Iowa wide receivers coach Erik Campbell has erased the depth chart this spring. The message behind that is show up, value every rep and perform.
Iowa wraps up spring practice with a scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, so it's early. Campbell is just getting to know the players whose names have been erased from aforementioned depth chart.
Sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley earned special mention. As a redshirt freshman, he was Iowa's No. 3 receiver last season, catching 30 passes for 323 yards and three TDs. It was the best performance for a freshman receiver at Iowa since 2007, when Derrell Johnson-Kouliano caught 38 passes and James Cleveland had 36.
If you noticed a drop-off in Martin-Manley's stats after week five, it's because there was. The 6-0, 205-pounder averaged 3.4 receptions through five games. Then, the passing game swung strongly to senior Marvin McNutt and Martin-Manley averaged 1.6 receptions over the final eight games.
"Kevonte Martin-Manley, who last year got his feet wet as a redshirt freshman, playing the first time," said Campbell, who begins his fifth season at Iowa. "Now you can see that experience pay off. You can see him looking like a veteran receiver, doing things that a guy with that kind of experience has shown. So heís done a good job so far this spring."
Martin-Manley, who Iowa stole away from Bowling Green, enters 2012 as the probable No. 2 receiver, behind senior Keenan Davis. But that was the other takeaway from Campbell's interview. He made it clear that no assumptions should be made on roles or percentages "targets" for any wide receiver.
Campbell was asked if there would be competition between Martin-Manley and Davis (who caught four passes as a true freshman in '09) for McNutt-type touches.
"I think thereís always competition," Campbell said. "Also thereís competition to stay on the field, because there are young guys behind them who are going to push them and try to take that spot.
"You never can relax here because thereís always competition, even with having great tight ends. Everybody is competing to get the ball. The better you play, the more opportunities you going to have it versus giving it to another position or another player."
This led to a few questions about Davis, a player Iowa has always expected a lot from.
The 6-3, 215-pound senior had a breakout 2011 with 50 catches for 713 yards and four TDs. Davis caught five passes for 76 yards in the Insight Bowl, but he also had a few drops that left a bitter taste in his mouth.
"Heís a veteran guy," Campbell said. "We expect more out of him than we have in the past because now he is the most experienced guy. Heís coming and practicing. at the same time, again, learning the new system, it slows you down a little bit.
"Weíre all right now at the beginning stages. Like I said, by the end of spring, going into training camp, I think guys will be full speed ahead and really start seeing the finished product."
Head coach Kirk Ferentz weighed in on Davis earlier this spring.
"He needs to take that next step," Ferentz said. "I alluded to earlier, everybody who has played has to play better if we're going to have a better football team. I don't care who it is, James Vandenberg, James Ferentz, Keenan. Those guys have to step it up.
"He's capable. He did a lot of good things last year, so now it's a chance to build on what he started."
No. 3 wide receiver is up in the air. Again, no depth chart right now. That likely won't take a solid form until mid-August.
"I have no depth chart right now," Campbell said. "Theyíre all competing right now for that spot. Like I say, hopefully we have more than just three receivers come next fall.†Right now, all the guys are competing for it."
Campbell covered some of the names in that mix, which include senior Steven Staggs (6-3, 195) and redshirt freshman Jacob Hillyer.
"Well, I feel itís still young," Campbell said when asked about depth. "A lot of guys donít have a lot of game [experience]. When I say Ďyoungí, I mean game experience. Right now if you look at our roster, besides Kevonte and Keenan, next guy in mind is Steve Staggs, he played a little bit in games, but a few snaps. Don Shumpert played some, but only a few snaps. Jordan Cotton had a few snaps.
"Not a lot of guys with game experience. Thatís why I said itís open for grabs right now."
There was a stat mentioned sometime around the Insight Bowl about Iowa leading the Big Ten in drops last season. That's not an official stat and it's not kept anywhere. Any statement along those lines is speculation. (Drops are a much more subjective notion than they get credit for. It's not always as simple as "pass hits receivers hands, ball falls on turf.")
"Everybody drops balls," Campbell said. "Marvin was the all-time leading receiver and he dropped balls."You coach against that. You keep drilling over and over, get those guys really focused with concentration. Thatís the biggest thing with dropped balls, most of them are lack of concentration or you lose focus when you needed it most. Like I said, any ball thatís dropped, thereís a reason why itís dropped. Anytime the quarterback throws the ball, you expect to catch it. I donít care where it is, if itís in the stands, youíre supposed to go get it. Thereís always a reason behind it. We always focus on that and improve."