It seems like a trickle, what sophomore Jacob Hillyer did during his redshirt freshman season.
He caught one pass for 15 yards against Northwestern. He made three tackles in special teams duties. These aren’t giant contributions, but when you consider the small window the 6-4, 205-pounder had for himself, it’s a start. And in the dog-eat-dog world at Iowa receiver — a position that most certainly will come with competition and scrutiny this fall — that might be enough to give Hillyer an inside shot.
Now remember from the Cameron Wilson/best of the rest post, when you talk Iowa WR, the focus will be on 3.5 receivers and maybe six will get a chance to show what they can do in games. The thought when offensive coordinator Greg Davis arrived from Texas was Iowa would use a half dozen WRs in games. That doesn’t seem as though it will happen. This is Iowa, not Texas. This is pro style and not the spread. The WR talent pool at Texas is deeper than it is at Iowa.
That said, Hillyer is the kind of player poised to come through and, perhaps, claim a share of receptions and playing time. Iowa has five new scholarship WRs coming in this August. Hillyer is what they could keep their redshirts.
Key 2012 factor: Hillyer is a WR. The fact that he was on punt cover says 1) he’s aggressive and doesn’t mind mixing it up and 2) he won some trust from coaches. That’s probably a bigger deal than anything Hillyer did at WR last season. The WR thing needs to move along. Hillyer got a look early, but his WR reps were limited after the first few weeks.
Offseason factor: Two or three receivers on Hillyer’s level had interesting springs. The aforementioned Wilson had a monster spring game (10 catches for 131 yards), but it came against second- and third-team defenses and it might’ve been his best day of spring (at least according to Kirk Ferentz). Blake Haluska had a nice performance during the spring game, catching four balls for 58 yards and showing an understanding of site reads. Ferentz mentioned walk-on Riley McCarron, who was injured for the spring game. Hillyer’s spring game was this: He caught four passes 38s. Three of those four were the first passes caught with the first unit against the first-team defense.
Competition: There’s Wilson and the best of the rest. There’s the advanced walk-ons, Haluska, McCarron and, maybe, another newbie like Connor Keane. One name not mentioned yet is senior Don Shumpert. He was very much in the plans at the beginning of last season, but key drops in the Iowa State defeat dropped him out of the plans. He brings a speed factor that could elevate him. After Kevonte Martin-Manley, everything is an open proposition at WR. No one has a glorious resume. No one has a real advantage. It all boils down to who has the best August. That should make the position better.
Why No. 35?: I don’t want to fixate on this too much, but special teams value certainly elevates Hillyer on this list. Yes, he didn’t make much of a wave at WR last season, but he earned ST time. He also was in the plans at WR at some point. The next step is to expand his role.
Outlook: Hillyer is a third-year sophomore, so the clock, probably in his head and his heart, is ticking for him to make a mark. He’s next in line to have a shot at doing something in the receiver corps. That said, he has a first-year position coach in Bobby Kennedy. Kennedy’s presence should push ahead — in a good way, presumably — the Greg Davis-ification of the Iowa offense. Last season, that was, well, let’s just say stunted. New eyes on the position might jumble the depth chart and challenge upperclassmen. Given Hillyer’s status in spring, he seems to have elevated. He has August to make it stick.
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