Iowa football experienced a lot of turnover this offseason after a respectable 10-4 season. While the 2021 campaign was solid thanks to another good year from the defense, the common gripe was the Hawkeyes inability to stretch the field. Blame was thrown at quarterback Spencer Petras, as well as coordinator Brian Ferentz throughout the season. To make matters worse, the offseason brought about the transfers of Charlie Jones and Tyrone Tracy Jr. at wideout.
Hawkeyes beat writer Chad Leistikow of Hawk Central interviewed the two sophomore receivers who are expected to pick up a bulk of the load in the passing game: Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson. Both receivers fought their way onto the field as freshmen in 2021. Now Petras and Ferentz are hoping they can take on bigger roles.
Arland Bruce IV
Bruce IV saw a lot of game time last season for a freshman. He had 25 receptions and a touchdown. He also saw a little bit of work in the run game where he averaged 7.7 YPC with 3 touchdowns, good for third on the team. The 5’10 receiver figures to be the next man up as a punt returner with Jones gone to Purdue. Bruce told Leistikow he was aware Jones may be on his way out. The pair were roomies after all. Bruce never made it public though. He’s added some weight, bulking up to about 200 pounds to withstand the punishment of returning punts. He said he has not sacrificed speed though. Look for him to again touch the ball behind the line of scrimmage as well as mix it up in the middle of the field this year. When it comes to Iowa football, versatility is huge.
Johnson is touted as the fastest player on the team. He certainly stretch the field the best in 2021. He averaged more than 19 yards on 18 receptions, scoring twice along the way. At 6’1 and 194 pounds, he’s also the biggest target this side of TE Sam LaPorta. An abdominal injury kept Johnson on the sidelines during the Spring game, which he said was his first real injury. There is no room for injury this fall as thin as the skill positions are in Iowa City. His best, most optimistic Iowa football comparison might be Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Though Smith-Marsette did not put up gaudy numbers at Iowa, he was a playmaker when his number was called. Johnson has the tools to bring some of that back to the table for an Iowa football program that often relies more on bread and butter than lobster and steak.
There is room for a third or even fourth receiver to play meaningful snaps like Bruce IV and Johnson did last year. Truthfully, Iowa is and will always be a run first team. The tight end position will get its fair share of looks as well.
Beyond that, the Hawkeyes would welcome a bounce back year from Nico Ragaini. The senior was a big fixture in the 2019 season, catching 46 passes for 439 yards. He was a bit of a safety net for then-QB Nate Stanley. Since that season, his production, and ultimately his snaps, have gradually tailed off. Ragaini admitted to Hawk Central reporter Kennington Lloyd Smith III that he became somewhat disengaged when he was not seeing the ball. If he can re-engage and find his form, he could become a chain mover for Petras.
Keegan Johnson could have some competition for fastest receiver this year and it comes from a walk-on. Kaden Wetjen, a JuCo transfer from Iowa Western Community College, showed out at the Spring Game. He capped off a flashy day with a touchdown pass from Alex Padilla. He even drew praise from cornerback Riley Moss who said he is at least “top two” on the team in terms of speed.
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