IOWA CITY, Iowa – When Kelton Copeland took over the Iowa receives last winter, he and head coach Kirk Ferentz said it wasn’t a quick fix. It would take time.

That makes sense when you consider how much the corps struggled in 2016. With future NFL quarterback C.J. Beathard at the controls, the passing offense ranked 118 of 128 FBS programs.

Copeland pulled more out of the position last season. He did so with JUCO transfer Nick Easley and true freshman Ihmir Smith-Marsette as key contributors. Two other first-year players, Brandon Smith and Max Cooper, also saw the field.

Playing inexperience talent last season should pay off this fall. Quarterback coach Ken O’Keefe said he saw increased speed at the position. Copeland concurred.

“We’ve made strides. I honestly feel we’ve made strides. Have we arrived? Absolutely not. But are we getting closer? Yes. I firmly believe so,” he said.

The foundation of this rebuilding project begins with retention. Attrition crippled the position throughout the last five years.

The continuing development of guys like Smith, Smith-Marsette, Cooper and classmate Henry Marchese bodes well for the future. It puts less pressure on future freshmen.

Copeland gushed over Smith, who saw limited game reps last season but learned the speed of the game. He caught two passes for 15 yards but appears poised to become a much bigger part of the offense in ’18.

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“Once we get him to trust his fundamentals, use his size, use his speed, use his strength, all of his God given abilities on a play-by-play basis every day, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with. There’s no question,” Copeland said.

Smith-Marsette produced the most among last year’s quartet of freshmen receivers. He caught 18 balls for 187 yards and two touchdowns, rushed seven times for 41 yards and returned four kicks for 134 yards.

The raw ability is present. Ferentz and Copeland would like to see more attention to detail from him.

Ferentz mentioned in his press conference last month that he’s encouraging Smith-Marsette to spend less time on his phone and more in the film room. Copeland has been trying to send the same message. They have seen the potential in the New Jersey native.

“You can’t coach speed. He’s one of the fastest players in our room, probably on this team,” Copeland said.

Kyle Groeneweg has stood out this spring. He transferred from the University Sioux Falls and red shirted in the fall. Ferentz, Copeland and special teams coach LeVar Woods all have praised him.

“K.G. is a dark horse, so to speak, as a guy that could really help us. He can really contribute in a lot of ways because of what his skill set brings to the table,” Copeland said.

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Easley returns as the team’s leading receiver from a year ago. The Newton native caught 51 passes for 530 yards and four touchdowns after walking onto the team last January from Iowa Western Community College.

With Matt VandeBerg having exhausted his eligibility following last season, Easley has stepped into the leadership role.

“He’s all about fundamentals. He’s a technician. He’s not the tallest. He’s not the fastest. He’s not the biggest. But he does everything well. He does everything the way you coach it. He does everything the way you want it. That in itself is a leader,” Copeland said.

The receiver coach also talked about the possibility of incoming freshman contributing and more about his position group. You can see more from him in this HN TV video: