IOWA CITY — Kelton Copeland wants the players he works with to take a different look at spring ball.
“I tell them it’s not a practice, it’s an opportunity,’’ Iowa’s second-year receivers coach said Tuesday.
Copeland finds himself surrounded by players looking to make the most of an opportunity that exists, an opportunity they will realize once they earn it.
“As a coach, you’d like to have every guy on your travel roster out there participating and rotating in and out, but we’re not there yet at receiver,’’ Copeland said.
The Hawkeyes generally settled into a four-player rotation at the receiver positions last fall. After losing only Matt VandeBerg from last season’s talent pool, Copeland believes Iowa has a chance to grow that group next season.
He also believes the Hawkeyes aren’t there yet.
Senior Nick Easley returns after leading Iowa with 51 receptions a year ago, but the potential Copeland sees in two sophomores who saw the field last season as true freshman, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith, anchors his hope for growth.
Smith-Marsette caught 18 passes for 187 yards last season while Smith recorded three receptions for 15 yards in limited action.
Easley has taken on a leadership role that Copeland said is helping bring the group together, described by his position coach as a “fundamental technician who does everything well.’’
Iowa coaches are looking for a greater focus from Smith-Marsette, who coach Kirk Ferentz suggested in January could benefit from “putting the phone down’’ and spending more time studying tape.
Copeland doesn’t disagree with that assessment.
“I see it on a day-to-day basis,’’ Copeland said. “It was probably a good thing that coach Ferentz said that in a public setting. It’s one thing for coach ‘Cope’ to say it in a meeting or one on one, but when coach Ferentz says it in a public setting, it’s a good thing. … If you guys see him out and about, tell him to get off his phone.’’
Mostly, Copeland wants Smith-Marsette to maximize his abilities.
“Speed, you can’t coach it. He’s one of the faster players in our room, definitely on this team,’’ Copeland said. “We’re at a point where we want him to trust his fundamentals, trust what he has and trust what he has been taught and put that to use within the system.’’
At 6-3, 219 pounds, Smith brings more of a physical presence as well as athleticism to the position.
Playing behind senior Matt VandeBerg last season, Smith had a chance to learn. Now, Copeland said he has a chance to perform.
“He definitely looks the part and he has all the intangibles,’’ Copeland said. “We had a talk before spring ball even started and I said, ‘OK, now it’s your time. There’s no more senior in front of you, no more excuses.’”
In the first four weeks of spring practices, Copeland has watched Smith embrace that opportunity.
“He’s taken that on, full steam ahead,’’ Copeland said. “He has done some things every day. He has done something that catches your eye, like ‘Wow.’ That’s something I haven’t seen in the past.’’
Copeland sees expanded opportunities for Max Cooper, a sophomore who worked his way into the rotation late last season, redshirt freshman Henry Marchese and senior Kyle Groeneweg, who transferred to Iowa a year ago from NCAA Division II Sioux Falls.
As the Hawkeyes work toward an April 20 public practice at Kinnick Stadium, quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe believes his players are benefiting from improved quickness.
“The speed of the receiving corps is a little better (than it was in 2017) and that helps,’’ O’Keefe said, expecting that to facilitate additional opportunities within the structure of the offense that Nate Stanley quarterbacks.
Copeland sees that additional quickness as part of the equation in growing Iowa’s passing attack.
“We’re building this thing and moving forward one day at a time,’’ he said.