116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras had to quarantine twice last offseason and, this year, he doesn’t have to worry about contact tracing or COVID-19 tests.
“That was probably 3 1/2 weeks out of a seven-week block,” Petras said. “I think my psychological immune system has grown stronger through this past year.”
No matter what, Petras said, the whole team is together on campus at the same time, going to practices and spending time together through golf outings. Both are key to establishing chemistry and even his confidence in taking command of a leadership role.
The smallest changes make an impact on leadership. Iowa football director of strength and conditioning Raimond Braithwaite said last year players were siloed into their conditioning groups when they came in and out of the weight room. Those players were the ones they would eat meals with, too. The normalcy of the team being together for workouts adds an element of cohesion, he said.
That helps Petras command his team in the way a leader should.
"Spencer is a vocal guy, he likes to pick guys up when they're not doing their best,“ Iowa junior tight end Sam LaPorta said. ”He's the same person every day. You can appreciate that from somebody.“
Other teammates also are seeing Petras grow into his role as a leader, especially since they are able to spend more time with each other this offseason. Senior wide receiver Nico Ragaini and senior offensive lineman Kyler Schott spoke to media in June about Petras’ diligent film study and work ethic as the first player in and last player out of the building.
Petras said on Wednesday he’s more recently keyed in on studying Indiana and Iowa State’s film, since those are the first two opponents of the season. There won’t be time during game weeks to observe with as much detail as he can now.
That’s part of what he said he started to change in his pregame preparation this past season. It’s something he didn’t think about as much as the backup quarterback.
“Now I know more of what makes me feel prepared for a game,” Petras said. “When we watch our film for a couple hours every night, I actually went on the field and started taking myself through my reads and visualizing coverages or blitzes and what defensive backs can do.”
He also reminded reporters he played in front of a full, raucous Iowa crowd. His few snaps before 2020 were two snaps at the end of the 2018 game against Maryland and in 2019 against Rutgers and Middle Tennessee.
But having one year of playing experience still helps him have the confidence to be more assertive in talking through plays with his teammates, which is key to developing anticipation in his throws.
“Let's say it's a 10-yard out — to work on anticipation, you work on throwing it when he's only at 8 yards and he hasn't gone through this break,” Petras said. “When you’re a younger guy it's a lot harder because in high school, you don't have to do that, you can kind of wait. You throw it earlier, it’s a different kind of flow because we’re put in a place where the guy can run out of his break and catch it.”
During a week off from practice, Petras worked with private quarterbacks coach Tony Racioppi from TEST Football Academy.
Racioppi also worked with former Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley and has helped with the Manning Passing Academy. He also individually coached former Penn State and current Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback Trace McSorely, Green Bay Packers backup quarterback Tim Boyle and Buffalo Bills backup quarterback Davis Webb and is a recent connection to the Iowa football program.
Racioppi said Petras had a very common problem: putting too much weight on his back or front foot. If he puts too much weight on his back foot, chances are he’ll throw too high, but on his front foot, the ball will go downward fast, like a baseball pitch. The key to improvement is distributing his weight evenly on both feet.
“In football, you don’t throw down, you throw straight, so you want to stay upright and as vertical as possible,” Racioppi said. “Throwing footballs is like a turn within sequence of events, no frills, we're just turning around our spine.”
Those mechanics take time and repetition to get comfortable. When it comes to working on anticipation, Racioppi said Petras has to work on that with his teammates, which he didn’t have as much time to do last summer given the isolation procedures of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“His footwork has to marry the route and the depth of the route like a dance,” Racioppi said. “Timing your drops so you hit that back foot, configure bounce, and align with your target as they’re about to break, and then the ball is thrown on time to that spot.”
Racioppi said Petras has a cannon for an arm, but also the passion it takes to get better.
“A lot of times, when you play as a sophomore, people forget you can improve over your career,” Racioppi said. “He easily could have just gone on his break, went home to California and sat on the beach for 10 days. He came out here and we did a ton of work.”
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