The offensive line, running back, and quarterback positions also have talent, but the amount of returning players with proven experience leaves wide receiver as the position on offense with the most questions. Senior Kahlil Hill (6-3, 195) is the most proven player as he had 58 receptions for 619 yards and 5 TDs last season, yet there are even questions surrounding him. Criticized for his inconsistent effort in both games and practice over the last few years, many around the Hawkeye fan base wonder whether Hill can mature enough to put it all together for a super senior year.
Like Randy Moss, Hill's blocking has not always measured up to his talent. He used to have problems catching the ball over the middle and in coverage, but that improved greatly last season. He enters the 2001 season ranked 13th all-time in receptions (93) and 24th in receiving yards (1,051) and has at least one reception in every game that he has played. With a big senior year, Hill can rapidly move up the charts, and that should happen. By some accounts at media day, Hill is working harder than ever, and has been at the head of the pack in the sprint workouts over the summer.
If Kahlil can block and catch to his potential this year while staying healthy, it should be easier to break in a new wide receiver to take Kasper's place. Senior Chris Oliver (6-2, 210) is the only other returning wide receiver with receptions from last year, as he caught 10 passes for 206 yards and 2 TDs. Oliver was listed as the starter going into media day, but now he is fighting off junior college transfer C.J. Jones (6-0, 185). Oliver has good hands, and although he will never be known for having blazing speed, his quickness has really improved in Coach Doyle's strength and conditioning program. Whether he starts or not, Chris needs to have a big year as one of the top three wide receivers.
C.J. Jones has really turned some heads in the first ten days of practice, but that shouldn't be much of a surprise since he was supposed to be an impact player. An all-American at Garden City JC in Kansas, the Floridian should add big-play speed and high energy to the position. If he can continue to adapt to his surroundings and thrive in Big Ten environments of 70,000 fans instead of the 7,000 fans in junior college games, the wideout position should be strong.
In addition to the top three WRs, senior Tim Dodge (5-10, 180) moves back to offense after playing cornerback last year. Like Jeremy Allen, Tim is an all-American on the track team and his speed should help him be a deep threat this fall. Sophomores Maurice Brown (6-2, 210) and Ramon Ochoa (5-10, 189) are both unproven talents that impressed the coaches this spring.
Two true freshmen could also see time this season. Ed Hinkel (6-1, 170) was recruited as a great athlete who would probably play defense, but because of injuries to Dodge and Brown, he has been moved to WR. Darius Butler (6-1, 190) has not been talked about much so far this fall, but he has the athletic talent to make an impact with the team.
For years, the tight end position used to be very prominent in the Iowa program as it was occupied by players like Marv Cook and Scott Slutzker, among others. Hayden Fry had the tight ends stand up in the formations, whereas everyone else in the country had the Tight ends line up in a three-point stance. The position was also noticeable because the position caught a lot of passes.
The last five years the position has turned into one that almost solely focuses on blocking. Gone are the days of standing in formation, and seemingly gone are the days of a position player leading the team in receptions. The two players who started all 12 games at this position last year have moved on, Kyle Trippeer to graduation and Robert Gallery to offensive tackle.
However, there is hope that this position will perform better than it looks on paper. Sophomore Eric Jensen (6-3, 259) lettered last year and caught 2 passes for 37 yards and 1 TD. He is a good blocker and could be the starter this fall. Junior Dallas Clark (6-4, 240) moved to tight end in the spring after being a linebacker, and impressed everyone with his athleticism and ability to catch the ball. He is currently listed as the starter going into the Kent State opener. A former high school quarterback, Clark actually needs to work on his blocking more than his pass catching skills.
Redshirt freshman Tony Jackson (6-3, 265) has also impressed the coaches and will bid for playing time this fall. Freshmen C.J. Barkema (6-8, 235) and Ben Gates (6-6, 235) were big recruits and are the future at the position, but both will redshirt this fall.
Quotes on the Tight End and Wide Receiver positions from Media Day (8/10/2001)
"I expect to turn heads because I am a good player and my coaches and teammates expect me to be a good player. I am making them believe in me because I have all the ball they have thrown at me."
"I came here because I want to play in the Big Ten in front of huge crowds against great players. This is where I belong."
"I have picked up all the plays, because I was here in the summer. I've been hitting my playbook really hard, and every time I step on the field I will play very hard."
"When I played linebacker, I didn't think blocking was as tough as it is. Since I have made the transition, I have tried to take positive steps forward every day. I try to pick up the little things and have great coaches and teammates who always try to help me out."
"I never thought I was going to be a tight end when I came here. I have defense in my blood and love hitting people and love that side of the ball. I used to laugh at the whole idea, but coach just kind of just kept asking me and told me to take an honest look at it. I ended up thinking it was a good idea and have enjoyed it."
"It has been difficult to pick up the system. Right now, I have been just working on what the tight end is supposed to be doing, and trying to get that down. A lot of the guys on offense know where everyone is going and what everyone is supposed to be doing to get the whole to work together. I am not that far along yet, but it is improving. I guess you could say that I am still in the tunnel vision stage."
"They want me to add more weight to play the position. They want me at 250, but right now I am at 243. I didn't get up there, but I am satisfied because I have put in the work in all of those workouts. I feel I am strong enough and fast enough to get through. The weight always helps, being on the line with all of the big guys, but combined with good technique I feel I am strong enough to make it through."
"A lot of the guys around here are bigger and stronger, but what is so amazing is that most of these guys are faster. Coach Doyle does a great job of mixing things up and making it fun while shocking the muscle. Some of the things seemed weird at first, but it has been great and many of the lifts help football specific movements."
"As a former defensive player, I think straight-up blocking and driving guys down field is the thing that I am always working on. I can position block well and reach block, but I need to keep getting better at staying on the blocks."