Important spring begins for C.J. Beathard's backups

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Let’s have a heart-to-heart about the importance of the backup quarterback — sometimes a football roster’s most popular player, sometimes the break-glass-in-emergency option, sometimes both.

Some teams have a good one. Some teams don’t.

Either way, if your team doesn’t require a backup, you’re fortunate.

In 2015, Iowa’s C.J. Beathard was hobbled with hip and groin injuries for all but the season’s first two games. That’s why he had surgery in January to repair a sports hernia.

Yet the banged-up Beathard took every meaningful snap in the Hawkeyes’ 12-2 season anyway, and he was effective enough to earn second-team all-Big Ten Conference honors and was one of three finalists for the Chicago Tribune’s Silver Football Award as the league MVP.

Iowa was one of only five of 14 Big Ten teams to make it through the season — Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota and Rutgers were the others — without seeing its starting quarterback, for one reason or another, sidelined for more than one half of football. (Of note: The last time Iowa had a starting quarterback miss more than one game with an injury was Ricky Stanzi in 2009.)

If Beathard had to miss a late-season game or two, do the Hawkeyes reach the Rose Bowl for the first time in 25 years? Probably not. Tyler Wiegers was as ready as he could be — and he almost had to go against Northwestern on Oct. 17, not finding out for sure until very late that week — but he was a redshirt freshman backup, thrust into that role ahead of schedule after Jake Rudock transferred to Michigan. Beathard was a 22-year-old junior with proven experience.

As Iowa began spring practice Wednesday in preparation for the 2016 season, the position is on more solid footing. Beathard is “close” to 100 percent, coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday, and “should be able to practice full speed out there."

"We'll be careful about what we do with him, because it's still a little bit delicate at this point,” Ferentz said.

As Hawkeyes open spring practice, the bar is higher

Ferentz and staff are smart to limit Beathard’s exposure to possible injury this spring, which means the three guys competing to be his backup will get lots of repetitions.

Right now, Wiegers has a big lead on Ryan Boyle and Drew Cook, who redshirted as true freshmen and are going into their first spring as Hawkeyes.

“With C.J. missing so much time, Tyler got more time than a normal No. 2 quarterback would get (in 2015),” Ferentz said. “And to his credit, he really benefited from that.

“He was clearly a better player in December than he was back in August or September. That was a tough circumstance for the team, but a good one for him. So that gives him a big jump. And a big part of any position is just learning how to play within the scheme of things.”

During Rose Bowl prep, offensive coordinator Greg Davis mentioned that Wiegers got almost three full weeks of first- and second-team reps in practice while Beathard was more seriously hobbled following the Oct. 10 game against Illinois.

Although Wiegers would only attempt four passes all season (completing three for 32 yards), Davis saw progress.

“You could see his growth as the season was going on, even though he wasn't playing,” Davis said. “But you could see it during the week, just the confidence and the checking and changing things.”

At the Rose Bowl, Wiegers was asked what he needed to improve on the most. His answer was essentially: How much time do you have?

“It’s a constant process,” Wiegers said. “I could name off a whole list of stuff for you.”

A 6-foot-4 former Rutgers commit, Wiegers enters his second spring camp at 225 pounds, up three from last year. The first springs for Boyle (6-1, 208) and Cook (6-5, 230) will perhaps be their most important.

Instead of learning and running the scout-team offense, as the former Iowa prep stars did last fall, Boyle and Cook get to focus solely on Iowa’s scheme. It’s a 15-practice test of how much they’ve learned, and one Davis (also the quarterbacks coach) will be watching closely.

“Are you starting over like you did in August?” Davis said. “(Or) are you able to pick up with those guys? My sense is that both of them had a really good redshirt year, that they really studied what was happening throughout the year.”

Latest depth chart: Surgery sidelines two Iowa starters

Incoming four-star class of 2016 recruit Nathan Stanley will be here this summer, giving Iowa a fifth scholarship QB this fall. So the time for Boyle and/or Cook to show what they can do is that much more urgent. Ferentz says both begin the spring on the same level.

“They're different kinds of players a little bit, physically and all that. But we'll give them both equal opportunities,” Ferentz said, “and see how they compete.”

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