Brown: Iowa's wide receivers remain a work in progress

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY – Bobby Kennedy wasn't running for president Wednesday. No stump speeches, no idle promises.

Instead, Iowa's third-year wide receivers coach was quite frank in his assessment of a position that has been a weak link in the Hawkeyes' offense.

"We're moving in the right direction," Kennedy said. "But let's be honest. Moving in the right direction and getting there is a long haul."

When Kennedy landed at Iowa after Colorado let him go following the 2012 season, he was reunited with offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The two worked together previously at Texas. This is their 10th season in tandem.

"I'm the longest tenured wide receiver coach in his career," Kennedy said. "He either runs them off or I'm crazy for staying with him."

MORE BROWN: Woods embraces opportunity at Tight End U.

Iowa's passing game was a crazy mess in 2012, the first-year Davis called plays. Since 2012, passing yards have jumped from 2,249 yards to 3,081. Seven passing touchdowns in 2012, 21 last season. But there's plenty to be accomplished before anyone labels this a lethal position.

"I was not pleased with the overall performance of my group last year," Kennedy said. "That falls on me."

Passing yards per game increased from 197.1 to 237, yet the blocking left a lot to be desired. Kennedy sees progress across the board this spring, but adds there's a lot of room to grow.

Gone are Kevonte Martin-Manley, Iowa's career receptions leader, and Damond Powell, the team's best deep threat. But there's one reason why the Hawkeyes' passing game in 2015 should stretch the field more than it did a year ago. C.J. Beathard has replaced Jake Rudock as the starting quarterback. Beathard has a bigger arm.

"I was under the belief that we had two really good quarterbacks," Kennedy said. "And now C.J. is the guy. I'm fully supportive of that decision. There's a tempo change. That thing comes and you better be ready."

Tempo, technique and toughness are all being emphasized this spring. There's been a concerted effort to be more versatile, moving guys around to best take advantage of matchups.

Split end Tevaun Smith looks everything like the go-to guy in 2015. His catches jumped from 24 for 310 yards as a sophomore to 43 for 596 yards as a junior.

"He's really a talented guy," Kennesdy said. "But he's not arrived."

Matt VandeBerg looks to step into Martin-Manley's spot as the possession receiver, though Kennedy said the junior runs as well as any wide receiver in the program.

The most intriguing addition to the position is speedy Jonathan Parker, who moved over from running back this spring.

"We're looking forward to getting him on the field and allowing him to play in different situations rather than just on the fly sweep," Kennedy said.

Kennedy also mentioned a couple of senior backups, Jake Hillyer and Andrew Stone, as guys he expects to contribute. There's also potential that hasn't been tapped in sophomore Andre Harris and redshirt freshman Jay Scheel, a converted quarterback who missed last season while recovering from knee surgery.

Three incoming freshman – Adrian Falconer, Emmanuel Ogwo and Jerminic Smith – will arrive in the fall. Kennedy hopes all three are in the mix for playing time. But a lot of that will depend on what guys like Harris and Scheel can do.

"We have some experience and some youth, but it's time for the wide receivers to step up on a more consistent basis," Kennedy said.

That's something no Iowa football fan would argue with.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown