Keenan Davis looks to master mental game

Keenan Davis is built like a prototypical No. 1 wide receiver.

The Iowa senior is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds and has been clocked at under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash. He's got the size and speed to be a real deep threat, and a physical wideout. There seems to be just one thing keeping him from stardom.

"I feel like I have a lot going on, but it's the neck up for me," Davis told ESPN.com. "It's paying attention to detail and competing every play.

"That's a big thing for a receiver. A lot of guys weren't blessed with [physical] traits, but they go out and compete with the best. So it's mostly the neck up for receivers."

Davis has shown flashes of greatness during his career, including a 10-catch, 129-yard performance against Pitt last year, and a 109-yard day against Northwestern a couple of weeks later. But he has also struggled with consistency, and has been plagued by too many dropped passes, a problem that reared its head again in the Insight Bowl loss to Oklahoma.

This spring, Davis is working to put those issues behind him.

"It's just going out and getting your timing right," he said. "Going out and being confident in yourself. Most of those drops came from the easy catches."

The Hawkeyes need Davis to emerge as a consistent force as they look to replace all-time leading receiver Marvin McNutt, whose 1,315 yards last season accounted for more than 43 percent of the team's receiving yards.

"He needs to take that next step," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He's capable. He did a lot of good things last year, so now it's a chance to build on what he got started."

Ferentz pointed out that McNutt went from 53 catches as a junior to 82 last season. Maybe Davis, who hauled in 50 passes as a junior in 2011, can make a similar jump. He'll have an experienced quarterback in second-year starter James Vandenberg, and an offense that might have to rely on the passing game a little more with all the uncertainty at tailback. Vandenberg often locked onto McNutt last season, and for understandable reasons; this season, he'll need Davis and other receivers like Kevonte Martin-Manley to step forward.

"He's an incredibly talented guy," Vandenberg said of Davis. "And [he's] actually very similar to Marv when you think of height, weight, speed, the way he catches the ball, how he can go up for it. So obviously, we're expecting him to do a lot of things, but I don't think it's just pressure on him."

Davis said he views McNutt like a brother, and hopes to follow his footsteps.

"It's something I really want," he said. "I want to be the no. 1 guy. I always want the ball in my hands. It's something that every receiver at every school should want."

Not every school has a receiver as physically gifted as Davis. If he can master the mental aspect of his game, Iowa will once again have one of the Big Ten's top wideouts.