Kick return depth chart begins to take shape for Iowa football

A number of athletes are in the running to return punts and kicks for the Hawkeyes this season, including defensive back Riley Moss and wide receiver Arland Bruce.


Daniel McGregor-Huyer

Iowa wide receiver Arland Bruce interacts with the media during Hawkeye Football Media Day at the Iowa Football practice facility in Iowa City on Aug. 12, 2022.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Iowa football will have to replace one major piece of its special teams unit before the 2022 season kicks off in earnest on Sept. 3.

The Hawkeyes lost returner Charlie Jones to Purdue via the transfer portal during the offseason.  Jones was the Big Ten Conference’s returner of the year in 2021, fielding both punts and kicks for the Hawkeyes. He amassed 918 yards and a touchdown in the return game a year ago.

Among the favorites to fill the hole Jones left in the Hawkeyes’ lineup are wide receiver Arland Bruce and defensive backs Riley Moss and Cooper DeJean.

Moss, a senior, was a state champion in the 110-meter high hurdles during the final year of his high school track career.

Bruce proved himself to be explosive in 2021, handling the ball as both a runner and a receiver. DeJean played special teams in a non-returner role for Iowa a year ago.

“As far as returners, we’ve got some capable candidates,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said at his team’s media day on Aug. 12. “We’ll just kind of see where that goes. But you’ve got guys like DeJean. You’ve got Arland Bruce, Riley Moss, three guys right there that have the potential to be pretty good for us back there.”

Moss, Bruce, and DeJean aren’t the only Hawkeyes getting a chance to prove themselves as returners. Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said wide receiver Alec Wick and defensive backs Xavier Nwankpa, TJ Hall, and Terry Roberts are all in the mix at returner. Woods added that running backs Kaleb Johnson, Gavin Williams, and Leshon Williams could also be worked into the Hawkeyes’ kick return game.

“It’s an opportunity to put the ball in your hands,” Moss said of returning kicks. “You gotta die for those. Usually, I have to work for it with the quarterback. But being able to get it kicked to you is another story. It’s been three or four years since high school when I did it. That used to be my cup of tea. I’m kind of excited for the opportunity.”

Unlike Moss, Bruce has the ball in his hands frequently on offense. The 5-foot-10, 198-pounder played in 12 contests in 2022 and averaged three touches per game.

Bruce, however, doesn’t think offensive players have an advantage over defenders when it comes to ability in the return game.

“If you go look at Cooper DeJean’s highlights from high school, it’d be hard for me to say that,” Bruce said. “It’s a fair and competitive battle. So, that’s what makes it really fun.”

Iowa began to install its kickoff game plan Friday. Woods said the Hawkeyes will begin to work on kick return next week, leaving three weeks to determine who will be fielding kicks and punts in Iowa’s opening game against South Dakota State.

“I feel like we’ve got depth,” Woods said. “I think we have some younger guys that just haven’t had the opportunity … At some point, they’re going to have the opportunity for us to know who they are and see what they’re about.

“I think we’re in a good situation. We just need the reps. We need game experience.”

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