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MANCHESTER — For Kirk Ferentz, this is the time of year for the Hawkeye State Tour and interviews with his players and, oh yeah, recruiting. His jovial face was on for the Northeast Iowa I-Club.
We can only guess what player interviews are like. The Hawkeyes are basically off now until mid-June, when summer conditioning kicks in. There’s work to do, more for some position groups than others.
And so we begin with wide receiver. Junior Jerminic Smith was suspended this spring because of academics. Ferentz said there’s been no change in his status. Ferentz hasn’t spoken to him this week.
You may have heard, wide receiver is a position of need for the Hawkeyes. Smith caught 23 passes as a sophomore last season. That would make him the second-leading returning receiver, with running back Akrum Wadley’s 36 receptions leading the way.
“What we need are guys who want to do things the way we want to do them,” Ferentz said. “I’m hoping that he’ll come that direction. For us to pull him off the field just indicates he wasn’t doing things the way they needed to be done. It all starts in the classroom.
“I’m hoping this has him going, but we’ll make that assessment when we’re all done.”
The NFL draft is a healthier topic. Four Hawkeyes found NFL homes last week. Quarterback C.J. Beathard went in the third round to the 49ers. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson was a fourth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings. Tight end George Kittle also went to the 49ers, just in the fifth round. Cornerback Desmond King went to the Los Angeles Chargers, also in the fifth round.
Ferentz wasn’t surprised the Niners traded up to nab Beathard in the third.
“I think there were a couple of people who saw him differently than the experts,” Ferentz said. “I watched (49ers coach) Kyle Shanahan’s quotes afterward and it sounded like a couple of teams were trying to trade up to get him. I liked what he said. The stats were misleading. He gets it. He’s a really good player.”
King’s drop in where draft experts had him going, from the 60s to the 80s, to where he went at the 151st pick was surprising.
“I thought he was underdrafted, me personally,” Ferentz said. “I think the perception of the whole thing — he won the Thorpe Award and had great statistics — I think everyone assumed he would’ve been a first rounder last year. We never got that information from NFL people.
“In some ways, he’s a tweener. He’s not the same as Micah Hyde (former Hawkeye who was drafted in the fifth round by the Packers in 2013 and signed a $30 million contract with the Buffalo Bills this offseason), but like Micah Hyde, they (NFL personnel people) don’t quite know what to think. I told people he is like Micah Hyde, in my mind. When you guys get him, you’ll find out he’s a better player than you thought when you drafted him. I’ll be shocked if he doesn’t play well in the NFL. I don’t know where he’s going to play or what he’s going to do, he just finds a way.”
No matter what round, King still is one of the best defensive players in Ferentz’s 18-plus seasons as Iowa’s head coach.
“He’s one of the better players we’ve ever had on defense,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz said the mid-foot sprain that Kittle suffered midway through the season would’ve been better off as a broken foot.
“It’s not quite the same as C.J., but if you just look at last year’s stats and film, he was never healthy,” Ferentz said. “He has great upside.”
Johnson is going to be the toughest of the four to replace. Ferentz said Iowa’s defensive tackle spot in 2017 will be a committee approach.
“Jaleel didn’t have a good combine, yet they put that aside and looked at his game film,” Ferentz said. “George had a great combine and that helped him. The whole scouting process is an interesting thing. You never know how it comes out.”
Tight ends/special teams coach LeVar Woods tweeted this week that he is now recruiting northwest Iowa and the Siouxland area, a bit of a departure for the Iowa staff. Defensive line coach Reese Morgan has long mined that area for talent. Woods is from Inwood and Ferentz wanted to take some recruiting duties off Morgan’s plate.
Iowa is stepping it up in Florida and Ohio and is covering Illinois with two assistants. Here’s where Iowa’s assistants are recruiting (and that is happening now, by the way):
— Offensive line coach Tim Polasek is in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
— In addition to northwest Iowa and Siouxland, Woods has eastern Missouri (St. Louis) with some “cherry picking” in Texas. “We won’t live there,” Ferentz said. “But he (Woods) has been down there a little bit.”
— Morgan still will recruit the plains states.
— Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is in Illinois/Chicago area.
— Linebackers coach Seth Wallace also is in Illinois, part of Ohio and the Gulf side of Florida.
— Recruiting coordinator/D-line assistant Kelvin Bell is in southwest Ohio and the east coast, also a “cherry picking” area.
— Defensive coordinator Phil Parker will remain in Detroit, Michigan and northern Ohio.
— Quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe will do eastern Ohio and New England (another “cherry picking” area, “We’re not going to live out there, but we’re going to see what’s out there,” Ferentz said.).
— Wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland will recruit south Florida (Miami and the Atlantic Ocean side, he’s from Miami) and the Kansas City area.
“We’ll go where we’ve gone,” Ferentz said. “Kelton has a little more knowledge in south Florida. We’ve been in Broward County, but he’ll go into Miami, too.”
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