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IOWA CITY — It has undoubtedly been a big spring for Brian Ferentz. This is his first season as Iowa’s offensive coordinator and there’s all of the work that comes with that.
On Sept. 2 against Wyoming, Ferentz will be calling plays for a first-year starter at quarterback and for an offense that needs to find some sort of momentum in the passing game. In a lot of ways, this is a huge step in his coaching career.
You’ll have to excuse his voice. Iowa’s offense is a work in progress and that’s going to take a lot of verbal direction. So, Ferentz sounds a little like Vito Corleone from “The Godfather.”
Iowa’s offense is in install and evaluation mode.
“Every time you go through an install, you try to be logical and organized how you put things in,” Ferentz said during a Wednesday news conference. “And everything has a role, everything has a package, everything is within a family or a system and you try to install those day by day.”
New pages in the playbook are being passed out every day. For a gauge on how this is being digested, let’s take a quick detour with wide receiver Nick Easley.
Easley’s rise to a possible shot at starting has come at a blistering pace. He arrived in January as a walk-on after two productive seasons at Iowa Western Community College (where he caught 72 passes for 954 yards last season). Yes, the Iowa receiving corps has been reduced to two scholarship players this spring because of injury and academics, but Ferentz called Easley a bright spot.
“We’re looking for guys to step up at the receiver position,” Ferentz said. “If you put a gun to my head today, I would tell you our best receiver out there day-in and day-out at practice — obviously we know what Matt VandeBerg can do — but Nick Easley has done a nice job. He’s not on scholarship, but he’ll play, and he’ll play more than maybe he even anticipated.”
Easley offered insight into the installation of the offense.
“Things are starting to settle in for me,” said the 5-11, 203-pounder from Newton. “We’re still adding new stuff every day, but I feel like I’m getting more comfortable with it.”
One part of installing the offense is introducing it to the players. The other part is simply evaluating what players can and can’t do, and that, probably more than anything, will shape what the Hawkeyes look like in the fall.
“We’ve gotten in what we need to evaluate guys and to find out what we’re good at,” Ferentz said. “. . . It’s a little more we want to get these things evaluated. We want to get these things on tape so we can coach off it.”
Now, what Iowa is good at now (or vice versa) can certainly change in the fall. Beyond installation, which will be on display during Friday night’s spring game at Kinnick Stadium, here are a few other spring storylines that likely also will be fall storylines for the Iowa offense:
— It looks as if the quarterback competition will extend into fall camp. Sophomore Nathan Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers is too close to call right now.
“It’s really close right now, and I see this thing going into camp, probably midway into camp before we have to make a decision,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If we had to do it right now, we’d be throwing darts.”
Yes, Stanley beat out Wiegers last fall — and even burned his redshirt — for the No. 2 spot behind C.J. Beathard. That doesn’t matter.
“No one has really separated, and I think it’s good,” Brian Ferentz said. “Again, it goes back to there are no incumbents. Nobody is owed anything. No one deserves this or is entitled to this. Everyone has to earn a spot and earn playing time. They’ve both competed hard for that job, and neither one of them has pulled away.
“So, at this point, we’ll let them keep competing. We’ll take it into summer. We’ll take it into camp. At some point we’re going to need to make a decision, and some separation would help, but right now I’m encouraged because they’re both pushing forward.”
— Running back Akrum Wadley has mostly been held out of contact this spring. He’s coming off knee surgery in January.
Wadley is Iowa’s No. 1 running back, but Brian Ferentz challenged the notion that there has to be a running back 1A and 1B. Part of that thought was the possibility of moving Wadley around the formation, possibly on the edge to get him in matchups in the open field.
“Akrum’s a guy who’s good in space, so maybe you create some matchups where he’s in space, and you have another guy in the backfield who can carry the ball,” Brian Ferentz said. “So I don’t know if it will be true 1A, 1B, but we anticipate those guys carrying the ball a whole bunch.”
“Those guys” are sophomore Toks Akinribade and redshirt freshman Toren Young.
“They’ve gotten plenty of work, which is a real positive, but between Toks and Toren, we like those guys,” Brian Ferentz said. “We
think they can carry the ball in the Big Ten. Is there going to be a 1B? I don’t know if it’s going to be what you saw last year.”
— Whatever form Iowa’s offense takes next fall, don’t discount the possibility of a Transformer that is all tight ends.
Sophomore Drew Cook was moved from quarterback to tight end last week. Cook now gives Iowa seven scholarship tight ends, with sophomore Nate Wieting, who saw a lot of action last season, as an eighth.
Iowa has eight tight ends and three quarterbacks (Stanley, Wiegers and Ryan Boyle) and that’s OK. It’s stretching the max on tight ends, but it’s still OK.
“We have maximums and minimums for scholarship count at every position on our team,” Brian Ferentz said. “So, eight is a little bit on the high-end, right? And three (quarterbacks) would be, perhaps, a little bit — well, it’s about right. Three to five, somewhere in there, depending on where we’re at in the year and how many guys we’ve got on campus, leaving, coming in, all those things.”
Solon tight end Jacob Coons will make it eight scholarship tight ends in the fall, but Peyton Mansell will give Iowa four scholarship quarterbacks.
“But like 95 percent of our snaps, probably, in the last five years, there’s been a tight end on the field,” Brian Ferentz said. “We’re not in a hurry to take those guys off. If we can have more on, great. We played with three tight ends in the bowl game some, too. So when we have the personnel available, we like to do it.”
They have the TE personnel available.
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