Iowa QB Spencer Petras doesn't care what anyone outside the Hawkeyes facility has to say
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras hears the outside criticism.
And he does not care.
He tries his best to block out comments, from fans on social media to media members and ranking systems like Pro Football Focus who evaluate his every move. The reality, though, is it's impossible to completely block it all out. Instead, he's channeling his energy to the comments that are within Iowa's football facility.
"The way I look at it," Petras said, "if those that I respect and work with on a daily basis believe in me and support me, any exterior noise is kind of irrelevant. I was under (Nate Stanley) for a little bit and I've obviously experienced my fair share of criticism.
"But again, if my teammates respect and love me and my coaches respect me and think I'm doing a good job, then that's all I can ask for."
Petras got off to a less-than-desirable start last season. In the first two games, he completed only 54% of his passes, threw three interceptions to one touchdown and overall did not look comfortable within the offense. These factors played a part in the Hawkeyes beginning the season 0-2.
Although things improved over the rest of the season, Petras' full body of work has left many still questioning if he is capable enough to lead Iowa's team to their goal: the Big Ten championship game and beyond.
On Monday, Pro Football Focus ranked Petras the No. 112 quarterback out of a possible 130 for the 2021 season. But within Iowa's facility, his teammates see a player more committed than ever to take a big step forward.
"I see Spencer's confidence grow every single day," veteran receiver Nico Ragaini said. "I've really never seen anyone's work ethic like his and the way he studies film, it's really impressive. Every day you see him take a more leadership role on the team."
One player who Petras has studied considerably is Mac Jones, the Alabama product who was a 2021 first-round NFL draft pick. What he took most from Jones, and what he hopes to apply to his game, is how to perfect his touch throws — putting receivers in a position to not only make a catch but the next play afterward.
"Without that," Petras said, "Devonta Smith isn't Devonta Smith because he's having to stop for the ball, dive, things like that.
"A lot of it is the way (Jones) plays, the type of balls he throws. He has a lot of nice touch passes that allow receivers to run through it and get that extra 15 yards."
This time last year, Petras was not this far along in both pre-game preparation or on-field experience. In fact, he had a tough time getting started.
Twice last year during Iowa's summer period, he was quarantined for COVID-19 protocols. He estimates he missed three and a half weeks of the total seven-week period. That lack of preparation, combined with minimal game experience, made the first two games of the season difficult.
After a full offseason of both extensive on-field work and film study, it's tough for Petras to decide where he's grown the most: mentally or physically.
"Right now I'd say physically because that's all I can measure," Petras said. "I've certainly learned a lot as far as Xs and Os and decision-making, but you do that when you make better decisions on the field. I'm sure I'll see the progress Week 1, but physically I've made a lot of progress and feel good about that."
Spring practice was Petras' first opportunity to show his growth from last season. One thing he learned from spring is for certain: There was a comfort level that came with knowing what to expect after starting for an entire season just a few months prior.
"I've got a year under my belt as a starter," Petras said. "Before last season, it's like I've played football before but never at a Big Ten level. Certainly more confident and more comfortable because I know what it's like to get hit, I know what it's like to throw a touchdown pass."
Petras has carried the momentum of the last six games into the offseason. During that stretch, where the Hawkeyes went 6-0, he completed 58% of his passes with an 8-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, compared to 54% and a 1-to-3 ratio in the first two games.
When Iowa kicks off on Sept. 4 against Indiana, Petras is hoping to debut a new version of himself, one more polished and mature. Regardless of his performance, he'll continue to be unfazed by outside opinions and focus on what's being said within the team.
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"If after a great game you let those comments affect your ego in a positive way," Petras said, "when things don't go well, your ego will do the opposite. As a quarterback, it's my job to kind of ride the wave and stay mild throughout it all.
"I think looking at criticism or praise either way is a net negative. It's not going to help me even if everyone thinks I'm the best."
Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org