IOWA CITY — Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley believe they are ready to lead, but the most experienced receivers on the Iowa roster know they can’t do it alone.
The Hawkeyes expect to be part of a more diversified passing attack, one that throws the ball not only in the direction of its receivers but also to a deep, talented group of tight ends and a collection of running backs with pass-catching abilities.
“I like the number of options that we have in this offense,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “We may not have another Marvin (McNutt), but we have a lot of guys who are capable of catching the ball and moving the offense.”
Davis and Martin-Manley are the most experienced of the group.
Now a senior, Davis caught 50 passes for 713 yards a year ago, while Martin-Manley pulled down 30 passes for 323 yards as a redshirt freshman.
“We understand that there are questions at our position, but it’s up to us to answer those questions,” Davis said. “I’m a senior now — the time, it has flown by — but like Marvin last year, I need to step up and compete at a level that you would expect a senior to compete at. That’s the plan.”
He’s not alone.
Martin-Manley realizes his eligibility clock is ticking as well.
“I look around the locker room and I’m realizing that I’m not the new guy anymore,” Martin-Manley said. “The game is slowing down for me and things are coming more naturally. It takes time, but I’m seeing those things happen that I always heard would happen with experience.”
Iowa hopes to create mismatches with the pair and with 6-foot-7, 265-pound C.J. Fiedorowicz at tight end. Senior Zach Derby and redshirt freshman Jake Duzey factor into things as well in an offense that will rely more frequently on double tight end sets.
“It’s competitive, and not just with the other receivers,” junior Jordan Cotton said. “We’re competing with tight ends and running backs to work our way onto the field.”
Cotton is among a handful of young receivers attempting to work their way onto the field more frequently this fall.
Don Shumpert, a junior whose quickness has been utilized on special teams, finds himself competing with Steven Staggs, Cotton and a number of younger receivers including freshman Tevaun Smith for roles in the receiving corps.
“Certainly Kevonte had an outstanding spring, and we’re counting on him to play really well, and Keenan had good production in the Big Ten so there’s no reason why he shouldn’t have a great year as a senior,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“Now, we have to supplement that, and the door is wide open for those other guys. It’s certainly an opportunity for them.”
Shumpert, a St. Louis native who has yet to catch a collegiate pass, Staggs, a senior from Oskaloosa, Iowa, and Cotton, the son of former Hawkeye and Davenport Central standout Marshall Cotton, are among those getting a close look this fall.
“I feel like I’m ready now to step in and contribute,” Cotton said. “I’ve watched and learned from the guys in front of me, and I feel like I’ve positioned myself for the chance to compete.”
Cotton believes Hawkeyes coaches when they say that roles in the receiving corps are up for grabs as Iowa works toward its Sept. 1 season opener against Northern Illinois.
“They’ve talked a lot about having a clean slate, and with the staff changes, there are fresh sets of eyes on everybody right now, and I feel like we’re all getting a chance to show what we can do,” Cotton said. “That’s providing all of us with motivation. Marvin caught a lot of balls a year ago, and it’s up to us earn those opportunities now. That’s what we’re all working toward.”