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IOWA CITY — If you take a drill to the Iowa football team — most definitely figuratively, stay with this — and plunge through where it’s brain, heart and guts and all of those things that make for a charismatic, fun, interesting and, certainly, successful character might be, the Hawkeyes would bleed C.J. Beathard.
There are the numbers (2,809 yards, 17 touchdowns and a 63 percent completion percentage on third-and-10-plus situations), the all-conference honors (Beathard was second-team all-Big Ten, highest conference honor for an Iowa QB since 2004) and the 13 consecutive wins that started Beathard’s run as Iowa’s starting quarterback.
But let’s not make this about numbers. Let’s look at how the senior is sewn into the 2016 Hawkeyes.
When we all believe college football is asleep during the summer months, players are engaged in heavy conditioning activity. For skill players, this includes a big dose of 7-on-7 drills, which is quarterbacks, running backs, tight ends and wide receivers vs. linebackers and defensive backs.
The tracks being plunked down here will show up. This is the part where the quarterback and receivers build that telepathy thing where the QB throws to where he knows, not thinks but knows, the receiver is running.
“He’s a fun guy to be around, a fun guy with talent,” wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy said. “That’s half the battle. The guys gravitate toward him. He can challenge them and push them, maybe even sometimes in ways that coaches can’t.”
Kennedy knows he can sometimes pull a player to the side and be critical. When a peer does that, however, it’s a different voice, one that might carry a little farther. When a quarterback with Beathard’s bona fides does it, it carries even more weight.
“When it’s one of your teammates and he says, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to step up and you’ve got to do this better,’” Kennedy said, “they start to see themselves through another player’s eyes.”
All summer, Beathard walked his receivers group through where he wanted them, where he needed them.
A closer look: Iowa wide receivers, tight ends
“It’s especially important in the summer when the coaches aren’t there,” offensive coordinator Greg Davis said. “He’ll go up to Jerminic (Smith, sophomore wide receiver who Iowa needs to come through this year) and say, ‘Look, I want this route run this way.’ It’s really close to me saying that to those kids. They’ll say, ‘OK, this guy has played, he knows exactly what it’s supposed to look like.’ That’s one of the big things we’ve seen from him. He coaches it on the field, ‘This is the way I want it to look, guys.’
“When you get your quarterback to that point, everybody understands he’s driving the ship.”
The physical gifts are good. Every quarterback needs those, and Beathard has what you want.
“A number of times last year he extended plays with his feet and found someone downfield,” Davis said. “He’s also got the big arm. A guy running a go route or a post route isn’t going to outrun his arm. If it presents itself, he’s not afraid of giving a receiver a shot at that play.”
That telepathy thing? Sometimes you hear it called “throwing a receiver open,” basically putting a pass where your guy can get it and the other guy can’t and putting it there before the defense sees it happening.
“When you get a freshman quarterback, one of the first things you have to explain to them is what ‘open’ is,” Davis said. “If we’re in this position [side by side, separated by less than an arm’s length, Davis demonstrates], he’s open. In high school, there’s nobody around a lot of times. You have to explain to them this is open and then you say, ‘This is how you help get him open.’ You move him this way with the ball.
“Because of his ball placement and accuracy, C.J. can do that sometimes. Look at the number of skinny posts he got to Tevaun Smith last year with a guy right here [again, less than arm’s length, Davis demonstrates]. Some guys won’t make that throw. So, if they get a little bit of separation, C.J. might give them a chance on that ball.”
You need to start with the talent. The knowledge of the playbook and all of the splinters that can come out of any given situation comes with time (and Beathard is a fifth-year senior, having been coached by Davis since 2012).
When this clicks together like a Lego ...
“He’s a smart, smart football player,” offensive line/run game coordinator Brian Ferentz said. “What you always want at quarterback is a guy who’s kind of an extension of the staff. He shares the same vision for the offense, he understands what we’re trying to do. Conceptually, he gets the offense. C.J. does that. He can see things and he can make decisions.
