116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Kelton Copeland has worked to build Iowa’s wide receiving corps since 2016, and this past spring, Ihmir Smith-Marsette became the highest-drafted wide receiver during head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 22-year tenure, and the first Hawkeye wide receiver drafted since Marvin McNutt in 2012.
Wide receiver Brandon Smith also found an NFL home during free agency. But with the departure of two wide receivers, and an offense that heavily favors tight ends and running backs, the competition for the vacancies heated up in the spring.
The consensus from coaches this spring was that junior Tyrone Tracy Jr. and senior Nico Ragaini are the next to lead the team, but Ragaini sat out all of spring while Tracy missed the final spring practice due to injury.
“I've told stories in the past about (Tracy) wearing me out and in the recruiting process,” Copeland said in April. “When we first got on campus, he’d say, ’Coach, what else can I do to earn a role in this?’ I will say that a lot of guys say that, but I'm telling you, Tyrone Tracy is a man of his word.”
Tracy, one of seven sophomores named to the team leadership group in 2020, caught 14 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown, also rushing twice for 22 yards through the eight-game season. In 2019, Tracy caught 36 passes for 589 yards, three touchdowns, averaging 16.4 yards per catch.
“He's the only guy to date that can play any of the four spots being our Z, X, Y, or F positions in our offense,” Copeland said. “That in itself says a lot about not only his eagerness to learn and his athletic ability, but most importantly, his football IQ.”
Ragaini had 18 receptions for 191 yards during the 2020 season, and 13 receptions for 439 yards in 2019, averaging a consistent 9 to 10 yards per catch through both.
During the spring, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz noted that Ragaini was a starting-caliber player he has a lot of confidence in, but offered a message to players on that third spot, saying, “the door is open if you want to do something with it.”
“Keagan Johnson is getting some reps out there because we feel like he’s in equal footing with those guys right now,” Ferentz said during a press conference following the final spring practice on May 1. “Really, it’s about looking at the best guy between now and September.”
Cooper, whose career at Iowa has been riddled with injury, hasn’t seen the field since his eight games of action in 2019, when he received Comeback Player of the Year after recording one reception and five punt returns. Jones, a cemented punt return specialist, hopes to see his role increase on offense.
“Charlie's a good punt returner for us and we hope that he transitions into an every down guy,” Ferentz said.
While the race for that third spot remains, Tracy is at the helm of a position group that is not always in the spotlight at Iowa. He expects that to change this year.
“I came off of a semi-good season my redshirt sophomore year, so my expectation was to do better than that, obviously, it didn't go that way,” Tracy said in April. “But at the end of the day you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself ’what are you doing to make the team better?’”
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