Hawkeye Football Position Previews: Wide receivers

BY TORK MASON | AUGUST 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Hawkeyes lost Marvin McNutt, their all-time leading receiver, to the NFL after last season. But Keenan Davis said he thinks the team’s receivers might be better this year without him.

“[Receivers coach Erik Campbell] says if we all do what we’re supposed to do, we’re going to have a great crew,” Davis said. “We’re all out there catching the ball, so there’s not going to be any difference there. And I think it’s made us stronger that Marv’s not here and made us better.”

Only Davis and sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley return with significant playing time on their résumés. But Davis said he doesn’t expect the group to miss a beat.

The Hawkeyes will look to a committee of young receivers to help replace former star McNutt, who was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in April. Who will step up remains unknown, but the team is optimistic about its options.

Redshirt freshman Jacob Hillyer is creating a positive buzz. The Somerset, Texas, native provides a big target at 6-4, and he spent time working with the first-team offense at Iowa’s open practice on Aug. 18.

“He’s just grown up. I think having that first full year under your belt — school, football, the whole shebang. He’s been a really mature guy from the get go, but he’s grown up physically and grown in this offense,” quarterback James Vandenberg said. “He’s a guy who we all have confidence in, and we know he can get the job done.”

True freshman Maurice Fleming garnered praise from Campbell, who noted Fleming’s speed and experience as a defensive back as reasons the freshman could contribute right away.

Campbell said playing on the other side of the ball could make it easier for a receiver to read coverages and anticipate what the defenders will do. He also said that it takes a certain level of toughness to play defense, and that can be a positive for a receiver, too.

Davis said a key for the unit’s success is the desire to always have the ball in their hands. He said they all feel they can be the go-to man for Vandenberg. But Davis himself is the guy many expect to take on the role previously held by McNutt. Davis is following a 2011 campaign in which he snagged 50 receptions for 713 yards.

Campbell said that role is in good hands.

“Oh, he’s capable,” he said of Davis. “He started for us last year. He’s a guy who started, played a lot of football, been around for four years, and now he’s a senior. We expect him to have his best season.”

Vandenberg said Davis isn’t the only sufficient receiver on the field.

“They’re all proving it right now,” he said at the team’s media day on Aug. 6. “It’s the guys who can show up, day in and day out through these next three weeks of grinding practices — those are the guys you really get that trust in, that they’re going to be there through the ups and downs, through the good plays and the bad plays.”

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