IOWA FOOTBALL

Hawkeye coaches deal with improved receiver, running back depth

2014-04-09T16:37:00Z 2014-04-10T12:39:27Z Hawkeye coaches deal with improved receiver, running back depthSteve Batterson sbatterson@qctimes.com The Quad-City Times

IOWA CITY — Crowded meeting rooms and heightened competition are welcomed byproducts of improved depth at the wide receiver and running back positions at Iowa this spring.

Position coaches in both areas don’t mind having more players competing for snaps as the Hawkeyes work toward a 1 p.m. public practice Saturday in West Des Moines which will move Iowa beyond the midpoint of its 15 spring practices.

“I think it’s going to be a little tougher around here to play and I think with some of the guys we think or hope we have a chance to get (in recruiting), it’s going to be even tougher," wide receivers assistant Bobby Kennedy said.

“I tell our players all the time that competition is a good thing. I get it that it’s no fun to stand on the sideline, but the way this program is built and the way it’s set up, you have to earn your way in."

Running backs assistant Chris White could be working with as many as nine running backs and two fullbacks in fall camp, providing plenty of competition.

“We have experience, and we have some young guys who are trying to make a move and earn their niche at the running back position," White said. "… We have great competition. Our guys are really driven, they’re hungry."

White said redshirt freshmen Akrum Wadley and Jonathan Parker add explosive speed to the mix of backs Iowa already has on its roster, showing the ability to “turn a 10-yard run into a touchdown."

Calling it “a good problem to have," White said Iowa coaches are trying to figure out this spring just how to best use the depth the Hawkeyes will have at the skill positions.

Kennedy finds himself in a similar, yet somewhat different situation.

He has plenty of players to work with, but Iowa has limited experience at receiver behind returning starters Kevonte Martin-Manley and Tevaun Smith and backups Jacob Hillyer and Damond Powell.

They are being pushed by a group that includes Matt VandeBerg, who saw time last fall as a true freshmen, and a talented group that redshirted a year ago, including Derrick Willies of Rock Island, Andre Harris and Derrick Mitchell of the St. Louis area and Texan A.J. Jones.

“I’m really pleased that we decided to redshirt some of those guys because I think they’ve got the ability to really change the, not necessarily the face of our program, but our ability outside to make plays," Kennedy said.

He has encouraged Iowa’s younger receivers to follow the daily work ethic of Martin-Manley, who led the team last season with 40 receptions covering 388 yards.

Kennedy has also encouraged each to work to develop additional strength and knowledge which will ultimately allow them to fill multiple receiver positions within the structure of the offense.

He used Willies as an example of the potential he sees.

“He obviously has a tremendous upside with his size and speed, but he’s not yet fully developed," Kennedy said. “… He still has a lot of work to do, but the thing that encourages me about Derrick is I have seen him make great strides since he first stepped on campus."

Over time, Kennedy has watched Willies develop a greater understanding and comfort level with the Hawkeye offense.

“He’s made some really good plays and some really big plays this spring, so it excites us because here’s this kid who is big, fast, can run and has a really good demeanor about him," Kennedy said. “I see him being a key player for us in the future."

For now, it is the daily progress which will help Kennedy sort it all out as the Hawkeyes work to a manageable six-player rotation at the receiver positions.

“What we do is find the first guy, then the second guy, then the third, the fourth, the fifth and the sixth," Kennedy said. “So, to keep them engaged, they know they’d better start producing and better start playing well in practice. It all starts in practice."

Copyright 2016 The Quad-City Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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