IOWA CITY, Iowa — A pop quiz.
Who holds the Iowa football record in the pro agility drill?
LeShun Daniels. Yes, the bruising senior tailback known for running between the tackles is the quickest. He believes his time is 4 seconds flat.
It’s a surprising stat from a running back who’s already revealed a few tricks he held up his sleeve this season, including that speed in a 43-yard touchdown run against Iowa State last week.
A new Daniels is on display, and combine that with a new role and it’s a better situation for the senior and for the Iowa offense.
“You don’t expect big guys to move as well as I do,” Daniels said. “I believe in myself with my speed and quickness. I just have to show it to the team and coaches.”
He’s put his playmaking skills on display through the first two games, rushing for 195 yards and three touchdowns in two games.
Really, this was supposed to be the case last season. Daniels entered 2015 as the feature back. He gained 124 yards against Illinois State before facing Iowa State. He suffered an ankle injury. It derailed his season.
He fell behind running back Jordan Canzeri. He never truly got healthy. He felt better for the Minnesota game in November, but reaggravated his injury a week later against Purdue.
“It wasn’t the same after,” Daniels said.
He hasn’t been either — and it’s a good thing. Daniels worked on his speed and cutting in the offseason. Teammates swear he’s faster this season.
The proof was in his touchdown run against the Cyclones. Once he got to the second level, Daniels outran Iowa State safety Kamari Cotton-Moya to the corner. No defender caught him as he raced down the sidelines.
“I was joking with him you’ll screw up your reputation of being a possession back,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
What Ferentz doesn’t say is that the Hawkeyes wanted him to be more than a plodder. Daniels needed to be more decisive. It’s what running backs coach Chris White repeated in the winter.
“You are a big, strong guy so you don’t have to make the perfect read all the time,” Daniels said White told him. “You just get your pads down and get your pads square you will make yards just by your body type.”
See the hole and go. If there is no hole just lower the shoulder and use his 6-foot, 225-pound frame to get whatever he can. It’s been an effective strategy.
“I am running a lot harder,” Daniels said. “I am not thinking too much about my reads and if there is nothing there I will put my shoulder down and good things will come out of it. I think that’s the main difference between me vs. last year.”
There is more to it. Daniels began last year as the workhorse in the backfield. He could never truly reclaim that job because of health.
He is in a time-share with Akrum Wadley this season and he’s better off for it. Splitting carries is keeping him fresh and can allow him, or Wadley, to be in position to make big plays.
He’s broken free for a 30-plus yard run in both games. He topped the 100-yard rushing mark against Iowa State while Wadley added a 26-yard receiving touchdown and 3-yard rushing score. The back may change, but the production isn’t.
“That definitely helps when you can come in the game and not worry about being tired from going on a 10-play, 12-play drive,” Daniels said. “When we have a guy that we can rotate and we can each go in there and make plays it makes it extremely easy on both of us and the team.”
It all combines in a back making a bigger impact by doing less.
“When he gets the ball he looks for touchdowns,” Iowa cornerback Desmond King said. “That is the first thing in his mind. That is what we need out of our guys, to play the best that they can. We need our best players to play their best at any moment.”
Daniels is doing just that, regardless of how many touches he gets.
“He feels better,” Ferentz said. “(He) is more confident, which ties into being decisive and seeing things better. He is hitting it hard.”
He’s running fast, too. Maybe by the end of the season he won’t need to remind folks no one is faster than the possession back in the pro agility drill.