IOWA CITY, Iowa — The cat may be out of the bag. At a minimum, Iowa is considering using both running backs Akrum Wadley and Nevada graduate transfer James Butler together at the same time this season.
“What you need to do is have enough language and enough flexibility to move guys around,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said at Iowa media day on Saturday. “Maybe because you are a running back you don’t have to line up in a traditional running back spot. I think we need to be open to guys playing different spots and moving around a little bit and find ways to get them the ball in that manner.”
Ferentz didn’t come out and say it, but don’t be shocked if Wadley, an All-Big Ten third-team rusher, and Butler, an All-Mountain West honorable mention back, play together this season.
Each topped 1,000 rushing yards last season and each is a threat in the receiving game.
The slot qualifies as a non-traditional running back position. It makes a lot of sense to try Butler and Wadley out wide on a team needing to coax production out of a passing game full of young and inexperienced wide receivers.
And if there is anything the first-year offensive coordinator wants, it’s options.
“You can play anyone together,” Ferentz said. “I could see us playing with three running backs on the field. If three running backs are our best option to win a football game we are going to get them on the field somehow. Three guys in the backfield, maybe no guys in the backfield. If we felt like having four receivers on the field was the best thing for us to win, then we’ll find a way to do that.”
Getting Akrum Wadley and James Butler the ball
Ferentz’s comments don’t make headlines at most programs. Iowa isn’t most programs. The Hawkeyes hesitated to use Wadley and fellow 1,000-yard running back LeShun Daniels Jr. in the backfield together last season.
Ferentz, the former offensive line coach and run game coordinator, is trying to tweak the offense. Putting his two running backs together certainly qualifies.
“They are usually pretty good at adjusting, especially if they are going to be getting the ball,” Ferentz said.
Wadley and Butler certainly are.
“I hope so,” said Wadley when asked about he and Butler seeing a larger role in the passing game. “Anything to help the offense.”
Passing game options
Iowa leaned heavily on Wadley last season. He was second on the team with 36 receptions, 315 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns. Butler was just as proficient at Nevada with 381 receiving yards.
The two are similar backs. Wadley holds a reputation for making Big Ten defenders miss. Butler is just as elusive. He leads all returning FBS running backs with 87 forced missed tackles.
Wadley is a little taller at 5-foot-11, but the 5-foot-9, 210-pound Butler outweighs Wadley by 15 pounds. It makes him a more appealing option for third-and-1 situations.
Butler announced his decision to transfer to Iowa on July 4. Wadley didn’t get to see him up close until recently, but already is sold on his playmaking potential.
“He has some good vision and when he gets to the second level he can make cuts,” Wadley said. “Cuts that can’t be coached. He has great hands.”
The hands are what matters. It’s what will allow Ferentz to add a new wrinkle to the offense and use the running backs any way he wants in and out of the backfield.
“We can make plays from any side of the field,” Butler said. “[Running backs] Toren [Young] and Toks [Akinribade] can come in and make plays. You never know. There might be three backs on the field. We’ll see what happens.”
Two seems likely. Three qualifies as wild in these parts.