Iowa Football

Iowa wide receivers not phoning it in for 2018

Is the position poised for a jump? It's potential now, needs to get to production stage


Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland speaks to the wide recievers during Kids’ Day at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, August 12, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland speaks to the wide recievers during Kids’ Day at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, August 12, 2017. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — When you’ve been a dad long enough, you develop certain “dad” tendencies. Sometimes, you can’t help yourself and you have to let the truth fly.

Iowa head football coach Kirk Ferentz has been a dad for going on 35 years. So when asked a question about the development of sophomore wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette in March, Ferentz just gave us some truth.

“Whether it’s when he’s in the player lounge, maybe get off the phone a little bit more and, you know, maybe walk across the hall and watch film, those types of things,” Ferentz said.

That was Ferentz on the mound dialing up some chin music. A purpose pitch meant to get Smith-Marsette’s attention.

Tuesday, wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland gave a report on whether or not the message was received.

“It was probably a good thing coach Ferentz said that in a public setting,” Copeland said. “It’s one thing for coach Cope to say it in a one-on-one meeting or our meetings, but when coach Ferentz — obviously, coach Ferentz, first of all — when he says that in a public setting, certain people hear it.”

Copeland didn’t know Ferentz’s statement was coming, but, yes, of course, he’s had that talk with Smith-Marsette. Was the message received? Remember, Copeland’s “Certain people hear it.”

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“Ihmir came to me after that and said, ‘Coach, you know what? My people back home are telling me I need to get off my phone. They’re threatening to take my phone away, because coach Ferentz said in a press conference I’m on my phone too much,’” Copeland said. “That’s a good thing. That’s a really good thing.

“If you guys see him out and about, tell him to get off his phone.”

It’d be easy to say Smith-Marsette receiving this message is emblematic of Iowa’s wide receiver corps. The phone thing is Smith-Marsette’s hill to climb. For fellow sophomore receiver Brandon Smith, maybe it’s confidence. For senior Nick Easley, it’s maintaining the chip on his former walk-on shoulder.

Everyone has something, and Copeland is working on it.

His answer to a question about the number of wide receivers he’d like to use in rotation shows it’s not easy to earn a spot. It would be easy for him to guess and throw bodies into the game.

Last year, Iowa mostly played three wide receivers. Easley led the Hawkeyes with 51 receptions. Matt VandeBerg was the No. 2 with 28 catches. And then Smith-Marsette (18 catches). Smith and fellow sophomore Max Cooper saw a smattering of snaps.

Really, the last three seasons, Iowa has rotated just three wide receivers. The difference is Copeland was hired before the 2017 season, when 2016 Iowa was coming off its worst passing game output since 1982. Give him credit for not dumping a bunch of bodies on the position, trying to find the alchemy.

“A coach’s dream is to be able to just throw one guy after another out there, have a different guy for every personnel and say, ‘Hey, go get the job done,’” Copeland said. “That’s a perfect world. We’re obviously not in that situation. We’re building a standard and moving forward one day at a time. It’s going to take time before we feel comfortable at seven, eight, nine, 10 deep and getting everyone in a game. That’s the goal, and we’re getting closer to that.”

How does Iowa get closer in 2018? So far, the wide receiver group is faster. Copeland talked about it. Quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe also mentioned it Tuesday.

“Even the speed of the wide receivers corps right now is a little bit better,” O’Keefe said.

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And Copeland, “When you put on the film from 2017 spring to 2018 spring, it’s night and day as far as the group speed, the individual speed.”

Let’s give the microphone over to Copeland for the rest of this. Since spring games are falling out of favor (Iowa State and Wisconsin flat out canceled theirs this week) and the Hawkeyes already are facing the prospect of a 70-yard field with renovations ongoing in the north end zone, you might not get to see your favorite wide receiver do a whole lot when Iowa holds its spring game April 20 at Kinnick Stadium.

Copeland said extremely positive things about Smith, who caught only three passes and had a fumble last year. Smith also is 6-3 and nearly 220 pounds now. He’s in line for the X receiver (outside position).

“It’s your job to win, it’s your job to earn and he’s taken that on,” Copeland said. “He’s done some things every day that kind of stand out. Something that catches you, something that’s wow, I haven’t seen that in the past.”

Also, “If you talk to (strength coach Chris) coach Doyle, he’s one of most explosive guys on the team, not just at receiver position, but the whole team. He has all of the tangibles.”

On Easley, “He’s all about fundamentals, he’s a technician. That’s the best way to explain Nick. He’s not the fastest, he’s not the tallest, he’s not the biggest. There’s nothing about Nick physically that you look at, no offense to Nick, but there’s nothing about him physically that makes you go ‘Wow,’ right? But he’s a does everything well and does everything the way you coach it.”

And Smith-Marsette. Ferentz wouldn’t have given Smith-Marsette the gentle news conference reminder if he didn’t have something that Iowa wanted. No, not wanted, something Iowa needed.

You know what it is.

“Once again, speed. You can’t coach speed,” Copeland said. “He’s one of the fastest players definitely in our room and probably on this team. ... Ihmir has to learn to trust what we’re coaching him, trust the fundamentals and trust what he has, speed, athleticism and he’s a very bright young man. He understands football. That kid studies football, he lives football.”

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So, this was a pretty positive bunch of words about Iowa wide receiver. Samson Evans, Calvin Lockett, Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy Jr. are incoming freshmen who might be able to add something to this.

The positive words are nice. Right now, we’re talking potential. There’s another P-word that Copeland will have to see before he can totally sign off on this group.

“It’s not about potential, it’s about production,” Copeland said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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