Big Ten: Andre Harris

Spring breakout player: Iowa

May, 14, 2014
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With spring practice officially behind us, we're taking a look at each Big Ten team and identifying a player who announced himself as a potential key performer this fall.

These are guys who haven't played big roles yet but showed enough during the 15 spring practices -- not just some fluky, spring-game performance against backups -- to factor heavily into their team's plans.

Next up, a bright spot at a position group suddenly flush with depth on the Iowa roster:

Spring breakout player: WR Derrick Willies

Midway through spring practice at Iowa last month, Willies announced his arrival with a big performance as the Hawkeyes caravanned to West Des Moines for a public scrimmage. Under-recruited out of Rock Island, Ill., the 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman caught seven balls for 148 yards and a touchdown.

He did it largely against Iowa’s defensive reserves, though, so questions remained.

Was it indicative of his ability to help the Hawkeyes in 2014? Could he really challenge for meaningful playing time amid a talented corps of receivers that includes seniors Kevonte Martin-Manley and Damond Powell in addition to junior Tevaun Smith?

Yes and yes.

Willies followed with an impressive showing on April 26 in Iowa’s spring game at Kinnick Stadium. He grabbed five passes for 142 yards, including a 42-yarder touchdown from backup quarterback C.J. Beathard.

Despite two receptions that covered more than 80 yards, a short route near the sideline was what impressed coach Kirk Ferentz the most. On that play, Willies dragged a foot before falling out of bounds.

“He’s this year’s spring sensation,” the coach told reporters after the spring game, “so we’ll have to keep him in check. But he had a great catch on our sideline, and he’s doing good things.”

His emergence should help the Hawkeyes field a receiving corps as deep as any coached by Ferentz, entering his 16th season in Iowa City. With Jake Rudock back at quarterback, the passing game looks set up for success.

A former high school hurdler and state-champion sprinter, Willies sat quietly before spring practice among classmates Matt VandeBerg, Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris. Each looked to announce his arrival.

Consider Willies arrived.

“He’s a talented player,” Martin-Manley said after the spring game. “He plays with a lot of confidence and a lot of heart.”

Iowa spring wrap

April, 28, 2014
4/28/14
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The spring workouts are in the books and the long offseason has arrived. But before diving into summer and the painful wait for football to return, we’re taking a look back at the developments from March and April and sneaking a peek at what to expect in the fall for Iowa.

Three things we learned in the spring
Three questions for the fall
  • How will the secondary come together?: Cornerback Desmond King is a bona fide star after his breakout freshman season, but the Hawkeyes need to find a starter at free safety, where Jordan Lomax and Anthony Gair continue to compete. Opposite King, Maurice Fleming and Sean Draper are even, and John Lowdermilk is trying to maintain an edge on Nico Law at strong safety.
  • Who will take the lead at running back?: Iowa knows it can rely on senior Mark Weisman, but he’s fought injuries and likely can’t survive an entire season of pounding between the tackles. Junior Jordan Canzeri offers intriguing athleticism. The New Yorker rushed for 481 yards last season, including a 165-yard performance at Purdue.
  • Can the defensive line live up to its billing?: These guys are good, no doubt. Anchored by tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat, both of whom started all 13 games a year ago, the Hawkeyes’ front four likely rates as the strength of the entire team. Juniors Drew Ott and Mike Hardy bring experience to the end spots. If this group improves like it did last season, look out.
One way too early prediction

Brandon Scherff will take home some hardware in December. He was denied a spot by the league’s media on the All-Big Ten first team as a junior. There will be no such worry in 2014. In fact, Scherff will vie for the Outland Trophy and earn a spot on All-America teams from his left tackle spot after opting to turn down a chance at the NFL this offseason.
Another June weekend is in the books, which means it's time for another recruiting roundup. As camps take place around the league, several players joined the commitment lists for the 2013 classes.

Let's take a quick look at what has happened since Friday:
  • Penn State didn't have a recruiting spree like several Big Ten teams, but the Lions picked up by far the most decorated prospect of the weekend in offensive tackle Dorian Johnson from Belle Vernon, Pa. ESPN Recruiting rates the 6-foot-6, 285-pound Johnson as the nation's No. 26 overall prospect and No. 2 offensive tackle. He has received offers from Alabama, Notre Dame and Ohio State, among others. Penn State now has two of the top three rated commits in the Big Ten -- quarterback Christian Hackenberg is the other. Given all the turmoil outside the program right now, it's incredible how successful new coach Bill O'Brien has been in adding high-quality recruits for his first full class.
  • Accelerated recruiting has become the national norm rather than the exception, but Iowa is on a record-setting pace for early commits. The Hawkeyes stand at 15 commits for 2013, the second highest in the Big Ten behind national leader Michigan (22). Iowa has secured six commitments since late last week, adding linebacker Trevon Young, defensive back Solomon Warfield, offensive lineman Sean Welch and three athletes -- Ike Boettger, Andre Harris and Derrick Mitchell Jr. The Hawkeyes landed three commits alone on Sunday, including Warfield, who had received several Big Ten offers. The commitments of Mitchell and Harris continue Iowa's success in the St. Louis area, where the Hawkeyes plucked players like Adrian Clayborn and Marvin McNutt. You have to wonder how much of the early success is due to the new, younger faces head coach Kirk Ferentz added to his staff during the offseason.
  • After scrambling to sign a class in February, new Illinois coach Tim Beckman is flexing his recruiting muscle so far for 2013. Illinois secured three commitments during the weekend -- athletes Darius Mosely and Caleb Day, and defensive tackle Bryce Douglas -- to bring its total to 13, the third highest in the Big Ten behind only Michigan and Iowa. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Mosely is Illinois' highest-rated recruit, according to ESPN Recruiting, earning a grade of 82. Beckman also is shoring up the interior defensive line with four defensive tackle prospects so far in the class.
  • Michigan State added a player with a familiar surname to its 2013 class as tight end Dylan Chmura pledged to play for the Spartans. Chmura, son of former NFL star tight end Mark Chmura, stood out during Michigan State's camp on Saturday. The Waukesha, Wis., product hadn't received an offer from Wisconsin but had planned to attend a Badgers camp later this month. Michigan State has eight commits for 2013.
  • After being stuck on one commit for several months, Minnesota picked up three more last week, including quarterback Chris Streveler from Woodstock, Ill., who made his pledge Friday night after attending a Gophers camp the weekend before. Streveler likely will be the only quarterback in Minnesota's class as the Gophers signed Philip Nelson in February and Max Shortell in 2011.
  • Although Hunter Niswander has a wide receiver's frame (6-foot-5, 210 pounds), he'll be doing the kicking and/or punting for Northwestern in future years after committing to the Wildcats on Friday night. Niswander received a scholarship offer from Northwestern, which has extended several to specialists in recent years after struggling in the kicking game for a stretch of seasons. Niswander's punting stood out during a recent camp at Northwestern, but he could handle both punting and place-kicking duties for the Wildcats.
  • Purdue picked up its third commitment for 2013 when athlete David Yancey made his decision Saturday. Yancey played quarterback in high school but is pegged as a running back for the Boilers, who loaded up on quarterback in their most recent class. Yancey has three older brothers who went to Purdue.

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