Leistikow: Iowa's QB competition tighter than expected

Chad Leistikow, cleistik@dmreg.com

A quarterback controversy at Iowa?

More like a competition that isn’t likely to be settled soon.

If you went to Valley Stadium on Friday night looking for a sharp performance from Nathan Stanley or any of Iowa’s quarterbacks, you didn’t find it.

Whether it was in one-on-one drills, seven-on-seven or 11-on-11 during the two-hour open practice in West Des Moines, throws were all over the place: wide, high, short.

Yes, some were on the money, too.

“Right now, it’s clearly cloudy,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said — and he wasn’t talking about the weather.

Nathan Stanley (4) hasn't won the starting quarterback job yet from Tyler Wiegers.

Stanley, a true sophomore, is No. 1 on the depth chart. But it was redshirt junior Tyler Wiegers who got the first snaps in the roughly 40 minutes of 11-on-11 action — though Ferentz dismissed that indicated a pecking order.

“We basically have two tiers,” Ferentz said. “We have Tyler and Nate. And then the second tier is Ryan (Boyle) and Drew (Cook). All four guys are doing a good job. They’ve been attentive. Doing some good things. But, again, we’re not real consistent.”

That's partly due to the new offense being installed by Brian Ferentz. The head coach's oldest son replaced Greg Davis as offensive coordinator in January.

Everyone's starting from square one.

“We’re doing some good things at times, but, as you may have noticed, we can’t get lined up sometimes,” Kirk Ferentz said. “The formations are different. The nomenclature is different — the language we’re using. The guys are getting used to that still.”

Ideally, fans and coaches could walk away from spring ball feeling confident that they have a clear No. 1 quarterback.

But with six spring practices to go, nobody's running away with the job.

On our Hawk Central radio show recently, I put the chance of Stanley starting the Sept. 2 opener against Wyoming at 90 percent.

Now, I’d say it’s more like 70.

This isn’t likely to be decided until August — and that's OK. 

Competition is good. Controversy isn't.

“We’ll see how it plays out,” Ferentz said, “but I’m not expecting this whole thing to just clear up in the next two weeks. I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Some other thoughts after watching the ninth of 15 spring practices:

Whoever the quarterback is should be better protected than C.J. Beathard was in his final 15 games (40 sacks for minus-278 yards).

The offensive line seemed to be in midseason form. No surprise, with five starters back going against a defensive line missing three of its top five players due to injury (Nathan Bazata, Matt Nelson) or class conflict (Cedrick Lattimore).

“Compared to a year ago, they’re performing a little bit better than they were,” Ferentz said.

I like the idea of Akrum Wadley as a punt returner. And, yes, that’s on the table.

“If he’ll help us move the ball, advance the ball a little bit — field position’s big,” Ferentz said. “So yeah, that would really help.”

Wadley was mostly withheld from practice Friday, but he was among a handful of guys returning punts. Now-departed Desmond King and Riley McCarron averaged a whopping 12.5 yards on 33 punt returns last season.

But should Iowa risk exposing its No. 1 running back on special teams?

Absolutely, if he can prove steady in ball security, something that dogged him in his first two seasons. We’ve seen what Wadley can do in space. Heck, sometimes he doesn’t even need space to break out of the pack for a big run.

If Wadley's willing and able to handle it, give him the job.

If not for the Iowa Western pipeline, the Hawkeyes’ receiving situation (two available scholarship players) would be even more precarious.

They have three walk-ons from the Council Bluffs junior college: Nick Easley, Ronald Nash and Dominique Dafney.

Easley impressed coaches upon his winter arrival in conditioning, and on Friday, he juked starting strong safety Miles Taylor into the ground with a crisp route that turned into a long TD pass from Stanley in one-on-one drills. He later showed sneaky speed on an end-around TD run.

“He’s not there yet, obviously, but he’s done a really nice job,” Ferentz said.

Playing at his high school's home stadium, Valley alum Dafney made a few outstanding grabs in traffic, including one on a dart from Cook.

The catch of the night, though, goes to a rookie tight end: Shaun Beyer showed his athleticism on a tough, leaping catch over the middle on a pass from Boyle.

The defense was in hodge-podge mode, with Brandon Snyder on the sidelines with a torn ACL in his left knee and three other expected contributors back in Iowa City with night classes.

But one observation: Anthony Nelson looks even more the part as a redshirt sophomore. The defensive end has packed 260 pounds on his once-lanky 6-foot-7 frame, and he appears poised to build on his six-sack season a year ago despite just one start.

Big picture: This is a time for progress, not sweeping conclusions.

The Hawkeyes are choppy now, and they will be again at the April 21 spring game. (Yes, it’ll be a four-quarter game — with funky scoring rules. It’ll even be on BTN this year.)

“We’re not a real good football team right now,” Ferentz said. “Don’t really expect to be in April. The objective is to be ready when the season starts. But I think we see a lot of individual improvement going on right now.”

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.