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Now is the time to turn up the defense.
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No. 34 ... No, wide receiver isn’t as easy as running fast and catching the ball. You have to know the playbook and find your fit.
Senior Damond Powell is still in that process. Powell came to Iowa City three days before camp started last season. Last season, he caught 12 passes for 291 yards, including a 74-yard tunnel screen for a TD that gave Iowa elbow room in a victory at Minnesota.
Powell didn’t catch a pass in the spring game. It’s OK, he said, it’s just spring and wide receiver is an evolving position for the Hawkeyes.
“We have a lot of young guys and they’ve been playing a lot this spring,” the 5-11, 180-pounder said. “They’re getting comfortable with how things work around here. It starts up front with senior Kevonte Martin-Manley. He’s pulling us and that’s why we’re moving so fast.”
Powell was second on the Hawkeyes last season with 24.25 yards a catch. The Hawkeyes are striving to grow the big-play resume. The receivers are poised to kick it up a gear.
Powell will certainly be in those plans.
“That’s been my thing this spring, just the development to a full receiver, full-time guy,” Powell said. “I’m running every route — digs, comebacks. I just wanted to be full-time and that’s what I got done this spring. This season should be great for me.”
New, new, new ... You read that right, Powell showed up three days before fall camp started. He had to finish the summer semester at Snow (Utah) College. Expectations grew out of media day statements and stories. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis didn’t say anything crazy, but he did openly state from his first days on campus in 2012 that Iowa needed a speed upgrade. Powell was the first wave of that.
Speed is magic on the football field. It’s something teams have to account for, it adds an explosive element that multidimensional offenses absolutely need.
After Powell’s big-splash TD at Minnesota, Rick Rios, Powell’s coach at Rogers High School in Toledo, sent him a text and reminded him about something they talked about when Powell was a sophomore running that very tunnel screen for TDs around Toledo.
“He came off the field and said he was a little bit nervous, the big guys were trying to hit him,” Rios said. “I pulled him aside and said, ‘Hey Damond, we’re going to throw you a screen, you run fast, run to the back of the end zone and hand the ball to the official and I promise no one will hit you.’
“I sent him a text this weekend to remind him about that. He said, ‘Coach, I remembered everything you said.’”
Technical terms ... What did wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy work on with Powell this spring?
“I just think his overall understanding of stems and attacking the [defensive back],” Kennedy said. “Getting in and out of his cuts, not thinking as much. Like I said, whether it be a freshman or a guy who comes in from a junior college, a lot of times their mind locks them up because they’re thinking so much, and so their athletic ability can’t take over. I see a little more comfort out of him, and he’s doing a good job. The great thing about him is he’s a great guy for our room. He’s got a great, as you all know, big personality, and the guys respect him. But he also has a really good work ethic.”
Outlook ... We’ve discussed that Kennedy sees a rotation of six. Powell has the speed to grab one of those spots. Kennedy also has said that playing time at wide receiver will be more competitive. Iowa is adding three redshirt freshmen to the mix.
“What I’m trying to do with Damond is make him a complete player rather than just a guy that goes deep,” Kennedy said. “He had a bunch of opportunities, and he did some things really well. But you know, you’ve got to remember, also, that he’s in a new offense. It was just like him being a freshman. Coming in, he got in late last summer, so it was kind of thrust upon him, and he did some things really well. He struggled with some other things. I see him through this spring and then also another training camp really hopefully making a move and continuing to develop.
“But he’s not a finished product, just like y’all get tired of me saying this, but I always say, we’re a work in progress. Every year you start over, and you have some guys that are a little more established, a little more game tested. He got those reps last year, so hopefully he’ll continue to develop and we’ll see big things out of him.”
Powell’s speed threat makes this worth the wait. Powell also is a senior playing a position that, at least going by spring results, has upgraded its personnel. If the refinement in his game is there, the targets will follow.
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