Throwing his body into it
IOWA CITY -- They come here with bodies. Kind of hard to play football without one.
Some bodies need building and, eventually, maintenance. Most bodies need the weightroom and training in the explosive art of the game. Other bodies need to find where they fit, or where they can shine and help the most.
The lanky 6-foot-4 walked in the door at the University of Iowa as a quarterback. The 215 pounds spent a redshirt season and some of his freshman year figuring out the QB playbook. The long legs went to quarterback meetings with Ricky Stanzi, the future No. 1 QB.
The monster hands need one touchdown catch to stand alone in the Iowa record books.
Yes, Marvin McNutt, who needs one TD reception to set Iowa's career record (22), has had his hands measured. During NFL timing day last spring, league scouts took out the tape measure.
"They took a look, but I don't know the actual measurement," McNutt said with a laugh. "I think it's a common hand size, for my body."
The feet, the abs, the long arms came out of Hazelwood (Mo.) Central, a St. Louis suburb, with options. McNutt had a basketball scholarship offer from Southern Illinois-Carbondale.
"It was a toss-up between basketball and football, all the way up to the summer before my senior year," McNutt said. "I had a lot of MAC [Mid-American Conference] schools. There were a lot of schools looking at me, period, but I didn't finish out summer basketball."
The vision and the timing also were a draftable baseball prospect. McNutt didn't check the "I will enter draft if drafted" box during evaluations.
"I got an e-mail one time asking me what I'd do if I got drafted," McNutt said with a smile. "I said, well, it depends on what round."
Iowa wide receiver coach Erik Campbell came to Iowa in 2008, just when McNutt made the switch from quarterback. Campbell was in on the ground floor. He had no idea where it would go, but he knew one thing, even in the early moment's with this transformation.
Remember, McNutt had to be taught everything. Six games into his junior season at Hazelwood Central, he was made the QB. His team went on to win six straight and land a spot in the state title game. There was no looking back. McNutt was a QB and was recruited as a QB.
In other words, he had to learn how to line up as a wide receiver. Yes, line up.
"There were never any negative thoughts, but it was a process that started with the very basics," Campbell said. "We had to teach him how to line up, how to get off the line of scrimmage, technique, everything.
"But it was always positive. When you have that kind of body, 6-4, 215 pounds, can run and jump, you never give up on it."
The transition McNutt's body made has been chronicled up and down. Here are some hard numbers to show you what exactly changed: McNutt’s 40-yard dash went from the 4.7-second range to 4.5. His vertical went from 38 inches to 42. He said he already had the abs, so we’ll take his word on that.
Quarterback is not an explosive position, not at Iowa. Nebraska, yes. Florida with Tim Tebow, yes. Wide receivers need to be fast and need to bounce back after a 25-yard route one play and throwing a block on the next.
McNutt changed his body into a wide receiver body. That took a lot of will and a lot of work.
"He has quick feet and is big enough to beat you on a slant pass,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said. “He can jump and he has big hands, so he can also beat you all day on the fade.”
That says it all about the body.
"He's one of those lanky guys with long arms who somehow comes up with the catch," said Iowa cornerback Shaun Prater, who's been butting heads with McNutt at practice for four years now. "Even if you have perfect technique and cover him well, he'll still come up with the ball. He's more physical than he looks, too."
McNutt tied Tim Dwight (1994-97) and Danan Hughes (1989-92) with his 21st career TD reception last week. Hughes, 41, now lives in Kansas City and serves as a color analyst for the Big Ten Network and for Missouri Valley Conference games.
Hughes came to Iowa as a high school quarterback. He said the transition makes sense with football IQ.
"You understand the mental aspect of the game as far as coverage and windows," he said. "You're throwing the ball all the time and you're also catching it. That makes your hands stronger.
"Quarterbacks have some of the strongest hands in the NFL. It's not a huge difference in that aspect, but when you have someone who has a big body and who can adjust speed-wise, then, I think the transition is normal. Not everyone has the speed, but Marvin is the complete package."
The talk once again comes down to McNutt's big, strong hands. And, yes, the NFL measures hands.
"I was always the guy at the combine who was like, 'You've got to be kidding me,' " said Ferentz, who voiced a no vote for hand measurement while serving as an O-line coach for the Cleveland/Baltimore organization (1993-98). "Can the guy play? I used to get in arguments in meetings over stuff like that.
"That being said, it's good for quarterbacks and receivers to have big hands. I won't deny that."
Junior wide receiver Keenan Davis has measured his hand against McNutt's. Davis said his are bigger. Yes, athletes are that competitive.
"We compared hands a long time ago," Davis said. "Everybody says we're like twin brothers. Everything is the same. Our families are close and the way we grew up is the same."
Davis' hands are bigger. Now, he only needs 15 and who knows how many more TD receptions to catch McNutt.
• Second team All-Big Ten in 2010
• Fourth team preseason All-America by Phil Steele’s College Football
• Fifty-three receptions for 861 yards and eight touchdowns in 2010, averaging 16.2 yards per catch. Receiving yardage ranks 10th-best for single season
• Twenty-one career touchdown receptions ties Iowa’s career record, shared by Danan Hughes (1989-92) and Tim Dwight (1994-97). Career totals include 123 receptions for 2,119 yards to rank fourth in career yards and eighth in career receptions
• Eight touchdown receptions in both 2009 and 2010 and ?ve in six games in 2011
• Six receptions for 140 yards and two touchdowns in opening win over TennesseeTech
• Earned honorable mention from College Football Performance Awards for his play vs. Tennessee Tech
• Four receptions for 61 yards at Iowa State, including 29-yard reception that led to an Iowa touchdown and 24-17 fourth quarter advantage
• Career-high eight receptions for 112 yards in win over Pittsburgh
• Seven receptions for 100 yard and two touchdowns in win over ULM
• Four catches for 73 yards at Penn State to surpass 2,000 career receiving yards
• Six receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown in win over Northwestern