IOWA CITY - Wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos is one of the most charismatic and popular players on the University of Iowa football team. He is also its leading returning rusher with a not-so-whopping statistical line of two carries for 19 yards. That isn't a fact that dampens UI assistant coach Lester Erb's outlook.
Erb paused at the end of preseason training camp to share his thoughts. Those feelings ranged from what could be a pleasantly surprising group of running backs to improving upon successful Hawkeye special teams.
If Erb's postcamp comments are any indication, look for junior Shonn Greene and sophomore Paki O'Meara to see the most repetitions early on at running back. Greene has rushed for 378 yards in his UI career, including a 118-yard effort against Ball State in 2005 and an 88-yard performance against Purdue in 2006. He did not play last season. O'Meara's next rushing attempt will be his first as a collegian.
"We have a great mixture of some older guys with Shonn coming back and Paki O'Meara being around now for his third year," Erb said. "We have a great mix of some older guys and some younger guys who have stepped in and done a great job -- most notably Jewel Hampton, who has really stepped up and done a good job in camp. Jeff Brinson has done a good job."
Nate Guillory, a junior, rushed for 2,644 yards in two seasons at Coffeyville. He was another one expected to contribute to the Hawkeyes' ground game, but decided this week to part ways with a suddenly crowded Iowa backfield.
"Overall I'm very pleased with the way they've worked and the attitude that they come out to practice with every day," Erb said. "Going into the first game Shonn and Paki have kind of jumped out a little bit -- they're doing a great job and they're doing a great job being leaders."
Sophomore Brett Morse has emerged at the fullback position in lieu of a somewhat limited camp for senior Jordan McLaughlin who has battled the injury bug. Erb has also been pleased with senior Jared Oberland.
"As far as the fullback position, Brett Morse has really stepped up his game from the spring and he's shown tremendous improvement," Erb said. "Jordan has been kind of banged up a little bit and working his way through it and I think he'll be healthy for that first game. Jared Oberland has had a pretty good camp."
Although the starting kicker position has still not been decided with the Maine game five days away, there is no question who will handle the punting chores. Last season as a freshman, Ryan Donahue punted 86 times for an average of 41.1 yards and a long of 82. He placed 24 kicks inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
"We're hoping for great things from our punter," Erb said. "Ryan Donahue has really taken off this camp. He's picked up where he left off last season and that's what we expected out of him. He's an older guy and an experienced guy and those guys have got to be at their best."
Erb added that the combination of long-snappers Andy Schulze and Nick Murphy gives the Hawkeyes "a pretty good core group of guys."
Sophomore kicker Daniel Murray made seven of 10 field goals last season with a long of 47. The other candidate at that position is freshman Trent Mossbrucker, who was all-state in Indiana the past three seasons.
"Both Danny and Trent have come in and really done a great job," Erb said. "I think Danny is tremendously improved since the spring and Trent has come in and done a good job pushing Danny for the job. That job right now has not been decided, it may be something that goes through the season, I don't know, but as of right now at this moment, we haven't made a decision there."
Last season the Hawkeyes averaged nearly two more yards per kickoff return than their opponents (20.0 to 18.2). The top two returners are back -- Johnson-Koulianos (22 returns for an average of 23.7 yards and a long of 65) and Paul Chaney (13 for an average of 18.0 and a long of 33). It was even a more substantial advantage in the punt return category (10.6 to 6.1). The top two Iowa punt returners are also back -- Andy Brodell (14 returns, 14.4 average, long of 56) and Colin Sandeman (12, 7.7, 35).
Iowa opens the season Saturday, Aug. 30, against Maine with an 11:05 a.m. kickoff inside Kinnick Stadium. The Black Bears (4-7 overall record in 2007) are members of the Colonial Athletic Association. Like the Hawkeyes, Maine won three of its final four games a year ago.