Leistikow: Iowa loses a QB, finds a WR in Ryan Boyle
IOWA CITY, Ia. — In the final days of spring football practice, Iowa lost two quarterbacks.
One pitfall, thankfully, isn’t permanent; C.J. Beathard’s throwing shoulder is going to be fine.
The other, with any luck, will be.
Ryan Boyle was the unexpected talk of the Hawkeyes’ spring game, four days into his career as a wide receiver.
The former Dowling Catholic star made the switch from quarterback on Wednesday. And on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, Boyle electrified the crowd of 18,460 with a 38-yard catch-and-run up the left sideline. Three plays later, on the last snap of the game, he elevated to catch a 6-yard touchdown pass over Ankeny Centennial alum Isaiah Kramme.
It was almost like Boyle was dominating the CIML again. As a quarterback at Dowling, he accounted for 97 touchdowns and two state championships.
“The rest of us have been playing receiver for at least five years,” said Matt VandeBerg, the dean of Iowa’s wide-receiver group. “So him three days in, and he’s making plays like that? That says a lot.”
Two nice plays against backups doesn't mean it's time to deem Boyle the next Marvin McNutt (who converted from quarterback early in his Hawkeye career and is Iowa's all-time leading receiver with 2,861 yards).
But Boyle’s emergence is notable for two reasons.
One, wide receiver is one of Iowa's biggest question marks as it leaves spring camp.
Two, it shows that Hawkeye coaches are thinking outside the box to get their best athletes on the field.
“Players like that, it’s just good to have those guys on your football team,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said afterward. “We’ll keep fooling around with this, and we’ll see where it goes. There are openings on the receiver position ... so if he can make a contribution there, it’d be a great thing.”
The weight-lifting record-setter at Dowling, Boyle (6-foot-1, 208 pounds) has the necessary physical traits and smarts (a QB already knows the offense) to make a quick, clean transition. The redshirt freshman has always been a playmaker.
I wouldn’t be surprised if, when Hawkeye coaches were evaluating what Christian McCaffrey did to their defense in Stanford’s 45-16 Rose Bowl rout on Jan. 1, they felt an extra nudge to identify their top athletes and devise creative solutions to get the ball in their hands.
That might be why we’ve seen more from Jay Scheel, another converted quarterback who had a big spring. That might be why we've seen a more concerted effort to get running backs LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley involved in the passing game.
Moving Boyle is smart. And even though Ferentz said it's not necessarily permanent, it would be a surprise if Boyle doesn't take this opportunity and — literally — run with it.
“He doesn’t have a ceiling with his athleticism,” VandeBerg said. “He can do just about anything he wants.”
Beathard, who didn't play Saturday, said afterward he could easily picture throwing passes to Boyle next fall.
“Today, he had a good day,” Beathard said. “He’s got a bright future there at that spot.”
Iowa’s franchise quarterback had a scare of his own Wednesday, when he landed on his shoulder after a teammate was blocked into him during practice at Kinnick. Beathard’s teammates were worried.
So was the head coach.
“It got quiet,” Ferentz reported.
An MRI on Beathard's right shoulder revealed the best news possible: just a bruise. Some R&R should do the trick.
“I was nervous. There were times I was scared,” Beathard said. “I did a lot of praying, and (the MRI) showed up negative. So that’s good.”
So instead of losing a quarterback to finish spring ball, Iowa might’ve found a wide receiver.
Boyle is ticketed for special-teams work at minimum. With dropped passes by four different players Saturday, there are clearly openings. Boyle surely sees that. The coaches see it.
This experiment just might work really well.
“I think he just wants to get on the field and compete,” Ferentz said. “That’s the one things that jumped out about him when you watch him as a high school player. He’s just a tough and competitive guy.”