It's about that time. For the next two months, BHGP will be previewing this year's Iowa Hawkeyes, position-by-position. Naturally, as the earth revolves around the sun, things will change. Therefore, we're starting with the position we are most certain of, and ending with running back the position of which we are least certain. To date:
Today: Wide Receiver
Iowa entered last season with great depth at receiver. It didn't quite work out as planned. On August 1, 2007, the wide receiver two-deep included Dominique Douglas, Anthony Bowman, and James Cleveland. Needless to say, those names aren't on the depth chart this year. Also gone is Arvell Nelson, who took some snaps (no pun intended) at receiver last season. That doesn't even include Andy Brodell and Trey Stross, who managed to stay out of prison but missed significant amounts of time last year with injuries (Stross with a nagging hamstring pull, Brodell with a terrorist-induced hamstring tear). By the time last season ended, Iowa had listed no fewer than ten different receivers on the two-deep. Even with the number of players arrested booted from the team, the sheer number of receivers used creates depth for this season. Plus, the most recent addition to the coaching staff, Erik Campbell, is an accomplished receivers coach. Believe it or not, there's actual reason for optimism in 2008.
The Probable Starters
Andy Brodell (6'3", 200, Sr.) - It feels like Brodell has been here forever. He first started catching passes from Drew Tate in 2005. He entered the 2006 season listed as the second-team split end, and was starting by mid-season. The consensus seemed to be that Brodell was a promising receiver who needed to improve his route-running and pass catching.
At least, that was the consensus until Iowa played Texas in the 2006 Alamo Bowl. In the aftermath of his six-reception, 159-yard, two-touchdown performance, Brodell moved from promising wideout to subject of poorly-soundtracked YouTube highlight videos, the next IGWWR, the second coming of Tim Dwight. It was as if his prior problems - specifically, the ridiculous number of dropped passes - were forgotten.
We were reminded of those problems early last year, when Brodell dropped three passes against Northern Illinois, prompting supportive fan mail addressed to his hands. He caught twelve passes in starts against NIU, Syracuse, and Iowa State - none of which went for long yardage, though that might be a byproduct of the offensive system - before being lost for the season with a hamstring tear against Wisconsin. What had been considered a breakout performance against Texas was looking more and more like a career day.
Now, Brodell gets one more chance. By all accounts, he is back to 100% following his hamstring injury. If healthy, he is unquestionably the #1 receiver. It's time to catch the damn ball.
Trey Stross (6'3", 195, Jr.) - When healthy, Stross might well be the best receiver on the team. Stross, who played in the 2005 U.S. Army All-American game with Jake Christensen, Tony Moeaki, and two other Hawkeyes, got his first action at wide receiver during the 2006 Indiana game. The stunning loss overshadowed his six-catch, 67-yard performance. He played sporadically throughout the rest of that season, and entered 2007, in the wake of the Douglas/Bowman affair, as co-first team wideout. He pulled his hamstring against Northern Illinois, however, and missed the next three games. He returned to light duty against Indiana - catching a touchdown pass - and Penn State, but was not at full strength until November.
Stross - along with DJK - killed Northwestern, snagging a wounded duck for a momentum-shifting touchdown before halftime and duping a Northwestern corner on a curl-and-go for 53 yards in the fourth. Three catches and 91 yards later, Stross was the most reliable receiver on the team and Christensen's go-to deep threat. As detailed in last week's roundtable, we expect he will be the most important receiver on this squad.
The Non-Starter Starter
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (6'1", 205, Soph.) - Iowa's depth chart lists two starting receivers, one halfback, and one fullback. However, Iowa spent most of last season in three-wide, one-back formations, despite having an experienced senior at fullback. Now, with a converted linebacker listed as the starter at fullback, Iowa is more likely to use three receivers than ever before. DJK might not be a listed starter, but he's a starter nonetheless.
Run-DJK entered last season buried off the two-deep and left as the team leader in receptions and yardage. His biggest games - save for his 8-catch, 119-yard butchering of Northwestern - came in losses; we might have actually underestimated how good he was. He's smart (former high school quarterback), disciplined, and electric with the ball in his hands. This season, rather than being the focus of defensive secondaries, he gets to play in the slot and exploit linebackers over the middle of the field. He needs to improve his route-running, which was sloppy at times last season, and he had a few too many drops. That being said, with the improvement expected from a year of experience and a summer under Campbell, he could exceed last year's results.
Should See the Field
Colin Sandeman (6'1", 195, Soph.) - One of the best high school players in the state in 2006, Sandeman caught four passes as a true freshman and returned punts after Brodell's injury. He might not be as athletically gifted as Brodell, Stross, or DJK, but Sandeman showed he is sure-handed and not afraid to take a hit. He's slightly behind the three players listed above, but should get more significant time at receiver this season, particularly in the slot.
Paul Chaney, Jr. (5'9", 165, Soph.) - The Veep caught 19 passes for 210 yards last season, including the touchdown that took Michigan State to a second overtime. He almost caught a twentieth pass to beat Wisconsin. At 5'9", Chaney is undersized, and that lack of height was only exaggerated by Christensen's Tacopants tendencies. Furthermore, he was a high school quarterback and had no real experience as a receiver before last season. That being said, he's literally a track star, and could be a real weapon if JC is able to improve his accuracy and get him the ball. At worst, he should be the designated bubble screen recipient in 2009.
Ben Evans (6'0", 180 Soph.) - A walk-on from Iowa City High, Evans played during the waning moments of the Syracuse and Purdue blowouts. Probably won't get too much action, what with the depth and experience returning at receiver, but could be a viable option in 2009-2010.