Leistikow: Everything you should know about Iowa's QB race
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The battle to become Iowa’s starting quarterback in 2017 is important, intriguing and complicated.
A slew of factors are being considered as the brain-trust of Kirk Ferentz, Brian Ferentz and Ken O’Keefe mulls a decision that could chart the course of Hawkeye football for years to come.
Nathan Stanley or Tyler Wiegers?
The big-armed sophomore or dependable junior is one of the biggest developing stories in August camp.
The decision will come when it comes. ("As long as it takes — that's as long as it'll go," Brian Ferentz said.)
Until then, Hawkeye nation waits.
And while we wait, let’s tackle the biggest questions surrounding this QB competition — a conversation that also should mention the long shots, redshirt sophomore Ryan Boyle and true freshman Peyton Mansell.
Is this really a competition?
Absolutely, it is.
Theories that this has secretly been Stanley's job all along are off the mark. Coaches acknowledge it would be better for Iowa football if a starter was already named, if someone was already the point man for galvanizing locker-room support.
“We would like to have a starting quarterback pretty quickly, hopefully as quick as we can,” said Brian Ferentz, who is taking a measured approach to choosing who will take the snap of his first official play-call as offensive coordinator. “Because I think it’s good for everyone to have a guy who is the guy. I always felt that way as (offensive) line coach.”
It’s not like there was clear separation in the spring game — our most recent extended look at both leading candidates.
Wiegers got the game’s first snaps, and threw for better stats but had more interceptions (two vs. Stanley’s one).
Stanley had uglier stats, aside from the interceptions, but threw for the game’s only touchdown.
Maybe the eye test will be more convincing at Saturday’s Kids Day scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium.
Why is this so complicated?
A new offense with new language is being installed. That returns everyone, especially quarterbacks, to square one.
And every guy is starkly different than the other.
Stanley is the tank of the group, at a listed 6-foot-5, 235 pounds — though strength coach Chris Doyle says he’s closer to 240. Once set in the pocket, Stanley can launch a deep, picturesque spiral.
Wiegers isn’t much smaller, but has a totally different body type. His muscular 6-4, 225 frame lends itself to a more compact, efficient throwing style.
Boyle (6-1, 208) has the reputation as a hybrid run-pass threat. And the youngster, Mansell (6-3, 210), seems to be a blend of the three QBs he's chasing.
“One day, what we’re installing might accentuate somebody else’s strengths. And another day, it doesn’t,” said O’Keefe, who returns to the Hawkeye staff as quarterbacks coach. “You’re up, you’re down. The one good thing about all that is it’ll help Brian, as the play-caller, figure out what the strengths of these guys are … so we can use them correctly in the game.
“They’re all physically different. They all have different communication styles. They all have different learning styles. And they have different playing styles. If they’re all the same, it’d be a little bit easier (to evaluate).”
What can 2008 teach us?
O’Keefe was the offensive coordinator here then, when the battle between Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi carried into the season.
Christensen (the junior) had more experience, and Stanzi (the sophomore) was catching up fast. Both guys got starts in what was a choppy nonconference campaign, low-lighted by Kirk Ferentz's infamous "gut" feeling on Christensen in the second half resulting in a 21-20 loss at Pittsburgh.
Eventually, Stanzi took hold of the job full-time, and Iowa finished 9-4 that season after a 3-3 start.
I asked O’Keefe what he learned from what unfolded in that derby. He remembered that neither guy separated himself in August, and that’s why it continued into September.
“Everybody would love … for it to get done ahead of time. Sometimes, it just doesn’t,” O’Keefe said. “Coaches measure what they see in practice and use that very strongly for making decisions.
“Then, all of a sudden, you get into games and a guy starts to do something a little bit different that is separating him from the other guy at his position. That’s how jobs are won all the time at other positions. At the quarterback position, it doesn’t usually happen that way, because you don’t want to be using two guys if you absolutely don’t have to.”
Bottom line: One starting quarterback is better than two. Except when two produces a better one, long-term.
Stanzi was the correct, and final, answer in 2008. He would ultimately provide Iowa with three bowl victories. (The Hawkeyes are 0-5 in bowls since.)
The case for Wiegers?
The former Rutgers recruit, rated a four-star prospect in the Class of 2014 by Rivals, has no shortage of talent. Plus, he has resiliency — something C.J. Beathard possessed in spades during his 21-7 career.
After serving as Beathard’s backup in 2015, Wiegers last fall was hopped by Stanley for No. 2 on the depth chart last fall and didn’t play a down.
“You’ve just got to re-evaluate and figure out what you’re going to do moving forward,” Wiegers told me last week, revisiting that humbling experience. “You’ve just got to put your head down, move forward, put the work in, and hopefully it takes care of itself from there.”
Coaches had him ready to start the 2015 Northwestern game when Beathard’s groin/hip health reached a low point. Even if he doesn't win the job, Wiegers has proven he is prepared for meaningful snaps.
O’Keefe on Wiegers: “Great leader, great communicator. He’s doing everything he can to help everybody in the room succeed. Second thing with Tyler is, his work ethic is beyond reproach. He’s done a lot of things to improve his reaction and quickness in the passing game.”
The case for Stanley?
If he wins the job and runs with it, the Hawkeyes will be positioned to feature their first three-year QB starter since … Stanzi in 2008-10.
As Stanley’s fast rise last August revealed, he learns quickly. And there’s reason to believe he’s taken big steps since April.
Stanley said Saturday that when he watched his spring-game film, he saw “a lot of areas of improvement, a lot of area to make better connections with the receivers. I think now, working over the summer and so far in camp, we’ve made a better relationship with each other, just being on the same page.”
In his limited 2016 action, like against North Dakota State after Beathard was temporarily sidelined with a shoulder injury, the moments didn’t seem too big for him. On his first of five snaps that day, Stanley flipped a 37-yard strike to George Kittle.
Stanley will turn 20 later this month, and despite being a true sophomore he’s actually 2½ weeks older than the returning center (James Daniels) who will snap footballs to him.
O’Keefe on Stanley: “He has probably the strongest arm. Because he’s the biggest guy, he needs to work the hardest on his feet. That’s a big-guy syndrome sometimes, especially for young guys. And he’s sharp. He understands what we’re asking him to do.”
Is it all going to be OK?
First-year starters in Kirk Ferentz’s 18-plus years have done alright — Brad Banks in 2002, Nathan Chandler in 2003, Drew Tate in 2004 and Beathard in 2015 all produced top-10 national finishes.
Then again, when Iowa has adjusted to a first-year offensive coordinator under Ferentz, things have been rough — 1-10 in 1999 (with O'Keefe), 4-8 in 2012 (with Greg Davis).
But if you’re looking for comfort whether the arrow points to either Stanley or Wiegers, I found some on Iowa’s media day from Brian Ferentz.
“We’re encouraged," Ferentz, 34, said, "because we have two guys that are both very well-respected by their peers. They’re guys that their peers see as quarterbacks. I really think that’s as important as anything to playing the position.
"There’s a great chance we may need both of them before it’s all said and done. Right now, we feel we’re in a really good place. But we’re going to let them continue to compete.”
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.