Nathan Stanley adds intrigue to Iowa's quarterback stable

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY – Seven practices in five days will tell Kirk Ferentz a lot about his 2016 Iowa football team.

“We’ve got a really big week in front of us,” the 18th-year Hawkeye coach said after Saturday’s Kids Day open practice. “We’ve got to keep our foot on the gas.”

This is a big week for the 2017 Hawkeyes, too, particularly at football’s most important position.

Iowa will need a quarterback after C.J. Beathard, and this jam-packed week of work will give coaches a better idea of what they’ve got come spring – not to mention what the pecking order will be this fall.

The topic generated buzz Saturday, as 11,000-plus fans who stuck around for about 90 minutes of scrimmaging got a positive first glimpse of true freshman Nathan Stanley, an athletic 6-foot-5 prospect who has had Iowa coaches quietly giddy since he committed in November 2014.

Stanley was calm in the pocket and showed a smooth delivery and head-turning arm strength.

Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley showed a strong arm and smooth delivery during Saturday's Kids Day scrimmage at Kinnick Stadium.

“We’ve all noticed,” Beathard said. “Everyone notices the arm strength he has.”

Stanley’s unofficial scrimmage statistics weren’t awesome – 4-for-15 for 52 yards. But his delicate touch and accuracy on a 39-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Ogwo drew oohs from the crowd at Kinnick Stadium (and not just because it was the day’s only 11-on-11 TD toss from any of the four QBs).

Stanley also had a well-thrown, potential 41-yard TD mishandled by Connor Keane, and he connected with T.J. Hockenson on a 58-yard score in 7-on-7 (no pass rush) drills.

It was one day, but the guys ahead of him looked shakier. No. 2 Tyler Wiegers, a redshirt sophomore, was 5-of-12 for 76 yards. No. 3 Drew Cook, a redshirt freshman, was 5-of-17 for 51 yards and rushed for a TD.

Stanley’s cool demeanor intrigued Ferentz.

“I’m just trying to figure out right now if that’s the way he is, or he just doesn’t know what the heck’s going on right now,” Ferentz said. “It’s one of those two things. I hope it’s the first. He’s been really good that way.”

Beathard seemed to think it was a little of both.

“It’s a tough offense to learn quickly. I know his brain’s moving fast right now,” the reigning second-team all-Big Ten Conference quarterback said. “But the one thing I do know is he has a really strong arm. He’s a smart kid. He’s picking it up really fast for all the stuff that’s getting thrown at him.”

It’s unlikely Stanley would rise to this year’s No. 2, as coaches continuing to praise Wiegers’ growth and knowledge of the offense. But he could give decision-makers something to think about at No. 3, with Cook having the size (6-5, 226) and pedigree (his father, Marv, was a Pro Bowl tight end) to eventually switch positions.

Ferentz said he hasn't thought of sliding Cook to tight end – currently a considerable position of need – since viewing it as a “down-the-road possibility” during the recruiting process. On media day, offensive coordinator Greg Davis wasn’t going there, either.

“I’m glad he’s on our team,” Davis said. “And whenever he ends up graduating as whatever he is, we’ll be proud of him. We’ll kind of let itself play out.”

Once the season starts, practice weeks focus on game preparation. Cook and Ryan Boyle (who has switched to receiver but could return to QB in the spring) spent most of fall 2015 on the scout team, learning opponent offenses. That'll probably be Cook and Stanley this fall.

For now, it’s all about showing how well they can execute Iowa’s offense.

And this week, which includes two two-a-days, ends with an important, closed Friday night scrimmage.

After that, coaches will have more information to make personnel decisions, with the Sept. 3 opener just two weeks from Saturday.

“We’ve seen growth from Drew. Tyler’s done some good things. And certainly Nate’s caught our eye with some of the throws he’s made as well,” Ferentz said. “That’ll be one this week that will be prominent in our thinking, to see what they do between now and the end of Friday night.”