IOWA CITY — Wide receiver always seemed like the logical destination for Tyrone Tracy. He was a yardage machine at Decatur (Ind.) Central High School as a wide receiver.
And as a kick returner.
And as a running back.
On signing day 2018, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was asked if maybe the Hawkeyes could’ve used one more running back in the class. Ferentz said he thought Tracy could do it if they asked him to.
Of course, running backs coach Derrick Foster wanted Tracy’s vision, instincts and quickness. Of course, wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland wanted Tracy’s open-field moves, speed and football IQ.
Last spring, it looked like Foster might win this tug of war. Iowa was low on running backs and Tracy saw some time there. But Copeland put in the time recruiting Tracy out of Indianapolis. He wasn’t going to let this go.
“Nothing against coach Foster and the running backs, but I was a little selfish, I wanted to keep him in my room,” Copeland said Tuesday, with Foster standing next to him and laughing. “I understood what we needed to do for Iowa football.”
So, yes, Tracy, one of the stars of last week’s 20-0 victory at Northwestern, was almost kind of a running back as late as last spring.
Foster doesn’t care what position. He saw that Tracy just needed to be on the field.
“He still remembers our protection calls (as a running back),” Foster said. “I’ll tease him every once in a while, ‘What do we have on this protection?’ And he’s, ‘Coach, we have this, this and this.’ His retention level is through the roof. He’s a very intelligent young man and takes pride in it.
“I think right now he’s where he needs to be for us.”
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That’s wide receiver. The debate seemed to end before fall camp. With junior Brandon Smith out until maybe the end of November with an ankle injury, there’s no discussion.
In his first game as Smith’s replacement at the “X” receiver position, Tracy caught two passes for 88 yards, including a 50-yard catch and run that gave Iowa a quick 7-0 lead. He also added a few key blocks, including one that scored Iowa a conversion on a fourth down in the third quarter.
“Like Derrick said, his football IQ is very high,” Copeland said. “I’m not going to say he has the highest in my room (the wide receivers room) because that will get me in trouble in my room, but it’s high. He can play any skill position on offense except quarterback. If you ever see him throw, he won’t play QB.”
Tracy is taking off at just the right time for the No. 19 Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten), who’ll take this week off and then head to Madison, Wis., for the first leg of Big Ten West elimination series. On Nov. 9, it’s the No. 18 Badgers (6-2, 3-2) and on Nov. 16, the Hawkeyes play host to No. 13 Minnesota (8-0, 5-0).
Tracy did his thing last week. What else is working or not for the running backs and wide receivers?
— Junior Mekhi Sargent’s production dropped after he fumbled in the first quarter at Michigan on Oct. 5. It was a rough couple weeks for the team against Michigan and Penn State.
Sargent seems to have snapped out of it, finishing bruising TD runs the last two weeks.
“He doesn’t want to let his teammates down and I think that weighed on him a little bit,” Foster said. “I think he was a little harder on himself than I probably was. He had to get back in the flow and regain his confidence. I think he’s done that the last two games.”
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— Smith’s injury came at the worst time ever, for him and the Hawkeyes. He had a career day vs. Purdue on Oct. 19 with nine catches for 106 yards and then suffered an ankle injury that will sideline him for up to five weeks, which is somewhere around Illinois and Minnesota.
“It’s really important for him to perform well for his teammates,” Copeland said. “It’s one thing to take pride in my performance because I want to be good, but he knows we’re dependent on him. He knows he’s a big pillar for our offense and our team.”
— Copeland was asked about wide receiver Oliver Martin, an Iowa City native and Michigan transfer. Martin played two snaps last week at Northwestern.
“Everybody wants Oliver to play right now and it’s kind of unfair,” Copeland said. “It takes a lot for any young man, whether it’s coming out of high school or coming from another four-year institution. It takes a lot to learn what’s being asked of you on a day-to-day basis.
“... To his credit, he’s done a really good job of being accountable. I have no issues with Oliver off the field. I enjoy him in meetings, he’s fun to coach. It’s, can we push forward? I talked in the opening statement about improving, he’s one of those guys I’m looking for improvement from because there’s obviously opportunity with Brandon being out.”