Brian Ferentz admitted he was never a big fan of players who took early enrollment into college.
“I used to think the early-enrollment thing was kind of suspect,” the Iowa offensive coordinator said. “I just couldn’t get behind it. You’re a senior in high school, go be a senior in high school. Go to prom, go do the things you’ll never get to do again.”
Ferentz has changed his mind, particularly after seeing what freshman wide receivers Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV did during the spring after becoming early-enrollment additions for the Hawkeyes.
Johnson moved into No. 2 on the depth chart at one of the receiver positions. Bruce showed that he could play a role in Iowa’s offense this season.
“They’ve used that time to improve themselves, get a real leg up heading into the fall,” Ferentz said.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said both players had done “a nice job” during their first offseason.
“And when I say nice job, they're doing a nice job on the field, but also they've really been impressive in regard to the way they kind of handle everything,” he said. “Everybody comes in differently. Everybody has a different way to react to the loads of taking 14, 15 hours (of classes) to the workouts, the practice, all those things that you do in the spring and then the summer. And both of them have so far just kind of taken it in stride. Really haven't seen them have a meltdown or anything like that yet. That part's been pretty impressive. So they're definitely in the picture.”
In some ways, Iowa’s receiving group is in transition — plenty of veterans, but younger players who can be just as dynamic.
The older, experienced targets will help quarterback Spencer Petras in his continued evolution into the starting job.
The departures of Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette should open more touches for junior Tyrone Tracy, who had 14 catches for 154 yards last season after a strong 2019 campaign. Nico Ragaini, No. 1 on the depth chart at the other receiving spot, had 18 catches for 191 yards last season.
Johnson is behind Tracy on the depth chart. Senior Charlie Jones, a key part of Iowa’s special teams as a punt returner last season, is behind Ragaini. Jones didn’t have a reception last year, but had 18 in two seasons at Buffalo.
Sam LaPorta, Iowa’s leading receiver last season with 27 catches, returns as the starting tight end. He leads a young group that includes redshirt freshman Luke Lachey, who is No. 2 on the depth chart.
There are a lot of options, then, in the passing game.
But it’s easy to see why there is so much looking-ahead with this group, with Johnson, Bruce, and Brody Brecht, another incoming freshman.
“We're just going to let it play out and see what happens,” Kirk Ferentz said. “We're not there yet, but I think we're going in the right direction with that group.”