The early news on Brandon Smith's lower leg injury was hopeful; today's update was less so. Kirk Ferentz provided a few updates on Brandon Smith's status during his press availability on Tuesday. First he said Smith would be out "a couple weeks."
FERENTZ: Didn't put Brandon Smith on the depth chart yesterday. His injury right now looks like it's going to take a couple weeks. We were optimistic maybe Sunday, Monday. We got a test yesterday, so I think it's going to take a little while to get him back out on the field. That's just the way that goes.
But when asked if Smith would be back for the Wisconsin game in just under three weeks, Ferentz was less optimistic.
Q. Do you think Brandon will be back by Wisconsin?
KIRK FERENTZ: I think we're looking at probably three, four, five weeks probably ballpark. There's no way to just say when. So wherever that puts us, that's where it puts us. Looked like it might be a contusion, then kind of went south on us.
The upper range of that injury absence -- five weeks -- would keep Smith out of action for virtually all of the remainder of the regular season (with maybe a possibility of him being healed for the Nebraska game on Black Friday). Hopefully he's not out quite that long, but he certainly isn't going to be back anytime soon and it seems like a big stretch that he'll be ready for the big game with Wisconsin looming in a few weeks. That's a big blow because Smith leads the team in snaps (367, almost 100 more than the receivers with the next-most snaps, Nico Ragaini (277) and Ihmir Smith-Marsette (269). He's also tops on the team in receptions (33) and touchdowns (4) and second (to ISM) in receiving yards (407).
So who replaces him? Per Ferentz, Tyrone Tracy will be the first up in Smith's usual role as the "X," or outside receiver.
Q. Who do you look for to take Brandon's reps?
KIRK FERENTZ: First thing we'll do is shift Tyrone Tracy out there, he'll start the game at that position. Ihmir will probably be the next man in at that position. Obviously we'll juggle a little bit. Opens up some opportunity on the other side, other positions.
We got a good group of receivers, certainly better than we did two years ago, even a year ago. Just spreads it around a little bit more, a little bit more opportunity for the other players. It's part of football, everybody absorbing part of that loss.
Q. Will Oliver Martin be more of a part of the offense at this point?
KIRK FERENTZ: Just do the math. He's certainly been in the mix, is in the mix. Subtract one good player out of the mix, there's more snaps available for everybody.
He's working right now, certainly in the mix for competition this week.
Nate Stanley indicated that Oliver Martin has been primarily working at the "Y" and "Z" receiver positions. The "Z" receiver, or flanker, is the one that typically lines up on the weak side of the formation off the line of scrimmage; that's usually been Smith-Marsette this year. The "Y" receiver, or slot receiver, is the one lining up between the tackle and the split end ("X" receiver); that's usually been Ragaini this year. So if Martin has been primarily practicing at those positions it would offer some explanation of why he's less likely to be the immediate replacement for Smith. Tracy has been consistently listed as Smith's backup at the "X" position all year and has seen some snaps there this season (though he's also been used out of the slot a fair amount).
But as Ferentz noted, there will be a lot of snaps to go around in Smith's absence. He was on the field for an average of 52 snaps a game through Iowa's first seven games; those snaps will have to go to somebody. While Smith-Marsette and Ragaini will see a bit more work (and no doubt far more targets), Tracy, Martin, and Calvin Lockett are probably the receivers most likely to see a notable uptick in playing time while Smith is out. Hopefully they can fill his void; for the first time in a very long time, receiver has been one of the bright spots in the Iowa offense and keeping it that way will be crucial to Iowa's chances for success the rest of the season.
In the meantime, here's to a full and speedy recovery for Brandon Smith. Get well soon, Brandon.