IOWA CITY — Iowa’s lack of blazing speed at wide receiver over the years hardly was a revelation to those who follow the football program. But when new offensive coordinator Greg Davis brought to everyone’s attention, it’s become a focal point at Kinnick Stadium.
Coach Davis coached speedsters at Texas and other colleges for more than 30 years so the blemish is obvious. In April when he told reporters “one of things we’re all aware of is we’d like to have more speed on the outside,” everybody took notice.
There’s been a shift in recruiting toward faster receivers. Coach Kirk Ferentz talked openly about needing more speed on the outside.
And, yeah, senior wide receiver Keenan Davis got the message, too.
Speed was natural for Davis growing up. He was a member of Cedar Rapids Washington’s 2009 Class 4A state championship track team. He ran the second leg on the state’s best 4×200 relay team. He’s long and athletic.
But Davis also saw Iowa’s powerful receivers and worked out daily with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos and Marvin McNutt. They were big and physical. Davis figured he needed to be big and physical, too.
He weighed about 195 in high school and started bulking up at Iowa. Davis, who stands 6-foot-3, gained about 25 pounds at Iowa, building his way to 220. He produced on the field, especially last year. Davis caught 50 passes for 713 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games. But he could have been better, and he sees that now.
“I gained a lot of weight coming here,” Davis said. “I thought that was going to be good, coming in thinking bigger is better. But carrying that extra 5-7 pounds is a lot. It really does slow you down.
“DJ was a big guy and Marvin was a big guy, but honestly they were fit. They were ready to play. They weren’t slow at all. They were both fit. I was overweight from where I was supposed to be, and I wasn’t in as good of shape as I was supposed to be in. I’m not talking about the season; I’m talking about the past winter.”
Coach Davis’ comment wasn’t the first for Davis losing weight. The subject was approached well before Coach Davis went public.
“Keenan’s a big person as you know. He was big when he came here,” Ferentz said. “To play that position you’ve got to be able to run. If you’re a defensive back it’s the same way. So basically all of our receivers have to run and run hard and run long and if we do play up-tempo, that adds to it.
“I think sometimes for every player we look at their body weights and say, ‘You know it might be in your best interest to play at this body weight or play at this weight or try to get to this weight.’ I think Keenan’s aware of that. I think he saw this spring it might be able to help him down the road a little bit if he can slim down a little bit and be able to keep his pace a little better.”
Coach Davis’ speed complaint resonated with Keenan Davis. It was an honest, open observation from the new coordinator about the wide receiver corps. As the position’s veteran member, Davis needed to accept the coach’s message without getting defensive.
“No, no. Not at all,” he said when asked if he took offense to Coach Davis’ comments. “We’ve got to be faster. I think this summer alone we’ve gotten a lot faster and a lot thinner. I’ve been trying to lose some weight. There’s been a couple of guys trying to lose some weight, just to get that extra push off the line. No offense at all. I’ll be wherever they want us to be.”
Davis changed his eating habits and his workout routine and shed five pounds since spring practice. He now weighs 215 and said he feels lighter and in better shape. He can tell when he digs off the line of scrimmage and makes a cut during a route.
While Davis didn’t take offense to his coordinator’s comments, he admits he often bristled to wide receiver coach Erik Campbell’s criticisms in practice, especially in the spring. But now, just two months later, Keenan Davis has seen the results and his respect for Campbell — who everyone calls “Soup” — has grown.
“Soup has been telling us he doesn’t like fat guys,” Keenan Davis said. “Soup jokes around like that. But Soup has always told us he wants fast guys out there. We need you guys to be fast and get moving out there. We’re all like, ‘We are moving.’ But to see the differences in this short amount of time, it’s kind of good.”