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FOURTH DOWN — What we learned this spring
The expectations for this position have changed. Last year, you figured new wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy, who worked with offensive coordinator Greg Davis for seven seasons at Texas, would better translate Davis’ offense to the wide receivers group. After a season in which Iowa threw seven TD passes, there was nowhere to go but up. Still, there was improvement last season. The passing game had some flow and QB-WR seemed to be more on the same page.
Now, Iowa adds four red-shirt freshmen, including Derrick Willies (6-4, 210) who introduced himself to the Iowa football world with a pair of productive performances in the public practices, Kennedy has had another year to translate and the WR corps is the deepest it’s been in maybe in Kirk Ferentz’s 16 years as head coach.
THIRD DOWN — Realistic expectations for Willies
Iowa had 15 spring practices. The public had a chance to see two. Willies tore it up in both appearances. There are mitigators. He made some plays during the Des Moines scrimmage (seven catches for 148 yards and a TD) with sophomore quarterback C.J. Beathard, who’s a starting-caliber player, against a No. 2 secondary that struggled to raise a glove. In the spring game at Kinnick Stadium, Willies made some plays against that same group, but he also made some against the first team (five catches for 142 yards and a TD) and just looked like the total package.
Is Willies a potential No. 1 WR? Let’s not count that out, but senior Kevonte Martin-Manley has led Iowa in receptions in each of the last two seasons. They’re different players, but Martin-Manley has experience reading defenses and finding open space in zones. Is Willies a No. 2? He’ll have a chance to compete for that, with junior Tevaun Smith or maybe senior Damond Powell also in play. A No. 3? Yes, but is No. 3 WR going to see anymore targets than No. 1 or 2 tight end? Is junior Jake Duzey on the same plane?
Realistic is probably something similar to Smith’s output last season, something like 25 catches for 400 yards and three TDs. That’s realistic for a WR group that will likely run six players in and out of games.
SECOND DOWN — Who said what?
“What we do is we find the first guy, then the second guy, then the third guy, then the fourth guy, the fifth, then the sixth. We usually have a six‑man rotation, and so to keep them engaged, they know they’d better start producing and better start playing well in practice, and it starts in practice. We chart everything from routes on air to seven on seven to my individual drills, throwing, catching the football, and it’s really easy sometimes to pull a kid aside and say, boy, you’ve had three drops today. You tell me that you’re ready and you’re trying to get in the mix, but you’re not practicing like it.” — WR coach Bobby Kennedy
“Much greater.” — Offensive coordinator Greg Davis on the rise in the level of competition at WR since he arrived at Iowa in February 2012.
“I’m really pleased that we decided to red-shirt some of those guys because I think they’ve got the ability to really maybe change the, not necessarily the face of our program, but our ability outside to make plays.” — Kennedy on the crop of four red-shirt freshmen, which includes Willies, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Andre Harris
FIRST DOWN — Summer cliffhanger
So, six-man rotation? Let’s give that a try, from No. 1 to No. 6:
Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris will make a push. Walk-on Riley McCarron will hang around. Maybe incoming freshman Jay Scheel opens eyes in camp.
There should be some real competition for Nos. 3 through 6. Iowa spent some scholarship money to build depth here. It should see some payoff this season.
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