Iowa football's wide receivers are battling injuries. Here's an update midway through fall camp.
When Iowa wide receiver Keagan Johnson looks back on the last several months, it's hard to fathom what's happened to the team's wide receivers room.
There have been several transfers dating back to last fall, and a consistent injury bug has prevented the group from being fully healthy since the Big Ten Championship Game last December.
"To say we've been through a lot is an understatement," Johnson said. "We've been through a lot, just a lot of moving parts."
Head coach Kirk Ferentz said during Big Ten media days last month that junior Jackson Ritter will miss the 2022 season due to injury. On Friday during Iowa's media day, Ferentz announced another key injury: sophomore Diante Vines will miss significant time with a wrist injury. Vines was a bright spot during the first half of fall camp and was firmly in the mix for playing time. Now, he'll be sidelined until at least mid-season.
Couple that with ongoing injuries to Johnson and Brody Brecht, and the start of fall camp feels similar to spring practice when the majority of the room didn't participate.
What's the state of Iowa's wide receivers room at the almost-halfway point of fall camp? Still a work in progress, but there have been some bright spots. Ferentz noted that senior Nico Ragaini has been strong all camp and gave similar praise to sophomore Arland Bruce.
Here are more takeaways and what to expect at Saturday's Kids' Day Scrimmage:
Injury updates on Brody Brecht and Keagan Johnson
Two sophomore receivers squarely in the mix for significant playing time this fall are Brecht and Johnson. However, they've been largely unavailable since January. It's a new experience for both players; this is the first time that either has been sidelined by an injury for an extended period of time in their football careers.
"They're really the two guys that have missed the most time now," Ferentz said. "If you look big picture, including spring practice too, I don't know if concerned is the right word, but that's where my awareness is. They missed a lot of time."
Johnson's been out since Iowa's bowl game with an abdominal injury and has a separate injury keeping him out of fall camp. Brecht missed a large part of spring practice while playing baseball but was a near-full participant during summer workouts. He suffered what he described as a "minor injury" and hasn't practiced during fall camp. However, it appears that he could return as early as next week.
"I'm right around the corner," Brecht said. "I should be good to go next week. When I'm back I'm just looking forward to doing what I can to help this team win."
Johnson said there is no timeline for his return.
Both players are staying engaged in meeting rooms and studying the playbook, but Ferentz knows their best growth will come when they're back on the field.
"Meetings are important, they have value and all that," Ferentz said. "But you learn how to play football by playing it. You've got to go out there on the field and play it."
Arland Bruce is taking the next step
Receivers coach Kelton Copeland challenged sophomore Arland Bruce IV during spring practice to take another step forward in 2022. Bruce was one of Iowa's breakout players last season and is expecting to take on a big role in the receiving room. Among Bruce's areas of improvement entering this season are more precise route-running and becoming more detailed in his approach.
He's remained healthy so far through nine practices and has impressed Copeland.
"He's done a really good job," Copeland said. "Has he arrived? Absolutely not. Is he getting closer to that product that we thought we were getting when recruiting him? Yes, the answer is yes. I'm very pleased with his progress. He's very dialed into his work whether it's in the meeting room or on the field."
True freshman Jacob Bostick is showing flashes
Injuries at receiver are opening the door for other players to step into roles they wouldn't have otherwise. One player who's benefiting from extra reps is true freshman Jacob Bostick.
The 6-foot-2, 175 pound prospect might have been working at only one position early on if the room was fully healthy. Copeland described an "all hands on deck" situation that has allowed for Bostick to cross-train at every position.
"He's playing inside receiver and outside receiver," Copeland said. "And he's handled it very well. At this point I'm starting to take the leash off a little bit, starting to let loose a little bit and letting him and the other first-year guys rep on their own without having to follow around and me telling them exactly what to do."
It's not quite halfway through camp but Bostick has shown "flashes" on several occasions according to Copeland. Friday morning was a particularly good day for Bostick; he made several plays that got Copeland's attention.
"He showed flashes like OK, that's the guy we recruited," Copeland said. "Every day he's progressing and doing a really good job. I just don't want to overwhelm him too fast too early. That's always my concern with young freshmen but he's definitely on the right track and we definitely got the right guy."
There's a few walk-ons to watch
Brecht, Johnson and Vines' injuries mean that Iowa has only three healthy scholarship receivers at the moment: Bostick, Bruce and Ragaini. However, there are several walk-ons who are making impressions and have an opportunity to earn playing time.
One of them, redshirt freshman Alec Wick, appeared on the initial fall camp depth chart as Johnson's backup. The Iowa City native started ascending the depth chart during spring practice and has carried that momentum into the first half of fall camp.
Ferentz noted that Wick is working closely with former Hawkeye receiver Ed Hinkel, the longtime offensive coordinator and receivers coach at Iowa City Regina High School, Wick's alma mater. Ferentz said Wick and Hinkel have some similarities such as toughness, making contested catches and attention to detail.
"Everything he does, there's quality and consistency to it," Ferentz said. "Due to our injury situation last spring he had a lot of opportunity to get a lot of work that maybe in a normal circumstance he wouldn't have, and the whole trick is when you have opportunities, being ready to go, and he's done that. He's made tough catches. He's very precise with what he does."
Elsewhere, Kaden Wetjen, a breakout player from the final spring practice, is continuing to impress the coaching staff. As a mid-year enrollee he's still learning the nuances of Iowa's system, but Copeland said his rare speed could be an asset this fall.
"When you watch a run, there's very few guys that can move at the rate that he does," Copeland said. "When he gets more comfortable in the offense, he's going to start to play really fast and that's what you're looking for."
Another name that Copeland mentioned was redshirt sophomore Jack Johnson. Injuries have held him back early in his career, or he likely would've found a role on special teams, Copeland said. So far it appears that he has stayed healthy and is progressing well. If he can remain healthy, he'll likely fill in that special teams role and could compete for rotational snaps if the room is still battling injuries into the season.
More will be determined at Iowa's Kids' Day Scrimmage on Saturday. It's an opportunity for several players to make a statement in the biggest moment of camp thus far. And Copeland said he will be watching closely.
"I'm looking for the guys that are seizing opportunity," Copeland said. "We're in Kinnick for the first time so it's going to be new. It's gonna be new and it's gonna be a big distraction, especially for the first few guys that have never put on pads and been in there. I'm looking for the guys who have the right mindset and block out the outside noise."
Saturday's open practice will begin at noon, with gates opening at 11 a.m. Pre-practice activities will begin in Krause Family Plaza at 10 a.m.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at email@example.com.