Iowa enters 2015 with questions at WR

Publish date:

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa wide receiver Tevaun Smith drew attention this offseason by catching 41 passes in 60 seconds with just one hand, a feat captured for a video that's been viewed over 200,000 times on YouTube.

Hardly anyone outside of Iowa City has seen much from of the rest of the Hawkeyes receivers, though.

One of Iowa's biggest question marks - outside of Smith, of course - is who is going to emerge from an inexperienced group of wideouts.

Senior Jacob Hillyer and junior Matt VandeBerg, the two starters listed alongside Smith for Saturday's opener against Illinois State, combined for just 25 receptions last season. Junior Riley McCarron, the first guy off the bench, didn't catch a pass last year.

Still, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz believes those four receivers give the Hawkeyes a strong core to build around.

''I think that group has really improved. We have four guys we have great confidence in,'' Ferentz said.

Despite the fact that he'll likely be the focus of opposing defenses, Smith seems primed for a big season.

Smith was the rare Iowa freshman to play in nearly every game, and he caught 24 passes as a sophomore in 2013. Last season Smith had 43 receptions for 596 yards and touchdown catches against Northwestern and Nebraska.

The departure of top wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley left Smith as Iowa's new No. 1 option.

He went online to show he's ready for the added responsibility.

One day after New York Giants star Odell Beckham Jr. caught 33 one-handed passes in a minute on ESPN ahead of the Super Bowl, Smith one-upped him from inside Iowa's new practice facility.

The trick brought national attention to Smith, who is hopeful he can stay in the spotlight with his on-field performance this fall.

''After practice I'm getting extra work because I know there's going to be a lot of opportunities on my side of the ball. It's going to be exciting,'' Smith said.

But Smith is going to need some help if Iowa to get its inconsistent offense going in the right direction.

Hillyer has played in every game over the past three seasons, but he's racked up just three TDs and only two catches over 20 yards. VandeBerg, who doubles as one of Iowa's top returners, made his 14 receptions count in 2014 by averaging nearly 22 yards per catch.

Iowa will likely lean on at least a few younger wide receivers, and the one with the brightest future appears to be Jerminic Smith.

Smith, a freshman, has already earned the fifth spot on the depth chart.

''He has just ascended,'' Ferentz said. ''He has just really handled the transition with ease.''

There's also converted running Jonathan Parker, who forced himself onto the field as a freshman simply because of his speed. Freshman Jay Scheel was a four-star recruit who redshirted in 2014, and fellow freshman Adrian Falconer could also push for playing time.

Iowa's hope for an improved offense might hinge on how quickly its receivers catch on. But they've earned the trust of junior quarterback C.J. Beathard, so at least it seems like they're off to a good start.

''A lot of trustworthy guys out there. Guys that know what they're doing. They're not going to mess up any hot (reads) or anything like that,'' Beathard said. ''I'm comfortable with them, and they're comfortable with me.''


Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: