Iowa's DJK well aware of depth chart debate

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A depth chart can be quite a powerful piece of paper, as Iowa wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos found out after spring practice.

Johnson-Koulianos, who has led the team in both receptions and receiving yards in each of the last two seasons, dropped to the second string on Iowa's post-spring depth chart. Perhaps more surprising was the fact that Marvin McNutt, a converted quarterback who only started playing wideout in spring ball, moved into the starting job ahead of the man known as DJK.

McNutt remains the starter on Iowa's preseason depth chart, while Johnson-Koulianos and Colin Sandeman are both listed as potential backups.

Johnson-Koulianos' apparent demotion sparked a swell of speculation about the junior wide receiver.

Was he in the dog house? Did he lapse in focus or work ethic? Was it something even worse?

"I get phone calls every day, text messages all day, about, 'What's the deal with the depth chart? What's going on? What are you doing?'" Johnson-Koulianos said Friday. "There's really a lot of rumors circulating, questioning my character and how hard I'm working. It's unfortunate because I understand what it takes to be on this team.

"My heart is in this program. I've been around here for a while now, so I know what's expected."

Johnson-Koulianos even got wind of a rumor that he had gotten in a fight, which was news to him.

"I came here because of the positive energy that I got from the fans and the coaches," he said. "I don't understand why people were questioning those issues with me and how hard I'm working. It's a result of, I'm ranked this on the depth chart, so people assume, 'Obviously there's something going on with him. He's not doing this right.'"

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said "nothing's changed" with Johnson-Koulianos, who has caught 82 passes for 940 yards and five touchdowns the last two seasons. But Ferentz and his assistants have dropped hints that the junior needs to pick things up to remain a starter.

"Nobody can relax in this training camp because everybody wants to play," wide receivers coach Erik Campbell said. "He's a guy who's been maturing and at the same time, being a little bit focused, knowing that he has to compete for his job every day."

Added Ferentz: "It's like everything else, it's in the player's hands. We evaluate everything. Everything they do gets evaluated on the field, off the field."

Johnson-Koulianos denied ever having conversations with the coaches about a need for him to pick things up on the field.

Whether or not the depth chart was intended to send a message, it certainly got DJK's attention.

"Hopefully, I'll be their guy, and if not, obviously they're making the best decision," he said. "Can I start on this team? Yes. Have I started on this team? Have I been productive? Yes. Will I start this year? I'm not sure. That's the coaches' decision. But I'll tell you what. It won't be because of my lack of effort or my lack of desire.

"I'm sure they have their reasons. This is their job. They're professionals. They know what it takes to motivate guys."