Another August, another good old-fashioned quarterback battle for Hawkeyes
CHICAGO, Ill. — Every college football coach has entered August in the position Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz is in — without a clear starting quarterback.
Two-year starter C.J. Beathard is gone to the NFL and in his wake will be either sophomore Nathan Stanley or junior Tyler Wiegers, both relatively untested. Ferentz is prepared to spend the next 3-4 weeks choosing who will take the first snap when the Hawkeyes host Wyoming on Sept. 2.
There was a brief moment Monday morning when it appeared Ferentz might have made an unexpected decision. Iowa’s depth chart for summer camp was revealed at the Big Ten Conference football media days here, and Stanley was listed ahead of Wiegers.
“Don’t read into it, please,” Ferentz later implored reporters. “I don’t want to discard anybody on the depth chart.”
So Iowa is settling in for a good old-fashioned quarterback competition — the kind that produced Chuck Hartlieb back in 1987, Ricky Stanzi in 2008 and Jake Rudock in 2013.
Ferentz, in his 19th season as head coach, has seen it all before and said Monday the process doesn’t cause him any anxiety, even though he’s as eager as anyone to fast-forward to the day a starter emerges.
“It just depends on who the backups are. If we didn’t have anybody there, I’d be a little bit nervous,” Ferentz said. “But we have high-quality guys that haven’t played. You’ve got to start somewhere. The only difference is quarterback is a really prominent, focal position — it’s a leadership position, there’s no question about that.”
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And that’s why uncertainty at quarterback captures the public’s attention more than any other position battles, which are natural in a sport in which players can only compete for four seasons.
“I just want the guy that’s going to help us win football games,” said Iowa wide receiver Matt VandeBerg, a fifth-year senior returning from a foot injury. “That’s why we have camp — we’ve got another month to figure it out.”
Ferentz said Stanley and Wiegers will split reps with the No. 1 offense equally during summer camp, which begins Saturday. Ryan Boyle is third on the depth chart.
Stanley leapfrogged Wiegers to become Beathard’s backup a year ago — a big move for a true freshman. Ferentz said that’s insignificant now.
“Coming out of camp last year, we thought Nathan had the edge,” Ferentz said. “That’s ancient history. That’s 11 months ago, and the biggest thing that’s changed is C.J. is not here.
“You just never know until a guy gets on the field and gets that opportunity, what he’s going to do with it.”
Receivers who have had to prepare for seasons without knowing who their starting quarterback would be say the process wasn’t as unsettling as fans might think.
Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagilli said he took it as a personal challenge to step up his preparation. The Badgers used Bart Houston and Alex Hornibrook a year ago — sometimes in the same game.
“Obviously, both those guys are going through a lot, so just making sure that I can be the best person I can be by being consistent, being someone that’s always a safety valve, someone who’s always going to help them out,” Fumagilli said.
Likewise, Illinois wide receiver Malik Turner said he learned to look at the bright side of having multiple quarterbacks in the running to be the starter:
“It’s very important (to know who the starter is) and just getting consistent with him,” Turner said. “But I also feel like, in our practices, we’ll have reps with both quarterbacks, and I think that’s important for us, going into the season, because (injuries) will happen. … You have to be able to work with everybody.
“It’s just catching the football, when it comes down to it.”
VandeBerg, the Hawkeyes’ most experienced receiver, missed spring practices to let his foot heal. He’s spent the past two months trying to get his timing down with Stanley and Wiegers. He said it’s a process that doesn’t lend itself to shortcuts.
“The only thing that I really know about them is that they are two guys who are going to show up and go to work. They’re going to try and get better, and, honestly, that’s what’s going to put our team forward — is one guy makes a good throw and the other guy is, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make a good throw.’ And then they start pushing each other. Them getting better that way makes the team better,” VandeBerg said.
“I don’t know if you need to force anything; just put in the work, try to get the timing down. … You’ve got to run routes, and they’ve got to know what their steps are.”
Hawkeye fans will get their next chance to gauge the progress of the quarterbacks during an open practice at Kinnick Stadium on Aug. 12. The season begins three weeks later. It’s a tight window, but a familiar one for Ferentz and his staff.