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IOWA CITY — When everyone put away Iowa football last January, the general thought was Nathan Stanley was a solid bet to become starting quarterback in 2017.
Iowa football is awake again, at least for these 15 practices this spring, and the 6-5, 235-pounder still might be the front-runner. Quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe didn’t give percentages between Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers when he spoke to reporters Wednesday, but he and head coach Kirk Ferentz have called this a competition.
That’s the head coach and the quarterbacks coach saying there’s a QB competition. Perhaps it’s time to listen.
Yes, Stanley passed Wiegers to become the No. 2 quarterback as a true freshman last season. He burned his redshirt to appear in five games and throw nine passes. Of course, the bigger payoff there is Stanley prepped as the No. 2 QB in practice and ran Iowa’s offense as opposed to running scout team offense.
What’s changed? You know what’s changed. Brian Ferentz is the new offensive coordinator. O’Keefe returned to Iowa City after five seasons with the Miami Dolphins. New eyes on the position seem to have given Wiegers a new life at Iowa.
“He’s an intelligent guy, understands everything,” O’Keefe said. “Knows the protections and how to work within the protections. And he can make the decisions that you have to make in those situations. That’s what I’ve seen so far.”
Now wait, isn’t this just creating the illusion of competition to keep Stanley sharp and Wiegers around? Maybe. One thing O’Keefe did say Wednesday is practice repetitions are being split evenly.
If there was a clear-cut No. 1, that QB would be immersed in all of the changes that come with a new coordinator and would be eating the majority of the reps.
“It’s neck and neck, and they’re going at it like it is at this point, too,” O’Keefe said. “I think competition is always good. I have no idea how far it will go or when somebody separates totally from the group, but competition is never bad. It will only help us. They’re both sharp guys. The ability to learn and process is pretty good. It’s just a matter of getting reps and being able to react to how you process that is probably going to be the thing that separates people in the end.”
There are a ton of factors to study in quarterback play. During the Hawkeyes’ open practice in Des Moines last weekend, the quarterbacks weren’t allowed to do much. It’s impossible to judge accuracy, vision, poise, escape-ability or really anything. Stanley completed two of maybe a half dozen passes. Wiegers completed one, a TD pass to wide receiver Nick Easley in goal line.
O’Keefe said overall performance will make it clear who should start. What are some of the things he’s looking for? What does “performance” mean, beyond simply moving the football?
“Quick feet, quick release, decision-making ability is critical, obviously, and the anticipation to get the ball out of your hands when you see somebody about to do something,” O’Keefe said. “You can’t waste time letting the ball go.”
Let’s spend some time on anticipation. If nothing else, this will illustrate all of the different moving parts in a passing game.
“Anticipation” is being able to know when and where a receiver will be open and then getting the ball there on time. This is an element O’Keefe clearly is looking for.
“For us, we’d like that ball to be a third of the way to the receiver by the time he comes out of his cut,” O’Keefe said. “If it’s less than that, it probably means we’re a little late. If it’s earlier than that, that’s great. We’ll never have a situation where you probably end up getting sacked or a DB gets his hand on the ball, but it can never be more than 50 percent.”
Last season, when wide receiver Matt VandeBerg suffered his season-ending foot injury, you saw quarterback C.J. Beathard take fewer chances on “throwing receivers” open. Beathard was never comfortable with where his receivers would be.
This won’t cure Iowa’s passing game, but anticipation leads to cleaner timing and more efficiency and first downs and all of that good offensive football stuff.
“If you can get to a third of the way to its target by the time they (receivers) come out of their cut on timing routes, you’re in business,” O’Keefe said. “Man-to-man, when you’re getting knocked around all over the field, the quarterback’s going to have to hold the ball, keep his feet alive and deliver it when he thinks it’s time to. On the timing stuff, that’s what you’re after. That’s how it gets measured. The guys who can do that are the guys that really succeed at that position.”
To get granular, this is the quarterback making his drop and throwing the ball out of his plant and the receiver being where he needs to be. Sounds simple. And then you see something like last season (Iowa had 1,991 passing yards, the fewest since 1982) and you wonder if you don’t take that for granted.
“Whatever it is that you may be teaching, those would be the things that you’re after as you progressively teach the pass game in the order that makes sense to the players and in the order that will allow them to build the timing that you need in the pass game in order to be successful,” O’Keefe said. “And hopefully with that comes the anticipation that we’re talking about. You know, that makes the biggest difference in the game. You look, all the great quarterbacks all had great anticipation.”
Right now, O’Keefe is looking for that quarterback and it appears to be an open competition.
— Junior free safety Brandon Snyder suffered a torn ACL last week. Wednesday, Kirk Ferentz announced freshman Noah Clayberg has moved from running back to safety.
“(I) thought that’s where he would end up playing, but he preferred to start at running back,” Ferentz said. “He was injured a little last week and missed a couple workouts, but he was doing well. Talked to him about transitioning and he has a great attitude. He was a high school QB, so he’s good at making the calls back there.”
— Junior offensive tackle Dalton Ferguson also suffered a torn ACL last week. The 6-4, 312-pound walk-on from Solon was listed as No. 2 right tackle behind senior Ike Boettger.
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