CEDAR RAPIDS - Cedar Rapids Jefferson was anxious to see if 2016 would be a year of reconstruction or merely a reload.
Against an experienced Pleasant Valley team, the J-Hawks learned they have a ways to go.
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No. 23 ... Tevaun Smith went into the 2013 season as a curiosity, and not just because he is from Canada. The junior from Toronto, Ontario, really looks the part of competitive Big Ten wide receiver. He stands 6-2 and weighs 200 pounds. He’s also one of the fastest Hawkeyes. In 2012, the offense was a mess, especially the passing game as it transitioned into offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ system. You knew 2013 would be better. You wondered what Smith, who caught three passes for 31 yards in 2012, could be.
In week 2 at Iowa State, Smith caught a 25-yard pass near ISU’s goal line and set up an Iowa TD. From there, he gradually built on what became a semi-breakout season. He caught 24 passes for 312 yards and a TD. Semi-breakout? In what could be considered Iowa’s biggest victory of the season, Smith’s 55-yard TD reception early in the second half helped the Hawkeyes overcome a 21-7 halftime deficit for a victory over Michigan.
Smith finished the season as the Hawkeyes No. 2 receiver. Smith put up some numbers and built a foundation for what could be an interesting 2014.
“I think Tevaun has a chance ... we’re really pleased with what he’s done,” Davis said during Outback Bowl prep. “You never know exactly. The play against Michigan obviously did a lot not only for his confidence, but a lot for ours. He’s practiced differently since then. Not that he’s practiced harder, it’s that he’s practiced with more confidence.
And so the next step ... Smith caught three passes for 25 yards in the spring game, but that’s not the measure. Spring was all about getting redshirt freshmen wide receivers on the path, and Derrick Willies caught everything, including the headlines.
Smith had a nice, semi-breakout 2013. He’s going to have to improve to earn those targets this season. The competition at WR could perhaps be a rudder for where this offense goes, probably somewhere after health along the offensive line.
“Tevaun should have a bigger role,” Iowa receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. “He’s played a bunch of games, he’s had a bunch of reps ... We’re finally developing a core here, a core of guys with some young guys coming in. I think that bodes well for our future.”
Three different WR positions ... Wide receiver is hardly a one-size-fits all kind of thing. Smith is positioned to play the “X,” which Kennedy described as the receiver position that “he’s a guy that we like one on one match ups that when we go to a certain coverage that you bang it to him,” Kennedy said. There’s the slot, which likely will be the domain of senior Kevonte Martin-Manley. Kennedy explained the slot position this way, “the guys that kind of do the dirty work, have to slip a linebacker, find space in zones, things like that.” And then there’s the split end, which, this spring, included Damon Powell and Jacob Hillyer. “They get some one-on-one coverage, but not as much. They’re guys that kind of find the holes in zones, also, but they’re usually to the field. Not always, but usually to the field.”
Of course, Iowa doesn’t want to tip plays. Kennedy wants each player to round out their skills to play all three positions.
“I think what we’re growing to and what I’d like to see us growing to and what we did at the last place was we moved guys around a little more, and I think we’re growing in that direction,” Kennedy said, “but also to be able to do that, guys like Kevonte, guys like Jacob, they’ve got to be able to play more than one position.
“It would be nice to stick Tevaun in the slot or put Kevonte out at X, but also what they have to do is while growing in the offense they’ve got to be able to execute that spot. We did that, like I said, a lot with some of the guys we had in the past, and it helped because then people didn’t say, ‘well, this guy is playing this spot every time, this guy is playing this spot,’ and they [defenses] couldn’t do as much coverage wise.”
Outlook ... Smith should be a consistent contributor and might be Iowa’s No. 1 wide receiver. All spring and summer, we’ve been assuming Iowa wide receiver will be better. Three redshirt freshmen (Willies, Derrick Mitchell Jr. and Andre Harris) should upgrade the position. We are writing about “potential.” As impressive as Willies was during the spring game, he has yet to catch a pass that counts for the UI.
Smith is a somewhat proven commodity. The next step for him is going from semi-breakout player to full-on playmaker.
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