IOWA CITY, Iowa — Marvin McNutt separated himself from more than opposing defenders last football season.
Iowa’s record-setting receiver used his magnet-like hands to separate himself from his own teammates, matching a school single-season record with 82 receptions during his senior season.
Only one other Hawkeye — Keenan Davis with 50 catches — had more than 30 receptions during a season that saw Iowa receivers grab 240 passes.
When coach Kirk Ferentz put his team through the first of its 15 spring practices on Saturday, the search for the skill to fill the void started.
“We’re young there,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got Keenan, who got some great experience last year and he needs to take that next step. 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.”
Davis, a 6-foot-3 senior from Cedar Rapids Washington, started 11 games last season and Ferentz likes the potential he sees.
“Now, it’s a chance to build on what he got started,” Ferentz said.
Ferentz said he has challenged Davis to do just that, much as he challenged McNutt a year ago at this time.
He said McNutt came out of spring ball a year ago clearly as Iowa’s best receiver, something that carried over into the fall.
“He really emerged and grew and did a good job with it, so we’re hopeful that other guys will, too,” Ferentz said.
“Marvin was a lot better player last year than he was in 2010. That’s the challenge for Keenan, to do the same.”
The only other receiver in Hawkeye history to catch 82 passes in a season was Kevin Kasper in 2000, but in general Ferentz would prefer to spread the ball around a bit more than Iowa did last season.
Sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley is listed as a starter at split end as spring practices begin, while junior Don Shumpert is listed on the depth chart behind Davis, and senior Steven Staggs and redshirt freshman Jacob Hillyer back up Martin-Manley.
Junior Jordan Cotton, now healthy, also factors into things as spring practices begin.
“It’s like a lot of positions. We have to try to bring the best out of all the guys we have out there,” Ferentz said.
That also involves looking in the direction of the tight end more frequently than Iowa did last season. Junior C.J. Fiedorowicz and senior Zach Derby each started five games in 2011, combining for 28 receptions.
“We didn’t get the production out of that position that we have historically, and I think we can help ourselves a lot by getting a little more out of it,” Ferentz said. “That’s a focus, and I think we are capable there.”