Brandon Wegher bolts for a touchdown in the 2010 Orange Bowl
Iowa Hawkeyes head coach Kirk Ferentz told ESPN.com on Thursday that sophomore running back Brandon Wegher still isn't practicing with the team.
No indication has been given that he will return for the 2010 season. Wegher opened preseason camp with the rest of the team but left several days later for undisclosed personal reasons.
The sophomore from Dakota Dunes, South Dakota has not been back to practice since. Though reported to still be enrolled at the University of Iowa, it is unclear whether or not he started classes with the rest of the students earlier this week.
"He isn't here, and we have to operate as if he's not going to be here this year," Ferentz told ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg. "If he chooses to come back, that'd be wonderful, but we've had a lot of time elapse."
Wegher rushed for 641 yards as a freshman and compiled 967 all-purpose yards last season. He set an Iowa freshman record with eight rushing touchdowns.
"It's an unusual situation, certainly, but I've got respect for his feelings right now," the Iowa coach empathized to ESPN.
After Iowa's open scrimmage, quarterback Ricky Stanzi was asked about the situation. “When we line up for practice everyday, he’s not out there,” Stanzi told Gazette writer Marc Morehouse. “We can’t stop practice and hold a prayer session. We’ve got to keep moving.”
Stanzi's sentiment is the correct one. Life at 19 years old can be confusing, and everyone wishes Wegher the best, but the team has to move on.
The question now becomes, what does Iowa's running back depth look like without Wegher?
The Hawkeyes still have last year's leading rusher in Adam Robinson, who sits atop the depth chart even with Wegher in the lineup.
Robinson took over the starting job at running back last season after Jewel Hampton's injury. He rushed for a total of 834 yards, the most ever by an Iowa freshman.
It also ranks as the 24th-best single-season total.
As a freshman, he was third in the Big Ten in rushing yards for league games and fourth overall.
He suffered an ankle sprain during the Michigan State game but returned after a few weeks later for the Ohio State game.
- Rushing: 181 rushes for 834 yards and five touchdowns.
- Kickoff: 38 yards on two returns.
- Receiving: 80 yards on 10 catches.
Redshirt sophomore Jewel Hampton returns to the lineup after missing the 2009 season with a torn ACL.
Most fans remember Hampton for his outstanding job as a backup to Doak Walker award winner Shonn Greene. As a backup to Greene, Hampton rushed for almost 500 yards.
Hampton's seven rushing touchdowns in 2008 were an Iowa freshman record at the time. Against Indiana that year, he ran for 114 yards and scored three touchdowns...as a backup.
What he lacks in size, he makes up for in speed.
Hampton will sit out the Eastern Illinois game due to punishment for his alcohol-related arrest over the summer. Upon his return, he will likely share time with Robinson this year.
- Rushing: 91 rushes for 463 yards and seven touchdowns.
- Kickoff: 23 yards on one returns.
Senior Paki O'Meara is more of a special teams player and all-around contributor, but he does have experience at running back.
Because of Hampton's suspension and Wegher's absence, O'Meara will likely see playing time in Iowa's home opener against Eastern Illinois.
If so, it will be the third year in a row that he has seen action as a running back in a Hawkeye opening game.
The Cedar Rapids native started his career at Iowa as a walk-on. After playing hard on special teams, he was finally placed on scholarship this spring.
- Rushing: 37 rushes for 97 yards and two touchdowns.
- Kickoff: 64 yards on four returns.
- Receiving: 47 yards on four catches.
Iowa running back Brad Rogers has been working out with the fullbacks during Iowa's preseason camp. Rogers, a 5'10", 215-pound redshirt freshman from Toledo, Ohio, reminds a few people of Shonn Greene.
During Iowa's spring practice, he received most of the carries due to the top four running backs being held out for one reason or another.
With the recent departure of junior Wade Leppert, Rogers is now the primary backup at fullback.
While that likely means he won't be in the running this year at running back, he could easily switch roles if needed. He is a power back that isn't afraid to hit.
Incoming freshman De'Andre Johnson could see a lot of action this year as well.
Johnson has seen a lot of carries in preseason practice and has been snapped in photos practicing with the first team offense. During Iowa's open scrimmage, he carried the ball roughly 25 times for 75 yards.
The true freshman missed his senior season at Monsignor Pace High School in Miami after suffering a torn ACL.
He is a three-star recruit and could be one of those diamond-in-the-rough players that Ferentz is so infamous for.
Incoming freshman Marcus Coker could be a factor for Iowa in the near future as well.
Coker is a four-star recruit out of DeMatha High School in Hyattsville, Maryland. He was rated as one of Rivals' top 25 running back prospects in the nation for 2010.
In high school, he racked up almost 3,000 rushing yards combined in his junior and senior years, along with 39 combined touchdowns.
He has the size to be a solid Big Ten running back, standing 6'0'' and weighing 230 pounds. Unfortunately, he was dinged up during preseason practice and was forced to miss a few weeks of camp with a shoulder injury.
The injury could result in a redshirt this season. If not, look for Coker to be in the thick of the battle for the starting role soon.
Wegher set the Iowa freshman record with eight rushing touchdowns on the season last year. He tied for eighth in the Big Ten in scoring and ranked 10th in rushing yards (53.4).
The young running back was one of three true freshmen to see action in 2009. In his first career start, he rushed for 118 yards on 25 carries, scoring three touchdowns.
- Rushing: 162 rushes for 641 yards and eight touchdowns.
- Kickoff: 214 yards on nine returns.
- Receiving: 112 yards on 13 catches.