“He can understand offensively that here are my answers for this defensive look. We may have answers in the pass game, run game or screen game, whatever it is. He has to take those answers and ask, ‘What is the best answer based on the situation in the game?’ That’s where football games are won or lost is in the situational aspect, that’s what he understands so well.”
The decisions thing is big. That’s often what sets quarterbacks apart. On this level, physical abilities do vary, but everyone can throw a football through a tire from 30 yards. You don’t get in the door without that. Decision making can be a differentiator.
“I think both of us have a feel for the playbook,” said Tyler Wiegers, a sophomore and Beathard’s backup. “You can always get a better feel for it and make quicker decisions. I think C.J. does a great job making those quick decisions and getting the ball in the right spot.”
Don’t discount the guts part. That was an all-too-real thing in 2015, when Beathard was healthy for 2 1/2 games and missed none despite a torn groin and a sports hernia that required surgery in the offseason.
On the outside, we saw Beathard struggle at times during games. Saw an ice pack here and there. We didn’t see the day-to-day pain and whatever it took to get to the field. By the way, the “whatever it took” included “dry needling,” which is when a “dry” needle, one without medication or injection, is inserted through the skin into areas of the muscle known as trigger points.
“Talk about a guy handling really tough circumstances in a really admirable way,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We were seeing him on a daily basis. As you might imagine, the respect he garnered from everyone involved was magnified as the year went on.”
It all has to coalesce. It all accumulates. Did you know Beathard weighed 170 pounds when he arrived at Iowa from Franklin, Tenn., in 2012?
“The physical part is major, but there’s the confidence level, the maturity, the awareness, what it takes to prepare and lead a football team, there’s a lot that goes into that,” Kirk Ferentz said. “We ask our quarterbacks to do an awful lot. You need the ability to do the work you have to do before you hit the practice field and then show on the practice field that you’re getting it. If you make a mistake, you don’t make the same mistake the next day. In ‘14, we saw his approach and his maturity level start to rise. You add the physical maturity with the mental maturity, when that starts to come together, you have a chance to have something good.”
The quarterback meeting room in the Hansen Performance Center has a staff table where QBs and coaches can sit across from each other and discuss the position and everything that goes into it.
“There’s no other meeting room like that,” Brian Ferentz said. “There isn’t a staff table in the offensive line room. That is a dictatorship. There’s information going one way in that room. I’m not interested in opinions or what you saw. If I don’t agree with what you saw, it’s wrong. In that room (the quarterbacks), there’s a lot more back and forth, a lot more dialogue.”
That’s part of the accumulation. Beathard has done the mind meld. He has the arm. He can move (especially when healthy). There’s another year of measure in front of the 6-2, 215-pounder, but it’s not wild and wacky to discuss the possibility of Beathard being the best QB in Kirk Ferentz’s 17-plus seasons at Iowa.
“Mastery of the system. If they can achieve that mastery, we have a chance to be really successful,” Brian Ferentz said. “And then the talent level is the other limiting factor. ... The talent is that limiting factor. If you take both of those things and put them together, he’s got to be on par with the best we’ve had. I think his body of work and then you add the toughness and all of the aspects, the sky is the limit for him.
“I’ve told anyone who’ll listen, he’s an NFL quarterback. He has all of the intangibles they’re looking for at that level except for height. They’ll knock him on that. That’s their job and I understand it. I don’t think our head coach will cry about it when he gets drafted in the fourth round like other people do. Everybody is looking for flaws, that’s what they do.
“But somebody is going to get him and somebody is going to be really happy when they get him.”
The last Iowa quarterback to attempt a pass in the NFL is Dan McGwire and he only kind of counts, transferring to San Diego State after his sophomore year as a Hawkeye. McGwire went 0-for-1 in a game for the Miami Dolphins in 1995.
Beathard is a rare convergence for the Hawkeyes. Everyone can see it.