coach Ladell Betts said. “They had the most learning curve, so to speak, than the older guys. Now that they have a familiarity with the offense, their talents start to take hold. You’re not thinking anymore. You get a chance to go play, and react. And you can see the talent they have.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has been similarly pleased.
“The two younger guys have both done a nice job,” Ferentz said. “Gavin (Williams) has done a good job, and Leshon (Williams) is one of the guys. We're early into it right now, but he caught our eye in the spring. He's better in pads than he is in shorts, quite frankly, which the game gets played in pads. That's a good thing for him. He's off to a good start this camp thus far.”
Goodson had 143 carries in eight games last season. The Hawkeyes lost Mekhi Sargent, who had 76 carries in 2020, which means there is playing time available to ease Goodson’s workload.
But Goodson is poised for a busier season.
“You know, he's a good player,” Ferentz said. “He's already shown that and demonstrated that, but he practices really well. He's got a good energy, good effort. Just everything he does is quality. So that sets such a good example and on top of it makes him a better player. He's more experienced now. He's a little bigger, a little stronger, probably in a little better condition than he would have been as a young guy.”
Kelly-Martin is a versatile back who has fit into different roles for the Hawkeyes throughout his career.
“We were very cautious with him through the spring and summer, but he seems to be at full speed right now and really doing well,” Ferentz said.
Monte Pottebaum returns at fullback, which has always been a key position in Ferentz’s offense. It’s a position used mostly for blocking, but Pottebaum had three pass receptions and one carry last season.
The Hawkeyes used Goodson some in the “wildcat” formation last season, and it’s something that will probably get used more this season.
Betts, of course, wasn’t going to commit to giving out any information.
“I’m not going to disclose any of that,” he said, laughing. “I saw some tape of that last year, (Goodson) ran it pretty well. Who knows? Maybe we’ll run it again.”