IOWA CITY — Last fall, Nathan Stanley jumped ahead of Tyler Wiegers in the Iowa quarterback race. It was a surprise. Stanley was a true freshman driving his scooter around Iowa campus for the first time.
Last fall was last fall.
Stanley and Wiegers started spring practice in a competition. They ended spring in a competition. They’ll begin camp in August in a competition.
That much was clear after Friday night’s scrimmage. The Gold topped the Black 63-47 before a crowd of 16,500 at Kinnick Stadium. The major accomplishment for the quarterbacks was making junior safety Jake Gervase the No. 1 star of the spring game.
Gervase twice picked off Wiegers, including a 59-yard return for a TD. He picked off Stanley once and almost made it four picks when he drove on the ball and got his hand on a pass intended for tight end Drew Cook in the fourth quarter.
“It was fun,” said Gervase, a former walk-on who earned a scholarship in January. “It was the first time I had a pick in Kinnick. I just tried to do my job and be in the right place at the right time.”
Everyone who walked into Kinnick — from the coaches to the players to the fans — knew Iowa’s passing game is a work in progress. There will be a first-year starter at QB. There are only two scholarship wide receivers in spring practice.
And you’re well aware of how Iowa’s passing game ended 2016. And now you have an idea of how much of a work in progress it is in 2017.
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Three interceptions, a couple of drops and at least three third-down completions that were short of the first-down marker, the performance out of the passing game Friday night was unsettling. There are lots of qualifiers. It’s April and top wide receiver Matt VandeBerg is injured and the other potential top wide receiver Jerminic Smith is suspended because of academics.
And, oh yeah, there’s a new offensive coordinator in Brian Ferentz and a mostly new offense. Iowa’s passing game looked pretty bad, but it’s April and not August. Timing, communication, chemistry, it all remains on the board and construction will resume in August.
That will have to do it for you right now.
“Part of the passing stuff is we’re a pretty ... I don’t want to say fragile, but it’s a fine line for us, and it’s like last year,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We lost a couple guys and things didn’t look as good, and it’s usually a couple tweaks here and there and you’ve got a chance to be a little bit better.”
Neither QB is pulling the emergency brake. Stanley isn’t dismayed that Wiegers has pulled even.
“Competition raises everyone’s level,” said Stanley, who threw the game’s only TD pass, a 2-yarder to sophomore Devonte Young. “You have to welcome it. That’s the mark of a true athlete. You have to want to get better all of the time.”
Wiegers is trying to take advantage of what really is a career “do-over.” When 2016 ended, he was the No. 2 QB behind a true sophomore who burned his redshirt after beating Wiegers out. Since January, Brian Ferentz has taken over the offense. Quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe was brought in.
It was a reset for Wiegers and it’s on him to take advantage.
“I was just worried about coming in and working,” the junior said. “I wasn’t worried about the depth chart. I was just focused on improving myself. You just have to get back to work, improve and move forward.”
If spring was set up for Stanley to separate himself from Wiegers, that didn’t happen. Someone will separate at some point. Ferentz was asked after the scrimmage if he had thoughts of playing two QBs. The answer was a nah, not really.
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Ferentz has been through QB competitions. The one thing he definitely knows is this does have a deadline.
“One of two things is going to happen: One guy is going to pull away pretty quickly when we get it going back in August or it’s going to be back and forth and then we’ll just have to figure something out from there,” Ferentz said. “But those things have a tendency to work themselves out.”
Ferentz was asked the “if there was a game tomorrow” question about quarterback. There’s 120-plus something days until Sept. 2 and Wyoming, but the answer still was kind of fun.
“Oh, man,” he said. “We’d be in trouble, period. I haven’t seen Wyoming, either, so they may be in the same situation we are.
“We’d probably do a coin toss, literally do a coin toss, but luckily we’re going to have at least 15, 18 practices before we make that decision.”
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