After ‘downfall’ in production last season, Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. prepared for expanded role

Tracy only caught 14 passes last season, but could be the team’s No. 1 receiving target on offense after the departures of Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith.

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Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa wideout Tyrone Tracy, Jr. carries the ball during the 2019 SDCCU Holiday Bowl between Iowa and USC in San Diego on Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. Tracy, Jr. scored first in the game with this 23-yard carry.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


A slight grin appeared on Tyrone Tracy Jr.’s face during Tuesday morning’s Iowa football Zoom conference as the redshirt junior wide receiver explained his role in the team’s offense heading into the 2021 season.

“This year, obviously my goal is to do better than [14] catches and [154] yards,” Tracy said after Iowa completed its seventh of 15 spring practices, referring to his stats last season. “Hopefully, I can get that in one game.”

Tracy chuckled as he let out that last line. But he wasn’t kidding.

The Indianapolis native is ready to be the top target in the Hawkeye passing attack.

As a redshirt freshman in 2019, Tracy was forced into the starting lineup when Brandon Smith missed time with a high-ankle sprain. And he made the most of his extended playing time.

Against Northwestern that season, Tracy spun out of Wildcat tackles and outran the defense to the end zone on a 51-yard catch-and-run. The next week, Tracy burned Wisconsin’s defense on a deep post for a 75-yard touchdown. In Iowa’s Holiday Bowl win over USC, Tracy opened the scoring with a 23-yard scoring scamper on a reverse.

Tracy ended the 2019 season with 36 receptions for 589 yards and scored four total touchdowns on the year. But any expectations Tracy had of increasing his production in the offense last season were not met.

Between a shortened eight-game season, inconsistent quarterback play out of Spencer Petras, and seniors Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith taking up most of the targets at the wide receiver position, Tracy was at times an afterthought in Iowa’s passing game.

Tracy described last season as a bit of a “downfall.”

“My expectation was to do better than that [in 2020],” Tracy said. “And obviously, it didn’t go that way. But at the end of the day, you have to look in the mirror and ask yourself, ‘What are you doing to make the team better?’ Me complaining, walking around with my head down and having that negative energy does not make the team better overall.”

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Tracy finished 2020 with 14 catches for 154 yards and only one trip to the end zone. He did not catch a pass in either of Iowa’s final two games.

Tracy said Tuesday that, early last season, he grew frustrated with his lack of involvement in the offense. He wanted the ball. But a midseason meeting with head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland changed his perspective.

“They were saying there was nothing I was doing wrong,” Tracy said. “Some plays just [weren’t] going my way.

“[Copeland] told me if I lead the group, everything else would come. He wants me in playmaking positions, obviously. I know there’s only one ball. We have plenty of playmakers on the team. So I’m just going to do what I can when I get the ball in my hands”

Tracy wants to be a more complete receiver in 2021, regardless of how often the ball is in his hands. The 5-foot-11, 203-pounder specifically mentioned improving his blocking ability Tuesday, as well as hauling in more contested catches.

Smith and Smith-Marsette are off pursuing NFL careers. And while the Hawkeyes still retain receivers Nico Ragaini and Charlie Jones, tight end Sam LaPorta, and running back Tyler Goodson from last season’s offense, Tracy may be the new No. 1 receiving threat.

And that’s a role he’s ready for.

“I’m not really a stats person,” Tracy said. “As long as we’re winning, I’m good. My main thing this year is just leading the offense forward. I’m not really worried about my personal stats or my personal awards. My first thing is being a great leader for our offense and our receiver group.

“I’ve got big shoes to fill, and I’m ready to take that role.”

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