Brown: It's time for Iowa's receivers to catch up to the hype
IOWA CITY, Ia. – You've read volumes about the strength of Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard's arm, and his ability to throw the ball downfield.
Guilty of hype, as charged. But the dude can wing it. Of all the plays that we witnessed during the Hawkeyes' open scrimmage in West Des Moines on April 11, one stood out. Beathard threw a pass down the right sideline that traveled nearly 50 yards in the air.
Matt VandeBerg was open. The ball went through his hands.
It wouldn't have been the easiest catch. VandeBerg was surrounded by three defenders. But it was the kind of play that might determine the success or failure of Iowa's 2015 football season. A difference maker.
Beathard can throw it as deep and accurate as he wants. But a line anchored by new tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger have to keep him out of harm's way. And somebody has got to catch what he throws. Wide receivers have been a work in progress for seasons at Iowa, it seems. It's time for someone to step up.
Tevaun Smith looks he's ready to be a playmaker. He'll be a senior who has made steady progress, from 24 catches for 310 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore to 43 catches for a team-high 596 yards and three touchdowns as a junior.
"Tevaun can be really good," wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. "But where he has to embrace the challenge is putting it on tape play after play and showing that he can be an elite guy. To me, either you do it or you don't."
But here's the rub: Even if Smith can become an all-Big Ten receiver in 2015, somebody else has to step up and become a dependable, rock-solid pass catcher.
Maybe it will be an incoming freshman, like Adrian Falconer. Or a redshirt freshman, like Jay Scheel. I happen to think VandeBerg, a few pounds bigger and wiser to the college game, will step up and be a factor. Maybe it's sophomore Andre Harris, who hasn't seen the field yet. Or an Andrew Stone or Riley McCarron, who missed six games last season to injury and illness.
I'll tell you who I expect to break out. He, like Smith, is a three-year letterman. His name is Jacob Hillyer.
"There's always room to improve, at every position and every play," Hillyer said. "I definitely want to increase my role."
Hillyer has caught 11 passes in each of the last two seasons. His longest reception was a 26-yard pass from Jake Rudock for a touchdown at Iowa State in 2013. That was also the first of his three career touchdown grabs. He's accounted for 255 receiving yards for his career. He's also seen significant special teams action.
"I love Iowa football, man," Hillyer said. "The coaches are great. I love my teammates. I may not get the ball as much as I want to. But everyone wants the ball."
If Hillyer can double his career yardage as a senior, Iowa just might have something.
"Jacob is an extremely valuable player not only at the wide receiver position but also special teams," Kennedy said. "He's not arrived yet. He can get better this spring, he can get better next fall."
Beathard's arm will create more opportunities for this offense in 2015. Now it's up to Hillyer and others to catch up to the hype.
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.