Catching Up With Some New Faces

Aug. 10, 2006


The Iowa Hawkeye wide receivers must feel like they have a big question mark on their helmets instead of a tiger hawk logo.

Every other offensive unit is supposed to be a strength in 2006 – Drew Tate, Albert Young and Tom Busch return in the backfield, and three starters return to anchor the offensive line.

The receivers? No one seems to know about them. Except for maybe themselves.

“These first days, you can see the competition,” receiver Herb Grigsby said. “Guys are competing, guys are working hard.

“We did lose a lot of senior leadership and a lot of great talent out of Hinkel and Melloy and Solomon. It just part of the game in college, the new guys that come in, some of us older guys are just going to have to replace roles.”

A common theme heard from Grigsby, receiver Andy Brodell and receivers coach Lester Erb is that they’re more concerned with replacing leadership than replacing talent.

“Anytime you have seniors that have done a lot that leave, it’s a big question mark on any team,” Brodell said. “We just seem to fill those answers and hopefully this year we can do the same thing”

“That’s one thing about college football, you’re always replacing good players,” Erb said. “The one thing that’s going to be hardest to replace is the leadership that those guys gave us.”

Erb said when he goes looking for leadership, he points to the seniors first. That brings him this year to Calvin Davis – one of the receivers with the most game experience.

“Calvin’s been doing a great job in the offseason,” Erb said. “He’s a guy that’s been around here for five years now. It just comes down to what he does throughout the season.”

Davis is coming off a 2005 season in which he saw action in 10 of the 12 games (he was injured for the games against Michigan and Northwestern) but had limited production. He tallied eight catches for 79 on the year, and all the Hawkeyes know they need those numbers to spike this year.

“Number one, we’ve got to keep in him injury-free,” Erb said. “Over the past couple of years when he’s had opportunities he’s stepped up and made big plays for us. It’s a matter of him getting out on the field, playing, relaxing and having fun.”

The 2003 season was Davis’ best for big plays, when he scored his first career touchdown in the last minute of the first half against Michigan and racked up 109 yards in a win against Illinois.

“I say a leader would most definitely be Calvin Davis,” Grigsby said. “He’s the oldest of the bunch and has the most experience, so he’s definitely a leader.”

The junior Grigsby will also be counted on to shoulder much of the workload after his breakout 2005 season that included a touchdown against Ball State and 66 yards with two touchdowns in a starting job against Michigan.

“I think Herb had a tremendous amount of confidence in his abilities right now,” Erb said. “He can run; he runs tremendous routes. He’s not the biggest guy in the world obviously, but if he knows how to position his body and how to run routes, that won’t be a factor.”

While Erb talks about Davis and Grigsby taking on leadership roles, another senior could catch eyes while catching passes.

Jason Manson will get some repetitions at receiver, and before the “wait, isn’t he the backup quarterback?” questions start rolling in, the coaches made it clear that they don’t want his playmaking abilities wasting away on the bench.

“We want to try and get him on the field somehow and someway,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said.

In what is essentially a wide-open tryout for the receiver positions, Manson figures to have as good of a shot as anyone.

“One good thing about quarterback is that they always have good hands,” Erb said. “Those guys have grown up with a ball always in their hands.”

With no assurances for playing time, several freshmen are competing for catches, including James Cleveland – high school teammate of Tate and Charles Godfrey – who wowed fans with his high school success and with an impressive spring.

“It’s early yet,” Erb said of his young pass-catchers. “The thing I’ve been most impressed about all those guys coming in is football’s important to them, they’re coming out here with the right out attitude, have a great work ethic, the work hard, they listen.”

The next step for Erb is forming a rotation that will see the field. It’s the competitive drills – the one-on-one’s against defensive backs and the seven-on-seven periods – that Brodell said will be most critical to sorting out the depth chart.

A wide receiver is nothing if not reliable, and August practice will go a long ways towards building trust among the rest of the offense and the receivers.

“The most thing we want to work on is consistency,” Grigsby said. “That’s the biggest part of receiving is being consistent, being dependable, being accountable being able to rely on for long third down and tough third downs.”

Still, if the pieces fall together, the leadership establishes itself and the production is consistent from the wide receivers, offensive lineman Mike Elgin, for one, says he forsees a revelation.

“I think there’s gonna be a lot of surprised people when the first game comes around just how much those guys improved from last year and how much they’ve developed,” Elgin said of the receivers. “I just think there’s a lot of potential for a lot of standout players.”

By the end of the year, that question mark on the helmet could turn itself into an exclamation point.

Gregg Found, UI Sports Marketing