Leistikow: Lots of Hawkeye thoughts in a newsy football week

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central


IOWA CITY, Ia. — This has become a newsy and busy week for Iowa athletics, and Wednesday marked a media smorgasbord of interesting football-related interviews in advance of Friday’s 7 p.m. spring game.

There’s a lot to touch on. So let’s get to it …

Brian Ferentz seems happy about how his offense is progressing.

How the first-year offensive coordinator plans to move the football and score points is obviously going to be a theme that continues into the summer and fall.

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, here talking with junior quarterback Tyler Wiegers on April 7 at Valley Stadium, says the QB race between Wiegers and Nathan Stanley is still too close to call.

Stuff that sounds good: He wants to line up electric playmaker Akrum Wadley involved not only at running back but receiver. He wants to play a lot of tight ends, a good sign for how his seven scholarship tight ends are performing.

“Tight ends are a good thing,” said Ferentz, who coached that position during his four years on staff with the New England Patriots, “and we feel like we have good guys at the position.”

Overall, the 34-year-old articulated a basic, sensible concept as he installs a new offense: Maximize the use of your best players. He's been using this spring to find players that create mismatches.

“That was always a thing in the NFL. Why would you take off one of your best 11 to put on a lesser guy just to match personnel?” Ferentz said. “So, offensively, it's the same thing. Let's keep our best players on the field.”

Of all the quarterback talk, the news of the day was somebody leaving the position.

Drew Cook is now a tight end. That’s smart. It takes a big, athletic, co-No. 3 quarterback who was likely to ride the bench and gives him a chance to contribute at a position where his father was an all-pro.

“He's got tremendous upside,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He's got great attitude.”

The speed of Cook’s evolution will be fun to watch … and the same goes for the quarterbacks he leaves behind. The battle for No. 1 QB between Tyler Wiegers and Nathan Stanley is likely to extend into August. A concern?

Brian Ferentz gave Hawkeye fans some reassuring words.

“It's not a matter of neither (quarterback) coming along, so we don't want to play with them,” he said. “It's a matter of both these guys are doing a nice job. No one's a clear-cut favorite. Let's continue to work them and push them forward.”

The renewal of the Cy-Hawk Series through 2023 was applauded by Kirk Ferentz in his opening remarks Wednesday.

“Happy about that,” the 19th-year coach said. “I think it's a really positive thing for our state.”

Eventually, I think more fans in our state will grow tired of the repetitive scheduling formula. We’re only one year into the Big Ten having nine-game conference schedules; and Ferentz affirmed Wednesday that he wouldn’t support playing an 11th Power Five opponent in the future.

That means that from now through at least 2023, the Hawkeyes are nine Big Ten opponents, two mid-majors and Iowa State ... every … single … year.

No chance of a home-and-home or a one-off with an SEC opponent. No ACC. No Pac-12.

As the years pass, regardless of how good Iowa State's record is, the outcry for more variety will continue to grow.

I wrote last week that Iowa vs. Iowa State should be played twice every four years, instead of annually — affording both programs a chance to schedule a different Power Five opponent in two-year blocks.

For those like me who want a change? The Big Ten’s television contract expires after the 2023 season. As we know, TV packs a lot of financial muscle.


The NCAA’s recent recruiting legislation should be a win-win for Iowa: There's a new December early signing period and the ability to bring prospects on official visits in the spring.

What will be most interesting to watch with Iowa is Signing Day No. 1 — on Dec. 20, 2017 (presuming final approval in June from the governing body that administers National Letters of Intent). Given the outside fire Iowa took in November surrounding its no-visiting-other-schools policy for commitments, how will the Hawkeyes approach “committed” recruits who prefer to delay signing until the traditional February period?

Kirk Ferentz tipped his hand on where he stands.

“One thing for sure, things will be more clear after the December signing period,” he said. ‘We'll know where people stand in terms of really being committed as opposed to saying they're committed.”

The head coach came out firing on another piece of NCAA legislation Wednesday. A new rule prohibits “two-a-days” as they are traditionally known in preseason camp, with only one contact practice permitted per day.

Yet the absurd rule says teams can practice in pads with contact for up to three hours plus have a two-hour “walk-through” (no contact or pads) that same day.

“I've never participated in a two-hour walk-through and don't plan to in my lifetime. It's like the Burma Road right there,” Ferentz said in an amusing reference to the rough and mountainous 717-mile road in Asia. “So you're talking about five hours potentially on the field (in a day), and we've never done that, ever.”

The result? Fall camp starts earlier to spread out the Hawkeyes' meaningful practice time, which limits the student-athlete’s already abbreviated summer break.

Ferentz doesn’t lash out at the NCAA often. When he does, he usually has a good point. Such was the case Wednesday.


Oh, what about the defense?

(And no, I'm not talking about the Jane Meyer trial.)

There were fewer pressing questions for defensive coordinator Phil Parker. That’s probably a good indicator for the Hawkeye defense.

Perhaps the most notable thing Parker said Wednesday was in regards to incoming five-star freshman A.J. Epenesa.

Whether Epenesa plays defensive end or defensive tackle or both, Parker tamped down the idea that he would be a starter as a true freshman.

“If we can get 15, 20 plays out of him during the game, I think that would be, you know, very good,” Parker said.

Adjust your expectations accordingly.

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.