A brand new season is almost upon us as we look forward to the 2015 version of Iowa Hawkeyes football. For the next several days, Hawkeye Insider will be giving a preview of what to watch for, what to expect, and a prediction on performance from each position group on the team.
Today, we set our focus on the wide receivers and tight ends.
Since fall camp began, the Iowa coaches have been adamant about having three guys they felt comfortable with at the wide receiver position, Jacob Hillyer, Tevaun Smith, and Matthew VandeBerg. Though the offense is a bit of a work in progress while breaking in new starters at a few different spots, those three have provided periodical sparks throughout the first few weeks of practice.
"Tevaun Smith, Matthew VandeBerg, and Jacob Hillyer (are the dependable guys)," said wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy at Media Day. "So there's a few guys."
Hillyer and VandeBerg have shown the best set of hands on the team from my standpoint so far. Hillyer also turns up field well, and is quick in short spaces. VandeBerg's dependability is due to him being open quite a bit. He's a guy that is a great route runner, and is natural at creating separation. Tevaun Smith, though inconsistent at times, is the deep threat that can take the top off a defense.
At tight end, Jake Duzey is the guy, and a very reliable one. He played a prominent role last season, but with him out due to injury, George Kittle becomes the man. He's had a great Fall camp, and has been someone that is consistently making plays for the offense.
"George Kittle has had several explosive plays over the course of camp," offensive coordinator Greg Davis stated. "Tevaun (Smith) and (Matthew VandeBerg also). We have the opportunity to be more explosive."
THE PRIMARY BACKUPS
At wideout, Iowa has their three primary weapons but are in search of the next three. One has risen to the top in receiver Riley McCarron. He's someone the coaches raved about yesterday during the media availability, and head coach Kirk Ferentz did as well following Kids' Day.
"Right now we have four guys that we are confident we can put in the game and that they will play well and we're trying to find the fifth and sixth," explained head coach Kirk Ferentz. "Riley McCarron has had a really impressive preseason. If we could get a couple more guys to join the party, that'd be a good thing."
The Hawkeyes play two tight ends together for a bulk of their offensive looks, so he's not necessarily the backup with Duzey out, but Henry Krieger-Coble seems to be the next guy following Kittle. He's been seen in the most action alongside Kittle, and has even made some plays for the offense down the field.
"Some guys stepped up and made some big plays," head coach Kirk Ferentz shared about the scrimmage a couple days ago. "First one was Henry (Krieger Coble) made a good catch and run off a nice throw from C.J. (Beathard)."
THE REST OF THE BUNCH
As pointed out above, Iowa's coaching staff is still looking for two more significant contributors at the wideout position for this season. A few guys are in the mix are the freshmen Jerminic Smith and Adrian Falconer, as well as Jay Scheel, Andrew Stone, and Andre Harris.
"We still need some guys to establish themselves and earn their spot," noted receivers coach Bobby Kennedy. "We like to carry six guys, maybe seven, in the rotation. It's going to be interesting to see which ones emerge. I'd like to see Andrew Stone, Andre Harris, and Jay Scheel emerge, and obviously the freshmen that have come in."
The rest of the tight ends vying for roles are Peter Pekar, who made some nice catches during the scrimmage on Kids' Day, Jon Wisnieski, Nate Vejvoda, and Nate Wieting, who is a freshman that has flashed at times.
The first few guys are proven and should provide veteran leadership and experience to the position. It'll be about creating consistent separation for them and getting open quickly and often. I think they can do that, but the bigger question will be their big play ability. They have the quarterback for the task in C.J. Beathard, but if they have the receivers for it remains a concern. Tevaun Smith can stretch the field vertically, but who else will?
Another angle will be who steps up, if anyone after the first four. I think Jay Scheel and Jerminic Smith have the most potential to do so, but they need to become more reliable and need to form a better understanding of what to do out there.
Even with Duzey out, I think the tight ends will be an asset for Beathard. Kittle has been very good, and Krieger Coble has been steady. It could be a heck of a combination for the Hawkeyes when they're able to pair Kittle with Duzey after he returns.