Iowa's Beathard breaks in a new crop of receivers

Mark Emmert

IOWA CITY, Ia. — C.J. Beathard is a quarterback, but he’s also a choreographer of sorts. The Iowa senior has spent months trying to sync up with a new set of wide receivers.

The results will be on full display Saturday, when the Hawkeyes open their football season by hosting Miami of Ohio at 2:30 p.m. Fans who are only concerned about Beathard’s arm will be missing half the show.

“You’ve got to know their footwork,” Beathard said of the delicate but time-consuming process of building a strong enough rapport with receivers that it becomes instinctual. “My footwork tells me when I need to get rid of the ball. If I’ve hit my fifth step and I’m expecting to hit a glance route, I’m ready to throw the ball. And if they’re not ready to break it, then I’ve got to get with them and figure that out.

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When Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard rolls out to pass Saturday, he's expecting to find his young receivers right where they're supposed to be.

“We’ve been working on that all of the offseason and going into the summer. Our chemistry is growing. It needs to get better.”

Beathard threw for 2,809 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading Iowa to a surprise 12-2 record last year, his first as a Hawkeye starter. He completed at least 15 passes to seven different receivers, four of whom have graduated.

That means all of the tedious repetition that went in to building those bonds is gone, as is the trust that develops from long days of practice together. Into the breach steps youngsters like Jerminic Smith, Jay Scheel, Ronald Nash, Adrian Falconer, Ryan Boyle and Devonte Young — underclassmen who need to catch on this fall if Iowa’s offense is going to succeed.

They must be able to adjust to Beathard, as he to them. And that happens one route at a time.

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“Knowing their steps, when they’re going to break routes — and they’ve got to know when the ball’s coming on certain routes,” said Beathard, who completed 62 percent of his passes last year.

Matt VandeBerg is the security blanket. The senior wide receiver caught 65 passes last year to lead the Hawkeyes. And that was with just one offseason of knowing that Beathard was going to be his quarterback.

In Year 2 together, VandeBerg said the comfort level has grown.

“You’re never polished at any certain thing,” VandeBerg said. “But we feel pretty confident in the fact that he knows where I’m going to be and I know where I’m supposed to be.”

VandeBerg, along with fellow senior Riley McCarron, has been helping the young receivers get up to speed.

“If they’ve got a look that they don’t know what to do, or if there’s a play call that they’re a little iffy on, that’s what I’m there for,” VandeBerg said.

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The good news for Iowa is that the RedHawks ranked 74th in FBS last season in pass defense, allowing 236 yards per game through the air. The bad news is the projected starting secondary includes three juniors and a senior, giving the experience edge to the visitors.

It’s go-time for Beathard and his receivers. He knows where VandeBerg will be Saturday, but what about the rest?

“Being around for a while, it does help,” VandeBerg said. “But we’re going to need younger guys to step up.”

And be in step with their quarterback.

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