IOWA CITY — The door is now open.
The big question is which player — or players — will do what it takes to seize the opportunity.
University of Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz is looking for new players to step up among the receiving corps after three pass-catchers latched on with NFL teams following this weekends NFL Draft.
Receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette was a fifth-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings while fellow wideout Brandon Smith (Dallas Cowboys) and tight end Shaun Beyer (Denver Broncos) signed free-agent contracts after going undrafted.
Tight end Sam LaPorta led the team with 26 receptions for 260 yards in the fall, though Smith-Marsette and Smith were 2-3 in receptions and yards while leading the team with two touchdowns apiece.
But some of the returning and incoming pieces have given the Hawkeyes reason to be excited.
“They’re very athletic, and I feel like in the receivers room there’s a lot of guys who care,” linebacker Jack Campbell said after Saturday’s controlled scrimmage. “All those guys are really good guys wanting to learn and the youth in that room, spring was just so beneficial for them. We have playmakers everywhere, so I’m excited to see what happens with them.”
Tyrone Tracy, Nico Ragaini, Charlie Jones and Max Cooper are the only returning lettermen among the wide receivers, a group that has been infused with talent with the additions of early enrollees Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson.
Tracy and Ragaini missed Saturday’s final spring practice with injuries, but are expected to be the team’s top two wideouts in the fall. Tracy had 14 catches for 154 yards and a score in the condensed 2020 season. Ragaini was fourth with 17 receptions for 189 yards.
“Tyrone is going to be Tyrone. He’s a playmaker. You put the ball in the man’s hands and you never know what he’s going to do,” running back Tyler Goodson said. “We call ourselves ‘TNT’ because we like to be explosive, and he’s every bit of that. He’s very explosive and he’s going to be great for this team.”
Jones was a revelation as a punt returner last fall and Ferentz has hopes that he can maintain that while transitioning into more of an every down offensive player, similar to Terry Roberts’ shift from more of a return specialist to cornerback.
Cooper is also in the mix, but has battled injuries the last couple seasons.
“He has had 15 good days and I think he’s taking advantage of those repetitions,” Ferentz said of Cooper. “He’s done a lot of good things, too, so we have a lot of confidence in him.”
Bruce, a 5-foot-10, 195-pound freshman from Olathe, Kan., who transferred to Ankeny for his senior season, was an Iowa Class 4A first-team all-state running back this past fall after rushing for 660 yards and eight touchdowns in six games. He also caught 30 passes for 451 yards and five touchdowns. As a junior in Kansas, he ran for 2,479 yards and 43 touchdowns while passing for 404 yards and five TDs.
“Arland Bruce is a guy who’s just kind of impressed us with the way he’s done things, so we’ve given him a lot of work, too,” Ferentz said. “So, if the door is open, go ahead and go in there and do something with it.”
Johnson, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound freshman from Bellevue, Neb., was the captain of Nebraska’s super all-state team after totaling 1,337 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns in seven games as a senior at Bellevue West High.
Jack Johnson, Isaiah Wagner, Jackson Ritter, Desmond Hutson and Alex Kritta also saw reps at receiver during the scrimmage portion of Saturday’s practice. Sophomore receiver Nolan Donald took snaps at running back with the second-team offense.
“At that other spot right now, it’s a jump ball,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got guys that have the potential to do it right now; we talk about a guy like Ritter, we talk about a guy like Hutson. But they’ve got to keep moving, they’ve got to do better because they’re not at that level yet. ... It’s really about who can do the best between now and September.”