IOWA CITY — For three seasons Keenan Davis was the pupil behind some of Iowa’s best wide receivers. Now he’s the teacher to a young and somewhat inexperienced pass-catching corps.
But Davis, a senior, admits he’s still got plenty to learn entering his senior year.
“Everything,” Davis said when asked what he’s working on this off-season. “Mostly just confidence and ball control, that type of stuff. Routes. Anything that can make me a better player.”
Davis was honorable mention all-Big Ten pick last year opposite Marvin McNutt, who owns nearly every statistical receiving record at Iowa. Davis caught 50 passes for 713 yards and four scores in 12 games last year. Even as the secondary receiver Davis’ yardage would have led the Hawkeyes in at least four other seasons under Kirk Ferentz, including three of the last five.
But where Davis seeks improvement has less to do with statistics and more with consistency. Davis showed flashes of talent and potential, including a 10-catch, 129-yard effort against Pittsburgh. But he also dropped several passes last year.
“He’s needs to take that next step,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s capable. He did a lot of good things last year, so now it’s a chance to build on what he got started.”
Davis hails from Cedar Rapids and played as a true freshmen. He’s made incremental progress, working as a situational player and backup in 2010 before earning a starting nod last year.
His production jumped with his opportunity. Davis improved from 11 catches as a sophomore to 50 last year. His yards-per-catch improved from 11.9 to 14.3. In three of Iowa’s first six games, he totaled at least 95 yards receiving. But in Iowa’s win against Indiana on Oct. 22, Davis suffered an ankle injury and was withheld from the Hawkeyes’ next game, a 22-21 loss at Minnesota.
Davis struggled to regain his pre-injury form in the season’s final month. Only twice — a win against Purdue and an Insight Bowl loss against Oklahoma — did Davis catch at least five passes or gain more than 52 yards receiving.
The ankle injury was a burden, Davis admitted. But he stopped himself from explaining how it affected his play and instead offered, “It’s football though. You’ve got to fight through.”
Davis carries that attitude to the practice field this spring. Wide receivers coach Erik Campbell has stressed to Davis the importance of focusing on each play and every route, regardless of who’s getting the ball.
“To be great is to go every play — that’s what he said,” Davis said. “If you can go (hard) every play, you’re going to be a good one. To master the 5-yard catch all that type of stuff.”
New coordinator Greg Davis has installed a route tree, which labels patterns by number. It’s a change from Ken O’Keefe’s offense, which the receiver said was more conceptual in design.
Davis, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 215 pounds, has helped his teammates in their offensive transition. Davis said route tree is similar to what he ran at Cedar Rapids Washington under Tony Lombardi, which has helped Davis lead on the field this spring.
“(Davis is) obviously going to have a big role this fall,” Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg said. “He showed a lot of what he can do last season and had some great times, and I think everybody’s just expecting him to keep building off that. With this offense, it’s his job to really help some of those younger guys to move forward as well as have himself ready to go.”
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