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Hawkeye receiving corps is deep, talented, untested

[ 0 ] April 10, 2014 |
Damond Powell hauls in a catch Saturday against Michigan State's Trae Waynes. Powell had two catches for 19 yards in the loss. (USA TODAY Sports photo)

Damond Powell hauls in a catch against Michigan State’s Trae Waynes. Powell had two catches for 19 yards in the loss. (USA TODAY Sports photo)

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Bobby Kennedy caught himself.

As the second-year receivers coach began touting the potential of Iowa’s wideouts, he started to gush.

Then, his comments became more measured.

“I’m really pleased we decided to redshirt some of those guys, because I think they’ve got the ability to really, maybe change — not necessarily the face of our program, but our ability outside to make plays,” Kennedy said. “But like I said, it’s a continuous process, and they need to continue to grow and develop.”

He was speaking specifically about a quartet of underclassmen — Andre Harris, Derrick Mitchell, Matt VandeBerg and Derrick Willies — but the entire unit offers uncommon potential.

As the Hawkeyes prepare for the 2014 season, it’s not a matter of finding viable targets, but determining who is worthy of being on the field.

“What we do is we find the first guy, then the second guy, then the third guy, then the fourth guy,” Kennedy said. “We usually have a six-man rotation. They know they’d better start producing and better start playing well in practice.”

Kevonte Martin-Manley was Iowa’s top receiver last season, with 40 catches for 388 yards and five touchdowns.

He’s joined in the starting lineup by Tevaun Smith (24 catches, 310 yards and a touchdown) and Jacob Hillyer (11 catches, 135 yards, two touchdowns), but things remain fluid.

Damond Powell, a junior-college transfer who made 12 receptions for 291 yards and two touchdowns for Iowa last fall, remains an intriguing option.

“What I am trying to do with Damond is get him to be a complete player rather than just a guy that goes deep,” Kennedy said. “He had a bunch of opportunities, and he did some things really well. But you’ve got to remember, he’s in a new offense.

“He struggled with some other things. I see him through this spring and then also another training camp really, hopefully, making a move and continuing to develop.”

This is also a time for others to make strides.

Harris, a 6-foot, 180-pound redshirt freshman from Kirkwood, Mo., earned all-state honors as a high school senior.

“Boy, the sky’s the limit for him,” Kennedy said. “We continually talk to him about maturing and growing up because he’s really a good kid. He just doesn’t let everybody know it yet. So he’s young in his development.”

Mitchell, another redshirt freshman, from St. Louis, played quarterback defensive back and receiver as a prep.

He stands 6-1, 205 pounds.

“A really strong and powerful guy,” Kennedy said. “If you look at his shoulders, you can probably put a two-by-four on his back and not see it.

“He has to do a little better job of getting in and out of those cuts. Sometimes, he doesn’t play as physical as he could be, which I think he’ll grow into.”

The 6-4, 210-pound Willies is a redshirt freshman from Rock Island, Ill. He caught a total of 113 passes for 1,811 yards his last two high school seasons.

“A phenomenal athlete,” Kennedy said, “but what he has to do, which I think Tevaun is helping him with, is just (being) consistent overall.

“A lot of these young guys will make a play … and then bust one or drop what people call an easy pass.”

VandeBerg, a sophomore from Brandon, S.D., started twice last fall and finished with eight receptions for 59 yards.

“He’s a guy who has got to develop a little more strength,” Kennedy said. “Their metabolism is so high, putting weight on sometimes is tough.

“He’s got really good quickness, getting in and out of cuts, can stretch the field. I see him as a guy who has an opportunity to play and make some impact.”

It seems the same could be said for several Hawkeye receivers.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 15 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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