Clark had the best season by an Iowa TE since Scott Slutzker in 1995, as he caught 38 passes for 539 yards and four touchdowns in 2001. Slutzker's statistics were very similar in his senior year as he caught 39 passes for 575 yards and one touchdown, while Cook had the best receiving seasons for a TE in school history as he had 49 receptions for 803 yards in 1987 and 63 receptions for 767 yards in 1988.
Although Cook missed a significant portion of the 1988 season because of an ankle injury, there were a couple of other factors involved in his statistics staying similar to the previous season. WR Quinn Early and his 63 receptions, 1004 yards, and 10 touchdowns in 1987 graduated, so in addition to not having another big weapon to take pressure off of him in 1988, Cook was a known weapon. Despite the extra attention from defenses that year, he still ended up earning first team all-American honors.
Clark (6-4, 240) is reminiscant of Cook in that he runs well for a tight end and has excellent hands. His run after the catch against Minnesota last season will eventually be remembered as one of legend as he carried several Gophers for many yards. However, as good as he was, he statistics suffered towards the end of the season as teams specially prepared for him. Special coverages adjusted towards him will continue this season until other receivers step up or a further improved running game takes pressure off.
There has been talk that the team might use more double tight end sets due to having a lack of wide receiver experience and good tight ends, but it remains to be seen whether those formations are used more than just as a change of pace. Junior Erik Jensen (6-3, 259) is a good blocking tight end who has played quite a bit over the last two years, while sophomore Tony Jackson (6-3, 265) is a physical specimen who showed improving hands in the spring game. Neither are going to catch passes like Clark, but both are very serviceable.
Wide receiver is the biggest question mark of all the starting positions on offense, but the cupboard is not empty. C.J. Jones (6-0, 185) is a returning starter who is looking to have a big year after adjusting to the Iowa Program last fall. The senior caught 34 passes for 434 yards and one touchdown last season after transferring from Garden City Community College in Kansas. He ranked third on the team with 837 all-purpose yards last season after adding 164 on punt returns and 237 on kickoff returns to his receiving totals.
Many Hawk fans feel a little better about the WR position after the performance of redshirt freshman Ed Hinkel in the spring game. Hinkel (6-1, 170) came to Iowa as a high school prospect known for his playmaking abilities. Hinkel will never have the speed of Tim Dwight, but he is taller and may be a bigger target. In the spring game he caught six passes for 183 yards, including a 56-yard scoring reception.
Maurice Brown (6-2, 210) has been a prospect that has had the physical ability to make plays for the Hawks for quite some time, but things have continued to sidetrack him. Maurice is now a junior, and although he has been banged up in practice this fall, the staff is hoping that he can finally start to produce on the field since he has nice size and quickness. Ramon Ochoa (5-10, 189) has that extra heartbeat that Coach Fry used to talk about in addition to pretty good hands, but it remains to be seen whether the junior has the speed and quickness to overcome his lack of size.
The player that may eventually pass both Ochoa and Brown is true freshman Clint Solomon. A former high school quarterback who excelled in track, Solomon (6-4, 170) is very wiry right now for a college player, but he has the ability to stretch the field and go up and get the ball. The Hawks have had nice size receivers in the past, but Clint is maybe the first in some time that can both stretch the field and have a 6-4 frame to go up and catch passes over a typical 5-10 defensive back. He has already moved into the two-deep roster, and has gotten positive public reviews from Coach Ferentz. He could have a very good upside if he fills out some and continues to adjust to playing receiver in college.
This unit does not compare to the receiving corps of 2000 in experience or known talent, but the 2000 starters of Kevin Kasper and Kahlil Hill did not have a good offensive line to give the quarterback time to throw to them. They also did not have a mobile quarterback like Brad Banks to buy time for them to get open, nor did the 2000 Hawkeyes have a great pass catching tight end or a good running game to take pressure off of them and provide balance.
Kevin Kasper stepped up as a senior in 2000 and was outstanding. Kahlil Hill stepped up in 2001 and was pretty good. Can C.J. Jones step up in his senior year? Overall, the receiving corps should be rated as about average at best in the Big Ten until some of the unproven players like Hinkel and Solomon get games under their belt and prove themselves. Clark's presence as a pass threat and a good running game should give the receivers single coverage most of the time, and the line should pass block well enough so they have time to get open. However, the receivers still have to prove they can make enough plays for the Hawks to win at least eight games.