Leistikow: If Stanley outperforms Wiegers, he should be backup QB

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — It’s been a pretty uneventful Iowa football offseason.

The two scariest things? Seeing Josey Jewell carom down his family-farm water slide (he emerged injury-free) and wondering whether C.J. Beathard’s recent left knee injury was serious (it wasn’t).

But, depending on your viewpoint, some potentially scary (or exciting) news emerged Tuesday: A true freshman might be Iowa’s backup quarterback this season.

Yes, offensive coordinator Greg Davis and head coach Kirk Ferentz confirmed that Nathan Stanley could be Next Man In, should Beathard get hurt.

It’s actually pretty big news that Stanley has already moved ahead of second-year freshman Drew Cook for the No. 3 spot. But Ferentz said the backup spot currently held by third-year sophomore Tyler Wiegers is “being contested pretty strongly right now.”

The coaches have loved Stanley since they identified him as a big-armed, multi-talented, quiet kid out of Menomonie, Wis., and persuaded him to commit to the Hawkeyes in November 2014.

Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley looked smooth during the Hawkeyes' Kids Day open practice on Aug. 13.

Now that they’ve had him on campus for two-plus months, their read seems to be correct.

Beathard, a fifth-year senior, told the Register earlier this summer that there’s no way he could’ve played as a true freshman. What Iowa asks its quarterbacks to master takes time. The mental side of being a Hawkeye QB was the primary reason Beathard stalled behind Jake Rudock for two years.

Nathan Stanley adds intrigue to Iowa's quarterback stable

But Stanley seems to be absorbing things unusually quickly, something Davis said began in June with “a great understanding that he didn’t understand. So many (QBs) come in and they think it’ll be so simple to gather all this information.

“He came in understanding this is going to be a lot, (thinking) ‘I need to really focus from the beginning, get the foundation down.’ Not unlike going to your first day of class. When he’s made a mistake, he hasn’t beat himself up over it. He’s handled making mistakes very well. Because of it, the next play is a whole new play for him.

“He has shown great maturity for a young guy.”

That’s high praise for a kid who won’t turn 19 until Friday.

But what does it say about Wiegers? It could be concerning that 11 days outside of their opener, Hawkeye coaches don’t know their backup plan for Beathard, who played hurt for most of last season’s 12-2 run.

They’ve got Wiegers working with the second and third units now, Davis said — same as Stanley.

“Anything’s open right now. Fair to say C.J.’s our best quarterback. He’s really been practicing well,” Ferentz said. “After that, we’ll just continue to reassess it. I don’t think we’re ready to make a decision yet. Perfect world, we’d love to redshirt (Stanley). We’ll let it play out.”

There is precedent for Iowa needing just one quarterback. In 2012 (Beathard’s true freshman year), senior James Vandeberg took every Hawkeye snap of a 4-8 season.

The way Davis talked, it sounded like the 6-foot-5, 212-pound Stanley was ideally a break-glass-in-emergency option. “But at the same time, if he becomes the No. 2 guy,” Davis said, “then we’ll play him.”

Coaches will make personnel decisions later this week after evaluating a few more practices.

The No. 2 QB spot, though, is one of the biggest and most complicated.

Iowa freshman quarterback Tyler Wiegers poses for a photo during the University of Iowa football team's media day on Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in Iowa City, Iowa.

Remember the backdrop here: Iowa is a solid favorite to repeat as West Division champion in the Big Ten Conference. That isn’t the case every year. The stakes are escalated.

Let’s say Beathard’s helmet comes off in the first quarter against Miami of Ohio. He’ll by rule have to leave the field for at least one play.

Who goes in? Let the guy that won’t burn a redshirt year (Wiegers) hand off to LeShun Daniels Jr. and take him back out.

But suppose Beathard is sidelined for extended time — a quarter, a game, a few weeks.

With a division title potentially on the table, Next Man In — whoever that is — is your Best Man In.

If that's Stanley, don't hesitate to give him the ball.

“We need to put our best guys out there,” Ferentz said Tuesday.

We've seen this story once before under Ferentz, him elevating a true freshman to No. 2 QB before the season. In 2003, Drew Tate surpassed Matt Bohnet and Jason Manson in camp to become senior Nathan Chandler’s backup.

Tate mostly collected dust as a true freshman, but he attempted 11 passes.

The next year as a true sophomore? He led Iowa to a share of an unlikely Big Ten title.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.