Iowa football's wide receiver room is depleted by injury. How will that impact Saturday's offense?

When Iowa football officially kicks off its 2022 season on Saturday morning, there's little question about what will draw the most attention: the offense.

Questions about quarterback play, offensive line development and potential scheme changes loom ahead of the Hawkeyes' matchup against South Dakota State. Saturday is their first opportunity to show their progress. 

But they'll have to do so with a key position group that's severely hampered by injury. 

No position group on Iowa's team has faced more attrition over the last year than wide receivers, with several transferring out and others slowed by injury. Tuesday's media availability shed more light on the state of the room just a few days before game day. 

Head coach Kirk Ferentz confirmed speculation that senior wide receiver Nico Ragaini will miss 'at least a few weeks' with an injury. Ragaini wasn't listed on Iowa's Week 1 depth chart on Monday. He's the third Iowa receiver who will miss multiple games, joining junior Jackson Ritter who's out for the season and sophomore Diante Vines who's out until midseason. 

More:Leistikow's 5 thoughts: Iowa football takes a physical beating in fall camp; will it pay off by November?

But the biggest, and somewhat unexpected, news of the day was Ferentz not fully committing to sophomore Keagan Johnson playing Saturday. Johnson missed the last several months to injury but returned to practice recently and was listed as a starting receiver Monday. However, Ferentz said it's a fluid situation.

"It's been touch and go," Ferentz said. "We've had a lot of guys in and out of the lineup with injuries, that type of thing. And that's always frustrating, no one's more frustrated than the players involved but he's got a chance to play, we'll see where it all goes." 

If Johnson is limited or unavailable, Iowa's top three options on its depth chart are sophomores Arland Bruce IV and Jack Johnson and redshirt freshman Alec Wick. Additionally, Ferentz said that sophomore Brody Brecht is practicing and available to play on Saturday. So is true freshman Jacob Bostick, who's shown flashes throughout fall camp. 

How much will injury shrink the playbook or limit creativity? Not much, according to quarterback Spencer Petras. The team has faith in the players available and expects to execute their game plan at full tilt. 

"For the most part we're going to call the plays that we feel will give us the best chance," Petras said. "Doesn't matter who's in there. The guys who will be on the field Saturday, I have the utmost confidence that they know the system, that they're going to execute the system. And our coaches feel the same way." 

More:Smith's thoughts on Iowa football's Week 1 depth chart, which sheds light on injury buzz

Here are a few more notes on Iowa's available receivers and other pass catchers: 

Arland Bruce IV has been a constant 

Iowa wide receiver Arland Bruce IV (10) has been a consistent producer during fall camp for the Hawkeyes.

Since Iowa's bowl game, Bruce has been the only Hawkeye receiver that's been available from spring practice to summer workouts through fall camp. For one, Bruce expressed how thankful he is that he's remained healthy and acknowledged that it's allowed him to continue developing. 

"I just feel like I've excelled in a lot of different ways," Bruce said. "Just being a leader on and off the field. Reading coverages, being able to read the defense and just knowing tendencies of guys and how to how to really watch just little things like that." 

It's likely that Bruce will be the No. 1 receiver Saturday, an opportunity that he's embracing fully. Wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland challenged Bruce this offseason to take a second-year leap by honing in on the finer details of his game. Consistent reps with the first-team offense have allowed him to do so and it's left an impression on the coaching staff. 

"Arland is one of those guys that he goes," Ferentz said. "He just goes and goes and goes, and he's very versatile and practices well. I expect him to play well based on what I've seen the last four weeks, so glad he's on our football team." 

Limited numbers at receiver hasn't deterred Ferentz from considering Bruce for returner duties either, he's still among the finalists for that position. 

More:Leistikow: The importance of Arland Bruce IV, Keagan Johnson to Iowa football in 2022

Introducing Alec Wick and Jack Johnson

Iowa's initial fall depth chart featured one walk-on receiver, Alec Wick, of Iowa City Regina, behind Johnson. Monday's depth chart brought another in Jack Jonson of West Des Moines Valley. Entering summer it was likely Iowa would need walk-on contributions at receiver, now a pair are on the two-deep. 

"Jack and Alec have done a really nice job and been consistent," Ferentz said. "And they've been out there every day, which is a big, big part of it. They've done a good job." 

According to Copeland, Johnson likely would've found a role on special teams but injuries have held him back, while Wick has been steadily ascending up the depth chart through fall camp. Senior cornerback Riley Moss has faced both receivers extensively on the scout offense and offered praise for both, but Wick in particular. 

"And the kid can run," Moss said. "(Wick) really runs crisp routes and catches everything that’s thrown to him. He does his job well. I’m excited to see them get their opportunity.”

Walk-on receiver Alec Wick has carved out a spot for himself on the field as injuries have plagued the receiving corps.

Wick was a consistent theme throughout Tuesday's press availability. Bruce said he doesn't believe Wick's dropped a pass yet and added that a few weeks ago Wick made a diving catch that he described as 'the greatest catch he's seen in person'. Offensive lineman Connor Colby corroborated that story. Also, Ferentz threw his name into the ring as a possible return man. 

Whether it's Wick or Johnson on the field, Petras said there will be no hesitation to feed them the ball. Both have been working with Iowa's first team recently and he feels like they've developed a rapport. 

"I have a lot of trust in both those guys," Petras said. "We're not going to think twice. We're not gonna hesitate. We're ready to play with those guys." 

More:3 takeaways from Kirk Ferentz's press conference before Iowa football's season opener

Expect heavy tight end involvement 

Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta (84) will be heavily involved in the pass offense this year, likely at multiple positions.

Iowa's offense showed a new wrinkle during their mid-August open scrimmage: tight end Sam LaPorta at outside receiver with backup Luke Lachey on the line of scrimmage. It's very likely that Iowa will implement a lot of two tight end sets early on. 

Petras said LaPorta, a preseason All-American by some outlets, has a case for best player on the team. Ferentz added that the tight end depth (which includes fullback Monte Pottebaum) this year is a 'little deeper than maybe some years past', signifying that they'll likely complement the passing game not only on Saturday, but throughout the season. 

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 ksmith@gannett.com.