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Rising junior QB Nate Stanley discusses being a captain, a leader and the Iowa offense’s potential in 2018. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — Nate Stanley is a quick study off the field, and it’s showing up in his first spring practices as Iowa’s undisputed starting quarterback, his position coach told reporters Tuesday.

Ken O’Keefe, who is mentoring Stanley for a second season, said the junior quarterback has done the four things necessary to learn the Hawkeyes’ offensive system:

“Study the playbook, study the video, he can draw it all up, and now he’s teaching it to the other guys in the room,” O’Keefe said of Stanley. “If you’re able to take those four steps in that order, he’s got a great chance of mastering what we want him to do.”

Stanley went 8-5 as a starter last season after winning a quarterback duel with the now-departed Tyler Wiegers, throwing for 2,437 yards and 26 touchdowns. He was brilliant at times, ineffective at others. That’s to be expected for a first-year starter.

He’s able to see plays develop quicker now, O’Keefe said.

“The process of making those decisions is at a different speed than it was this time last year,” O’Keefe said. “Learning the system and trying to work your way through progressions is not the easiest thing in the world to do the first time.”

Stanley, at 6-foot-4, 242 pounds, has an arm that is even stronger than former Hawkeye quarterback Nathan Chandler, with whom he’s frequently compared, according to O’Keefe, who coached both. There were times, especially early last season, when Stanley’s arm was too strong, resulting in overthrows of open receivers.

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Iowa quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe on Nate Stanley and the two freshmen, Peyton Mansell and Spencer Petras, as spring practice continues.

“A lot of that, in the beginning, was probably attributed to coaching. We didn’t work on some of that stuff maybe the way we should have,” O’Keefe said. “But he has a better feel. Those balls were about timing and anticipation and receivers being where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there. Those guys did a really nice job last year and there was some times when it just didn’t fit right. There’s a lot of that. Especially in the play-action game, because the fake is involved, sometimes you lose sight of where the read is. Those are things that come with experience.”

Experience is what Stanley has now. O’Keefe is hopeful the quarterback will take a big leap in his second year at the helm.

Understudy short on experience

Iowa will need Stanley to stay healthy as well, considering there’s only youth behind him on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell is the primary backup in his first spring practice session in the program.

O’Keefe compared Mansell’s progress to an infant going from crawling to walking.

“His footwork’s different. Everything’s sped up a lot more. He has an understanding of what we’re looking for,” O’Keefe said of Mansell. “(The) Improvement’s so vast, it’s hard to describe it all.”

Newcomer pressing for time

O’Keefe snared Iowa’s youngest quarterback prospect, Spencer Petras, late in the recruiting process last fall. Petras starred at Marin Catholic High School in San Rafael, California, and graduated early so he could get to Iowa City in time to participate in spring practices as a true freshman.

“He’s got a tremendous personality. You love him as a kid,” O’Keefe said. “He’s got an ability to learn the game that I think is pretty special and has worked extremely hard to do that since he’s been here. He’s got a pretty good knack for feeling things on the field as well.”

O’Keefe wouldn’t comment on whether he prefers to redshirt Petras this fall, but did say he’s thrilled to have him on campus since Iowa is down to three scholarship quarterbacks. In addition to Wiegers, Ryan Boyle also is transferring in search of more playing time.

O’Keefe marveled at Petras’ workload in what should be his final semester as a high school student. That includes a full class schedule, plus getting up at 5:15 a.m. four mornings a week to make it to 6 a.m. weightlifting sessions.

“It’s a lot on your plate and those guys do a remarkable job. There’s nothing easy about what we’re doing here,” O’Keefe said.

Fewer QBs the new norm

O’Keefe, who previously coached quarterbacks at Iowa from 2000-11, said players are quicker to transfer this time around, especially at a position where only one can start.

“I think that’s going to be kind of the norm a little bit now with the way these guys are moving around. So you just have to be ready for it,” he said of having only three scholarship quarterbacks.

“We’ve been through seasons where we used three guys (at quarterback) in the beginning when we first came, and that had its issues as well,” he joked. “I like using the same guy for two or three years in a row. That’s even better.”

That should be Stanley, who projects as a three-year starter.

After that? O’Keefe is always on the lookout for Iowa’s next quarterback, whether that be Mansell, Petras or a freshman who will arrive next year.

“You’ll find the right guys sooner or later. You just have to keep digging and keep looking,” he said. “It’s a little tougher sometimes with all the gun offenses now, being able to take the statistical information and kind of marry it up. Because you don’t see the same throws we used to see.”

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