Keenan Davis turns heads at spring game

BY SETH ROBERTS | APRIL 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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Keenan Davis flew down the right sideline in Kinnick Stadium, vaulted into the air, and yanked down a twisting, "SportsCenter"-worthy catch as he tumbled to the turf.

Just another day at the office.

Davis, a 6-3 wide receiver from Cedar Rapids, made several highlight-reel grabs during Iowa's annual Coca-Cola Spring Classic practice and scrimmage on April 16. He showed good position awareness, dragging his feet beautifully as he dove out of bounds to pull in an off-target toss. He displayed explosive leaping ability and made cornerbacks Shaun Prater and Jack Swanson look silly as he out-jumped them to reach a pair of balls in the air.

"It's really nice having him," quarterback James Vandenberg said. "He's a huge guy, [with] huge hands. It's really nice being able to throw to him."

Davis, who wasn't available for comment, spent his first two years with the program buried on the depth chart, so his career totals aren't especially impressive — 15 catches for 186 yards and two scores, plus an 18.6-yard average in 10 kickoff returns. He showed flashes of potential against Ball State last Sept. 25, though, when he caught four balls for 49 yards and a touchdown in Iowa's 45-0 beatdown of the Cardinals.

The departure of six senior wide receivers from last year's squad — and Marvin McNutt's off-season shoulder surgery — cleared the way for Davis to shine in the spring game, and he appeared to fully embrace the spotlight.

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Each of his catches drew gasps and applause from the few thousand fans that braved the chilly April afternoon, and head coach Kirk Ferentz said Davis needs to keep playing at that level in order to succeed.

"He needs to play like a starter," Ferentz said. "It's his time. He's been here for two years, [and] he's certainly capable. I think he's willing, and he has done some really good things in practice."

Davis' job hasn't been limited to hauling in passes. The 20-year-old is one of two wideouts to have recorded a catch as a Hawkeye, and his coaches and teammates said he has done a solid job sharing his knowledge and limited experience with the team's younger players.

"Keenan has definitely shown up as if he's a leader in this group," McNutt said. "I haven't been out there to help, [and] he's definitely been that example. He took over the leadership role for the spring and has played an important role in their success and motivation during practice."

Davis' athleticism, leadership, and experience have likely locked down a spot in the starting lineup, but Ferentz said his receiver still has some work to do before the Hawkeyes take the field for their season-opener on Sept. 3.

"The next step for him is to play with consistency," he said. "Playing receiver, there's a lot that goes into it. Catching the ball is the end game for those guys when it's that time, but it's blocking and it's doing everything … We expect him to step in and do a good job, and I can't see any reason why he wouldn't."

And while blocking and doing the little things will keep Davis in Ferentz's good graces, McNutt said he had some extra incentive for his counterpart to keep making spectacular catches.

"I'll beat him up if he doesn't," he said and laughed. "He can make any catch, [and] I'm definitely excited to see what he can do on the field."

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