Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz has enjoyed taking playful jabs about the weight – or lack of it – on Herb Grigsby. In fact, while commenting on the progress of his sophomore receiver a few weeks ago, the coach landed another shot.
"He is more confident, more decisive; he is running good routes, he is catching the ball well," Ferentz said before breaking into a smile. "The only thing is that he is not a big guy. I don't know if he has cracked 150 yet."
Luckily, Grigsby takes the ribbing in good nature. The Arkansas native moves easy like his southern roots.
"I think that I might just be a little bit over 150 now," Grigsby jokingly said in response to his coach's comment.
While they joke about Grigsby's weight, the funny business ends with his improved play on the field. Indications from Ferentz point towards the 6-foot, 170-pounder grabbing the No. 3 receiver spot vacated by Capitol One Bowl hero Warren Holloway.
"He had a really good spring, and he's continued that into this camp," starting Iowa wideout Ed Hinkel said of Grigsby. "He's just done a great job. He just keeps getting better with all of the little things he's doing.
"He's matured a lot. Even off of the field, he's really matured. He's gotten focused on what's important."
The first pass caught by Grigsby this fall will be his first as a collegian. Until he compiles some statistics, he'll be under the spotlight to prove he can get it done. He seems to be taking the right approach.
"I'm not satisfied," Grigsby said. "You've always got much more to improve on. It's always (nice) to hear the head coach say something good about you. That's what every guy wants. But I don't want to say I'm happy. I really haven't established anything. I really haven't done anything on a Saturday."
Grigsby graduated from Mayflower (Ark.) High as its all-time leader in receiving yards (2.549), receptions (89) and touchdown catches (35). As a senior, he rolled up 1,052 yards by way of 36 passes received to go along with 15 scores.
While he possessed the talent to play, Grigsby first needed to learn the position at a college level and increase his weight and strength before hitting the field for the Hawkeyes.
"The biggest thing is that he just knows what he is doing now much better than a year ago, certainly," Ferentz said. "He is not the biggest guy in the world, but he just seems to be coming into his own. He is maturing. The time that he has been here is starting to show up now, instead of just staying on the same path."
Although important, gaining weight was not the most important area of improvement needed in Grigsby's mind. He arrived at Iowa at a less than scale tipping 150 pounds.
"The weight is getting there," he said. "It's been an adjustment and a struggle. I was blessed with a fast metabolism.
"But I've improved a lot as far as physical strength. I don't even think the weight was as big of a deal as strength overall. Coach (Chris) Doyle, I've got to give all the thanks to him for everything he's done."
Once the physical transformation reached a level required to compete in the rough and tumble Big Ten, Grigsby developed the game and receiver position in his mind.
"I think it's more mental," Grigsby said of the final hurdle to get onto the field. "After you're in here two or three years, physically you can work on some stuff, but it's mostly mental.
"You have to improve on everything. It starts with the smaller things like getting off of the line to the bigger things like catching every ball, recognizing defenses and knowing protections."
Grigsby is attempting to move into the toughest of all receiver positions in the Iowa system – The Slot. As an inside player, he has to be able to block linebackers, run precise routes that pull defenders off of his teammates and be aware of a wide array of defenses and how to attack them.
"Any time you're in the slot, there's a reason," Grigsby said. "Whether it's to get another guy open or to get yourself open or a combination of both, the slot here is a tough position to come in and learn.
"I think that's why you see the guys that play the slot are usually second- or third-year players. It takes experience. You have to know protections. Each route has a purpose. A certain route against one defense might be getting another guy open. Against a different defense, it might be getting yourself open. It's a combination of what the defense is and what route is called."
Hinkel has played the slot at times in his career, and knows it can be a difficult task. The senior noticed Grigsby having to block menacing Hawkeye linebacker Chad Greenway during the Kids' Day Scrimmage last week.
"When we're in a pass play, he's got to get off of Chad as opposed to a cornerback," Hinkel said. "It's a little harder. It's a little more physical position. But he's been doing a great job. He's quick so he can get around those guys pretty good."
Grigsby has leaned on the knowledge of veteran teammates like Hinkel and fellow all-Big Ten receiver Clinton Solomon.
"They've been a lot of help," Grigsby said. "They're students of the game. Being able to be a part of this with them and being able to look up to them and seeing how they take each and every day on the practice field, on the game field, just every aspect of football, you can't ask for much more than that."
Earlier in his career, rumors surfaced that Grigsby might be a candidate for a position change. That talk has seemed to heat up frequently when a receiver doesn't play right away at Iowa.
"I've always been a receiver," Grigsby said. "I don't want to play defense. I never heard anything from a higher authority or coaches. There are always rumors and speculation, but I never heard serious talk about moving to defense."
And after two years of going against the Iowa defense in practice, Grigsby finds it hard to imagine changing to the other side of the ball.
"The defense, in practice, we don't like them," he said. "In the locker room, they're all nice and cool. But when we come out here, it's competition, us against them. And in us doing our best, we can't have any kind of pity for the defense."
Grigsby also did not pity his competitors for the top slot spot. He knew what had to be done.
"It's consistency," Grigsby said. "The top two receivers are consistent players. That's what the third spot is really going to be built on. (The coaches) can trust you on every play knowing what to expect."
Grigsby said that the competition was friendly, and it brought the best out of all of the contestants. And although Grigsby left camp with a seemingly solid hold on Iowa's top slot spot, he knew the other receivers were staying close behind in case he falters.
And Hinkel said his young teammate likely will hit some rough spots.
"There are still a lot of things that he needs to learn," Hinkel said. "I don't think he's ever caught a ball in a game. He's still young. He's still learning."