Iowa’s options at wide receiver for the 2017 season were already scarce.
On Friday afternoon, the Hawkeyes lost their top returning playmaker at the position for good.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz announced sophomore Jerminic Smith would no longer be a member of the football program, following a suspension during last month’s spring practice due to academic issues.
“We have mutually agreed that at this point, it is in everyone’s best interest that Jerminic starts a new chapter in his collegiate career,” Ferentz said in a release. “We wish him success moving forward.”
Smith finished his sophomore season with 23 catches for 314 yards and two touchdowns, and was the No. 1 wide receiver on Iowa’s depth chart entering spring practice. The 6-foot-1, 192-pound athlete from Garland, Texas will leave the unit thin and inexperienced ahead of June workouts.
The other three players around him on April’s depth chart — sophomore Devonte Young, junior Adrian Falconer and Iowa Western transfer Nick Easley — have zero NCAA receptions in their careers.
“My biggest focus at this point is coaching the guys on the field and in that room with me as a group,” Iowa wide receiver coach Kelton Copeland said in a press conference last month.
“If you’re not in that room right now, for whatever the reason may be, I’m not focused on that.”
Matt VandeBerg was a standout receiver for the Hawkeyes in 2015 and chipped in 19 catches for 284 yards and three scores before injuring his foot following the fourth game of 2016. Reaggravating the injury ultimately kept him out of spring practice with Smith, leaving the Hawkeyes without their top targets from the last two seasons for offseason training.
Running back Akrum Wadley is technically Iowa’s top returning receiver from 2016. But even he was held out of large chunks of the offseason to limit his contact before the fall.
Ferentz was asked about the disjointed group and how they might improve Iowa’s passing game at a press conference on April 21.
“We’ll be a better team when we get VandeBerg out there, we’ll be a better team when Wadley is out there and we’re able to do a few things,” Ferentz said. “We need some more help and maturity on the outside with our receivers … we’ve got a lot of room to cover between now and September, certainly.”
Smith came up in a question a few seconds later.
Iowa wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland discusses his thin position group. Chad Leistikow/The Register
“We’ll just let his actions speak,” Ferentz said. “So, we’ll evaluate it when the semester is over and see how things go.”
Now that Smith is gone, the Hawkeyes will turn their attention to developing recruits and replacements further down the rotation.
Jay Scheel’s unexpected departure in January means Iowa’s only other wide receiver with a 2016 catch is Ronald Nash (6-2, 210 pounds), who hauled in two passes for 14 yards. Backups like Dominique Dafney (6-2, 225) and Brandon Bishop (5-9, 180) have suddenly become prospects for playing time.
Current high school seniors could also avoid Iowa’s usual redshirt routine because receiver is such a position of need. The Hawkeyes signed three recruits for 2017: Max Cooper (6-0, 175) from Wisconsin, Henry Marchese (6-3, 180) from Illinois and Brandon Smith (6-3, 205) from Mississippi.
“The opportunity is here and now,” Copeland said. “A normal fan can look at our roster and see that there is an opportunity for a young guy to come in and play. It’s all up to how they prepare before they get here. How quickly can they pick up the offense and how hard are they willing to work once they get here?”
Smith caught 29 passes and played in 26 games as a Hawkeye. He was the first true freshman to record over 100 receiving yards in a single game under Ferentz in a 2015 win against Illinois.