116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Home / Sports / Iowa Hawkeyes / Iowa Football
Iowa football optimistic about options at wide receiver, returner despite Charlie Jones’ departure
After Jones’ surprising transfer to Purdue, Hawkeyes have holes to fill on offense, special teams
IOWA CITY — When Charlie Jones entered the transfer portal in May, plenty of people were surprised, including his quarterback.
“I was pretty shocked,” Spencer Petras said Tuesday.
But the Hawkeyes can’t exactly dwell on the punt and kick returner and wide receiver’s decision to wear a different black and gold — Purdue’s black and gold, to be specific.
“Obviously we’d love to have him here, but I’m excited to play with what we have because I think we’ve got a lot of really good players, especially receivers,” Petras said.
Following Jones’ transfer, Iowa has some holes to fill at wide receiver and returner.
The void is especially noticeable at wide receiver. Nico Ragaini has 91 career receptions. No other wideout still on the roster has more than 25.
“We were both like the two old guys on the team,” Ragaini said last month. “So he selfishly lets me be the only grandpa on the team."
After Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV, who both stood out as true freshmen in 2021, there’s another significant drop-off. Bruce has 25 catches, and Johnson has 18. No other Iowa wide receiver has more than three.
“I think all of our roles have gotten bigger,” Johnson said. “There’s no question that we can fulfill those.”
It’s unclear at this point who will emerge as Iowa’s fourth and fifth wide receivers on the depth chart. Bruce mentioned Diante Vines as someone who is “ready to step up.”
Jackson Ritter, junior college transfer Kaden Wetjen and two-sport athlete Brody Brecht also are candidates to assume a larger role in the 2022 receiver corps.
In the meantime, Ragaini’s grandfathering of those younger receivers has already resulted in kudos from Petras.
“I’ve been really, really proud of Nico and just how he’s kind of handled the added leadership,” Petras said. “He’s our most veteran offensive player at this point.”
Iowa’s special teams hole
No shortage of players have expressed interest in taking over Jones’ role as Iowa’s punt and kick returner.
Bruce brought up Cooper DeJean, Xavier Nwankpa and T.J. Hall and himself Tuesday. LeVar Woods also mentioned those names earlier in the summer along with Terry Roberts.
Riley Moss, the reigning Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year, is even interested in returning duties.
“I’m poking my head in every once in a while to try to get in there,” Moss said. “Because I used to do that in high school, and I loved it.”
What does defensive coordinator Phil Parker think of that idea? “Haven’t asked him. Asked Coach Woods, so we’ll see.”
Bruce handling returns wouldn’t be totally foreign to Iowa. He took some second-team reps in practice behind Jones. The Olathe, Kan., native likes the possibility of “getting the ball and being able to make a guy miss.”
“That’s really what my strong suit is,” Bruce said.
His interest is particularly in punt returns — “you have 11 guys coming down the field” on kick returns and two on punt returns — but he has an idea of who would be great for the kick returning duties.
“I think Keagan Johnson would be great for that role right there,” Bruce said. “We know the last No. 6 that did kick returns (Ihmir Smith-Marsette) was pretty good, and they have similar speed and ability.”
Johnson didn’t seem to get that memo until Tuesday’s media availability, though. He’s “possibly interested” in kick returning, but would have to talk to Woods about it.
“That must have been Arland that mentioned that,” Johnson said. “I think he’s trying to manifest it.”
Johnson returned kicks in high school, but he did not partake in any kick returns as a true freshman.
Whoever fills Jones’ role at punt and kick returner will do so with little experience at the position at the collegiate level. No other Hawkeye handled more than two punt or kick returns in 2021.
Iowa’s future at wide receiver and punt and kick returner aside, Iowa isn’t totally done with Jones. His Boilermakers will play host to Iowa on Nov. 5.
Petras already has an idea for Jones’ punt returns against his former school that involves a 246-pound linebacker.
“I was telling Jack Campbell I want him at gunner for that game,” Petras said jokingly.
Seriously though, Petras wants the best for his former teammate.
“Charlie is one of my best friends,” Petras said. “So really just excited to see what he can do.”
Comments: (319) 398-8394; email@example.com