IOWA CITY — Iowa has a new offensive coordinator and the offense probably will look different next fall. We all will have to wait and see on that.
We’ll probably have to wait however many days there are until Sept. 2, when the Hawkeyes open their season against Wyoming.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz wasn’t evasive when offensive changes were brought up during a news conference Monday, kicking off spring football, which begins Wednesday for the Hawkeyes. It’s all on dry-erase boards in the Hansen Performance Center. And, really, it’s March. There’s no reason to lift the curtain.
The download for first-year offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and a mostly new offensive staff begins Wednesday and likely will continue through August camp.
“The goal is really to figure out what it is we want to do for the Iowa offense,” Ferentz said. “It’s not so much reshaping or retooling, but it’s just what we want to do if we’re starting at ground zero.
“We’ve always kind of believed simplicity is better, if we can, in all regards, run or pass. It’s most important that your players understand what it is you’re asking them to do, then secondly how do they adjust to all the various situations that can come up that a defense can present them with, that type of thing. It starts with that.”
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They know the passing game has to improve. Repeat: They know the passing game has to improve. Without getting too bogged down with numbers, let’s just consider this: The Hawkeyes finished with 1,991 passing yards last season, their lowest output since 1,873 in 1982.
“Obviously, our passing game was not where it needed to be at the end of the season last year,” Ferentz said before noting that the personnel turnover from 2015-16 ended up being a massive hurdle.
“Personnel is a big part of challenges in football,” Ferentz said. “We had two good running backs last year, pretty capable line. Our running game was going pretty well, but the passing game was lagging behind a little bit.
“The kind of balance we had in ‘15 really is what we’d like to have. It may not look exactly like that. The plays may not look exactly like that. We were at a pretty good place offensively in ’15 where we could run and throw, do some good things that way. From the time we got here, it’s been a key thing for us, balance.”
What Iowa’s offense will look like in 2017 — or how much it might change — is the unreachable chip in the can of Pringles right now. There were some definitives.
— Last season, sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley burned his redshirt and was the second-team QB. He played in just five games and threw nine passes. The benefit of being the No. 2 and not redshirting is learning and performing Iowa’s offense in practice and not playing scout team, where, Ferentz said, the QB is there to service the defense (basically keep the ball in play and not throw it away when things break down).
So, the reasonable expectation is that Stanley will win the job. Ferentz made it clear Monday that Stanley isn’t being handed anything. He called the QB race an open competition between Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers.
“Right now we go into it with an open mind,” Ferentz said. “Clearly at this point, Tyler Wiegers and Nate Stanley have the most experience working with the Nos. 1 and 2. Those two guys will be at the front of the group, then we’ll let it work from there.”
— Running back Akrum Wadley, coming off January knee surgery, will be held out of contact drills this spring. This isn’t unusual for an undisputed No. 1 running back.
On the positive side, Wadley is weighing in these days at a solid 195. This factlet dropped during a question on Wadley’s potential workload for ’17.
“He’s actually starting to get a little bit bigger and more robust,” Ferentz said. “That’s going to enable him to play more. That’s the reason we’ve been trying to encourage him to really take his training seriously, to make sure he can get himself to a point where he can play more reps. He does a pretty good job making yards per carry (Wadley was fifth in the Big Ten with 6.43 yards per carry last season, highest B1G finish for an Iowa back since 2008). If we can get him more carries, that’s a good thing for us, more chance for making a good play.”
— Senior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg reinjured his broken left foot during winter workouts and will miss spring drills. Ferentz said Monday that he expects him to return full-go in June.
VandeBerg was knocked out for the season after suffering the injury four weeks into the season. Ferentz said the injury was healed and that VandeBerg, who led Iowa in 2015 with 65 receptions, could’ve played in Iowa’s bowl game. This is just another hurdle.
“You’re always concerned any time a guy reinjures himself in any particular case,” Ferentz said. “There’s nothing they’re going to do out of the ordinary or anything like that. His rehab was actually on the conservative side. Wasn’t really tied into that. We’ll let it play out.”
Fullback Drake Kulick, who suffered a broken leg in the season finale against Nebraska, also will sit out the spring.
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On the positive side, sophomore cornerback Manny Rugamba, who suffered a shoulder injury against Nebraska and missed the bowl game, is healthy and will be full-go.
— Tight ends coach LeVar Woods has been named special teams coordinator. Last season, Woods coached Iowa’s return units. That is the plan right now, Ferentz said. The NCAA will vote on adding a 10th assistant coach in April, but that’s something that could get tabled until 2018.
— A decision hasn’t been made on whether Brian Ferentz will call plays from the sideline or the press box. “We haven’t gotten that far,” Kirk Ferentz said. “My guess is he’ll be down (on the field).”
— Brian Ferentz held the run game coordinator position the last two seasons. There will be no run game coordinator this year.
— Freshman Noah Clayberg, who joined the team in January after a grayshirt period, will begin his career at running back.
— Sophomore Colten Rastetter is in position to win the punters job. He’ll have to fight off incoming freshman Ryan Gersonde.
“Colten has been here a couple years now,” Ferentz said. “He’s at that point where it’s time for him to go. It’s his job to win right now.”
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