IOWA CITY — Kevonte Martin-Manley led Iowa with 52 receptions last season, but he averaged just 10.8 yards a catch.
How does that compare with past Iowa teams? It’s the lowest average yards per catch for any leading receiver in the Kirk Ferentz era. In 1999, Kevin Kasper caught 60 passes and averaged 11.1 per. In 2011, Marvin McNutt averaged 16.04 yards on 82 catches.
So, what does this say? You know what it says about Iowa’s passing game in ’12. It was bad. Nothing more needs to be said.
What does it say about Martin-Manley (a 6-0, 205-pound junior)? Last season didn’t offer much of a sample size for Martin-Manley in his first season in offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ system. Martin-Manley had five receptions of 20-plus yards, including a 51-yarder against Northern Iowa that ended up being the offense’s longest play from scrimmage in ’12.
The bigger question for Martin-Manley is where his strength lies. Is he a slot receiver? Is he a split end? Davis mentioned inside wide receiver a few times with KMM last season. He’s built for traffic. It’ll be interesting to see where Davis goes with Martin-Manley this fall.
“There are some things we do in the slot according to certain coverages that we’re starting to look for,” Martin-Manley said, “and we’re starting to hit more, too.”
Martin-Manley has eased into a leadership position among his wide receiver peers, a young, inexperienced group that will need to come through.
“I like this group,” Martin-Manley said. “When one of us says, ‘Let’s go catch more balls,’ they’re on it. They haven’t played much. They want to prove themselves, day in and day out. They want to prove themselves to the fans, they want to prove it to themselves and to their teammates. They’re really working hard.”
Key 2012 factor: Martin-Manley had a nice wade into the water during his freshman season, a 30 catches, 323 yards and three TDs. Then last year, he assumed a top role in the passing game. If he keeps ascending, he should be one of the top targets this season.
Iowa’s passing game doesn’t approach an outing with an intent to get one guy the ball an inordinate amount of times. OK, in 2011, McNutt kind of demanded touches out of pure talent. He was the best punch the O could throw in a lot of games. Martin-Manley had a streak of 6, 4, 7, 7 and 4 catches beginning with the Michigan State game last season. He also had games of 1, 2, 2 and 3.
He showed enough last season to know what it feels like to be a top option in a passing offense. If Martin-Manley took anything out of ’12, it should be that. He had his best season when the passing game had one of its worst in the Ferentz era.
Offseason factor: The Iowa staff didn’t like what it saw in the passing game, particularly the wide receivers, and so the Hawkeyes signed dive wide receivers in February. Junior-college transfer Damond Powell has drawn raves from coaches on his speed. Davis already has talked about specific plays for Powell.
So, does this come out of KMM’s share? You know the players don’t think that way. Or, more likely, they might think that way, but they’ll never say publicly. And who knows? The more likely scenario, if Powell is the real deal, is he looks at No. 2 WR workload, which can be in the 50-reception range.
Are they both slot receivers? First-year receivers coach Bobby Kennedy — oh yeah, as a junior, Martin-Manley has a new position coach and an OC who’s entering his second season — said he thought Powell had tunnel screen and deep route potential.
Competition: Maybe Powell. So far, it’s easier to pick who’s not going to play in the slot. Let’s see, there’s KMM (at least a little), Powell (maybe) and then all the running backs not named Mark Weisman.
Let’s try to remember the “slot” talk is media/messageboard driven. Ferentz and staff haven’t said much of anything about who’s going to do what and where. And when has Iowa truly used a slot position player extensively? If you count the inside receiver as a slot, then, sure, extensively.
It’s probably time to chill on “slot” talk until we see it become something in a game against another team.
Why No. 6?: If you had to put a bet down on Iowa’s No. 1 WR going into 2013, who else would you put your money on?
Let’s give some historical context (recent historical context) to KMM’s first two seasons. Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, Iowa’s career receptions leader with 173, caught 38 and 44 (82) passes his first two seasons. McNutt, No. 2 to DJK with 170, caught 34 and 53 (87). KMM is right there with 82 so far in his career.
“Our No.1 wide receiver, Kevonte is our most experienced guy certainly outside and then Tevaun [Smith] moves up at the other position, and C.J. Fiedorowicz is part of the passing attack, too, certainly,” Ferentz said. “Good to have he and Kevonte back, and we’ll build from there.”
Outlook: To keep pass with DJK and McNutt, Martin-Manley would need around 50 receptions this season. But yeah, that’s an empty stat if the Hawkeyes’ passing game doesn’t find its legs for a second consecutive season.
This is Martin-Manley’s third season. What’s his greatest strength? He’ll catch a lot of passes and he’ll work in traffic. He seems comfortable underneath and in front of linebackers. It’d be easy to write him off as a downfield threat, but you can’t write off anyone for anything after last season.
©2013 The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, Iowa)
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