IOWA CITY — Matt VandeBerg is back on the football field at Iowa, catching passes and working to be part of the solution to the Hawkeyes’ issues at receiver.
The fifth-year senior is also working to solve another mystery.
Just how did he suffer a second “Jones fracture’’ on the fifth metatarsal bone on his left foot, repeating an injury which forced Iowa’s top returning receiver to miss the final nine games of what was expected to be his senior season.
“I’ve got to look at film and figure out exactly if it’s me, if it’s my body and if there is something I can change to avoid it or if it was just bad luck,’’ said VandeBerg, talking about his injuries Wednesday for the first time since suffering the second one in early February.
Both injuries, the first during a practice days before the Hawkeyes’ Big Ten opener at Rutgers last fall and the second while he was working out with teammates in early February, occurred on the back end of a post-corner route.
“Nothing fancy, stuff we run all the time,’’ VandeBerg said. “That tells me that I was probably doing something wrong. If I can figure that out on film, I’m going to fix it.’’
Both injuries required surgery, slightly different procedures for an injury that doctors told him were a “one-in-a-million type thing.’’
VandeBerg now wears inserts and extra padding in his cleats and is using different techniques to help him shift his weight as he runs.
“This type of injury isn’t supposed to reoccur,’’ he said. “I’ve been told that (NBA player) Kevin Durant has had something similar a couple of times and he’s out there balling right now.’’
VandeBerg plans to be doing the same again soon.
He is currently working on regaining the conditioning he will need to add to his collection of 106 career receptions, 1,032 receiving yards and eight touchdowns.
“Now that I’ve been cleared to go, it’s about getting back into game shape,’’ VandeBerg said. “I’m working on that every day, doing what I’m told that I’m able to do.’’
That part has been difficult.
"When you play at Iowa, hard work is what you do,'' he said. "I've had to learn to listen to what the doctors and trainer say then work at what they let me work at.''
VandeBerg admits he has thought ahead to Sept. 2 and returning to action in the Hawkeyes’ season opener.
“I’m kind of looking forward to it, getting back out there, but I know there is a lot of work that has to happen first,’’ VandeBerg said.
Unable to run, VandeBerg spent the spring working to understand the new terminology in Iowa’s revised playbook.
He believes he picked things up quickly.
“I feel like I was able to pick up everything, quizzing myself over scripts to make sure that I’m on the right page enough though I physically wasn’t able to do the work,’’ VandeBerg said. “I wanted to know what every guy was doing on the field and what his job is.’’
First-year receivers coach Kelton Copeland praised VandeBerg’s leadership during the spring, even when he wasn’t on the field.
“Even though he’s not active, he has been active mentally,’’ Copeland said as Iowa worked through its 15 spring practices. “He’s still getting mental reps. He’s still asking great questions and leading by example. I have no worries about Matt learning the offense.’’
In addition to preparing for his senior season, the only receiver who will be wearing a Hawkeye uniform this fall to have caught a pass in a college game will be working to help returning underclassmen, junior college transfers and four incoming freshmen adjust as quickly as they can.
“All our guys need to take advantage of the summer and use that to make sure that we’re on the same page as the quarterbacks,’’ VandeBerg said. “That’s when big plays happen, when you have guys on the same page. … We’re going to put in the work to get better, but you can’t force the outcome.’’
VandeBerg said he is working to get comfortable with every quarterback on campus, seeking the same type of connection that he had with C.J. Beathard.
“When you have that working, it makes a lot of difference,’’ Beathard said. “I have no idea who the new guy is going to be but I want to be as comfortable working with him as I was with C.J. That’s big.’’
As he gets back into the routine, VandeBerg doesn’t expect much to change.
“My job when I showed up here was to catch the ball, run a few routes and block a little,’’ VandeBerg said. “I’m going to go hard in practice because that’s what I do. That’s how you get better.’’