IOWA CITY – With Matt VandeBerg working to get healthy and Jerminic Smith working to get his academic situation in order, Kelton Copeland’s work begins with a blank slate.
As the Iowa football team works toward next Friday’s 7 p.m. spring practice at Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes’ new receivers coach finds himself focusing on fundamentals with an inexperienced group of prospects.
Adrian Falconer and Devonte Young are the only receivers on scholarship currently on the practice field for Iowa, and neither has caught a pass at the collegiate level.
Walk-on Ronald Nash did catch two passes last season and the junior is one of three transfers from Iowa Western Community College trying to catch the attention of coaches this spring, joining Nick Easley and Dominique Dafney.
The group started with the basics.
“The first thing we did as a position group started with stance and start, just focusing on the fundamentals of how to be a receiver,’’ Copeland said. “We’re working with guys to become an efficient player on and off the field and moving on from there. That’s where our biggest focus has been to this point.’’
VandeBerg, who has 106 career receptions, is expected back from a foot injury by the time summer conditioning works begins in June. Copeland praised the leadership that VandeBerg provides from the sidelines.
“He’s shown up to every meeting, been accountable, shown up before practice, after practice, before meetings, after meetings,’’ Copeland said. “Even though he’s not active, he is still active mentally. He’s still getting mental reps, still asking great questions and leading by example.’’
Smith’s status is less certain.
The junior caught 23 passes for 314 yards last season in nine games as a starter, but is being withheld from spring practices for failing to meet team academic expectations including class and study table attendance.
Copeland said Smith’s return is essentially up to Smith.
“My biggest focus at this point is coaching the guys on the field and in that room with me as a group,’’ he said. “If you’re not in that room right now, for whatever reason, I’m not focused on that. My focus is on developing that room with guys who are in that room right now.’’
Copeland is approaching the overall lack of experience at the position with an open mind and said ultimately whoever is the most consistent will be on the field this fall for Iowa regardless of how long they have been with the program.
He conveyed that message to Iowa’s four incoming receivers last weekend, telling them that opportunities for playing time could be available.
“I just let them know that they needed to be prepared,’’ Copeland said. “I will never guarantee anything, but the opportunity is there and … if guys prepare, do the necessary things and get here as prepared as well as you can, the opportunity might come sooner rather than later.’’
He stressed that with Iowa’s returning receivers as well.
Copeland met Tuesday with Falconer and Young, encouraging them to work to make the most of the opportunities that exist at the receiver position.
“That’s the challenge to them, to get over the hump and understand that now’s the time to push. Whatever we’ve done up to this point, that’s who we are on film. No matter what you want to be and who you think you are, what you put on film, that’s who you are. That’s what the world sees,’’ Copeland said.
“I told them if you haven’t put on film who you want to be, it’s time to change that. Either by effort, execution or production, that’s the next step.’’
Young said following the team’s public practice at West Des Moines a week ago he understands that as well.
“I was thinking too much last year, trying to figure things out as a freshman,’’ Young said. “Now, I feel like I’m moving a lot faster. I’m recognizing defenses better, seeing things better. I still have work to do, but it’s time to take it to the next level. That needs to happen.’’