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Arland Bruce IV among younger Iowa wide receivers with larger roles after injuries, transfers
Spencer Petras says getting ball to Bruce will be ‘focal point’ in 2022
IOWA CITY — Iowa’s wide receivers had a tradition during spring practices. On every touchdown — “literally every single time,” Arland Bruce IV said — the wide receivers spun the ball.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker — the same guy who views celebratory turnover chains and other gimmicks as “really discouraging” — was predictably not thrilled every time his defensive backs gave up a touchdown and he had to see that.
“God d---- it,” Bruce said in his best Parker impression. “You know how he is. Just cussing every single time.”
The spinning tradition was given an early retirement.
“We had to stop doing that because coach Parker was really getting pissed about that,” Bruce said. “I think he was saying stuff to coach (Kelton) Copeland about it. But it was hilarious.”
At Bruce’s rate of development, the sophomore might need to come up with some touchdown celebrations quickly.
Bruce started four games as a true freshman in 2021 and recorded 209 receiving yards on 25 receptions. He had six touchdowns — three rushing and three receiving.
“Arland is one of those guys that he goes,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He just goes and goes and goes, and he's very versatile and practices well. I expect him to play well based on what I've seen the last four weeks.”
The next step for Bruce, Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said, is “just me getting him the ball consistently.”
“The more we can feature him, I think the better it’ll be for our offense, better for our team,” Petras said. “So it’s absolutely going to be a focal point throughout the year.”
Bruce likely will be shouldering an especially heavy burden in the first few weeks at a position that is especially young.
The average wide receiver on Iowa’s Week 1 depth chart begins the season with 1.25 seasons of experience on an FBS roster. The average was 2.5 heading into the 2020 and 2021 seasons. In 2019, it was 1.5.
“We're not as deep as you'd like to be,” Ferentz said.
One of the first-team wide receivers, Keagan Johnson, has “been touch and go” and is not guaranteed to play in Saturday’s 11 a.m. season opener against South Dakota State. Two of the four players on the depth chart are walk-ons.
A mix of controllable and uncontrollable factors led to Iowa’s predicament at the position.
A season-ending injury to Jackson Ritter and injuries of varying severity to Johnson, Nico Ragaini and Diante Vines are difficult to plan for or avoid.
“It seems like every preseason or every segment — spring ball kind of goes this way, too — certain segments get tagged a little bit with the injury deal,” Ferentz said. “Just got to work around it.”
Ferentz expects Ragaini to miss “at least a couple weeks,” and he hopes Vines can return “somewhere midseason.”
But the attrition at wide receiver is an obstacle Iowa can control, or at least counteract.
Of the six Iowa players to depart via the transfer portal since the start of the 2021 season, four have been at wide receiver.
Quavon Matthews entered the transfer portal in October, Desmond Hutson entered the portal in November and Tyrone Tracy Jr. entered the portal in December.
Matthews went to a community college in Texas, Hutson went to Northern Iowa and Tracy went to Purdue.
The Hawkeyes did not replace any of those three wide receivers although they still seemed to have a solid four options at the time — Ragaini, Bruce, Johnson and Charlie Jones.
Then Jones transferred in May, joining Tracy at Purdue. Iowa lost four scholarship wide receivers, with only one scholarship player at the position in the incoming recruiting class.
Even if Jones’ transfer happened early enough in the spring to seek a suitable transfer option, Ferentz has not been as keen on acquiring talent via the portal as many of his Power Five counterparts.
“There was one receiver that we engaged in conversation with and recruited, and he chose a different place,” Ferentz said. “I'm not saying we're going to shut that market down totally, but it's really not how we're looking to build a team.”
Instead, Iowa will be relying heavily on Bruce and other underclassmen in 2022.
Redshirt freshman Alec Wick will likely be one of the wideouts thrust into a larger role alongside Bruce. Wick, one of the second-team wide receivers, has not appeared in a game yet as a Hawkeye.
Petras said the walk-on from Iowa City Regina prep “does a lot of really nice things.”
“I got plenty of trust that he’s going to run the route exactly how I want him to based on the situation,“ Petras said. “The trick is just doing it when the bullets are flying, and I have all the confidence in the world that he will.”
Bruce said he hasn’t seen Wick “drop a single ball this year.”
“He had the greatest catch I’ve ever seen in person this year,” Bruce said. “His stomach hit the ground, arms fully extended. He caught the ball. It was crazy.”
As for touchdown celebrations, Bruce already has one he’s thinking about if he scores against South Dakota State.
“Antonio Brown’s dance,” Bruce said. “If I score this weekend, I might hit it.”
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