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Kirk Ferentz has high praise for his next starting QB, Spencer Petras

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Kirk Ferentz has his starting quarterback for 2020, and the guy who will coach him.

That was the biggest news to come from the Iowa football coach’s press conference Monday.

Ferentz, who just wrapped up his 21st season at the helm of the Hawkeyes with a 10-3 record, isn’t always quick to praise players who have yet to take a meaningful snap in a college game. But he had some for Spencer Petras, the redshirt sophomore who is in line to run Iowa’s offense next season after Nate Stanley will graduate and Peyton Mansell will transfer.

Spencer Petras is in line to be Iowa's next starting quarterback after spending 2019 backing up Nate Stanley.

“Especially in December, he looked like a college quarterback. He looked like a Big Ten quarterback in practice,” Ferentz said of Petras, who spent 2019 as the primary backup to Stanley after beating out Mansell in fall camp.

“We do competitive stuff against each other. All of us were pleased with what we saw, the growth he’s demonstrating. He seems to have all the right attributes. It’s a matter of him getting himself ready and going out and competing.”

Petras, at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, is a strong-armed pocket passer in the mold of Stanley, who won 27 games in three years as a starter.

He’ll have the same position coach as well. Ken O’Keefe signed a three-year contract to tutor Iowa’s quarterbacks in 2017. Ferentz said Monday that O’Keefe, 66, will remain in that role.

“That’s my understanding, he’s going to keep pushing forward,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz said he believes all 10 of his assistants will be back.

For O’Keefe, it’s a chance to mentor another potential three-year starter at Iowa quarterback.

For Petras, it’s a chance to shine while surrounded by perhaps Iowa’s deepest corps of quality wide receivers. Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette will be seniors. Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy will be redshirt sophomores, like Petras.

That’s a stark contrast to the situation Stanley inherited when he got the starting job in 2017. But that doesn’t mean things will be easy for Petras.

“Yeah, he’s walking into a situation, but he still he’s got the most important job on the offense, so he’s going to have to be able to deliver,” Ferentz said. “I think he’s prepared himself well and I think he’ll handle the challenges that are waiting for him.”

Behind Petras is redshirt freshman Alex Padilla. Four-star recruit Deuce Hogan arrives in June from Texas.

“We’ll let everybody compete, but Spencer’s been here two years. He’s done a good job I think grasping what it is we’re doing,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz said Mansell, who is heading to Abilene Christian after three seasons in Iowa, is the only Hawkeye he’s aware of that will enter the transfer portal this offseason.

Alaric Jackson in line for big senior season

Petras will also be helped by having an experienced and skilled left tackle to keep him out of harm’s way. Alaric Jackson decided to remain at Iowa for his senior season,

The 6-6, 320-pound Michigan native saw his junior season disrupted by a leg injury. He missed three games and was rusty when he returned.

“I think it’s a step in maturity in his case,” Ferentz said of Jackson. “I think he sensed that he needs this year. And there’s no question in my mind that he needed it. Whether he would have listened to me or not, that’s a whole different discussion. But he came to that conclusion on his own. And I’m very proud of him for doing that.”

Jackson was named third team all-Big Ten last season. He has a chance to be an all-American this fall.

“I’m just hoping we have a long, sustained 12 months where he’s healthy and able to really focus on what he needs to do as a player,” Ferentz said. “Because he’s got a chance to be a good player for us.”

Kallenberger, Schott on the rise

Iowa will need to replace its most talented offensive player in right tackle Tristan Wirfs. The Mount Vernon native made the obvious decision to turn pro after three standout years in a Hawkeye uniform. He is a potential top-10 pick in April’s NFL Draft.

That’s why Ferentz was happy to see Mark Kallenberger practice so well in December that he earned his first start at guard in Iowa’s Holiday Bowl victory over USC. Kallenberger, who will be a junior, projects as a starting tackle at 6-5, 291 pounds.

“Mark’s at the point in his career, three years into it right now, where I think he’s got the hang of things a little bit. He’s gotten a feel for the tempo and what he needs to do,” Ferentz said of the Bettendorf native.

“It’s really in his hands right now. I think he’s got the experience necessary, the knowledge necessary.”

Kallenberger held up well in the bowl game. His ability to replace Wirfs will be a major storyline for Iowa in 2020.

At guard, the Hawkeyes will get Cole Banwart back after his junior year was lost to a leg injury. And Kyler Schott, now on scholarship after starting seven games in 2019, will be firmly in the mix as well. Ferentz said Schott could become a star.

“He’s got a ton of improvement in front of him if he wants it. It’s all out there for him,” Ferentz said of Schott.

“He’s proven he can play. Now, how good can he become? It’s just attitude.”

Plenty of holes to fill on defensive line

The Hawkeyes will need to replace three starters on the defensive line after using a thin rotation there last season. Tackles Cedrick Lattimore and Brady Reiff graduated. End A.J. Epenesa will be playing in the NFL this year after leaving Iowa with one year of eligibility remaining. He, too, is a potential first-round draft pick.

Where does that leave things for 2020? Chauncey Golston, a senior, will anchor one end of the line. And then it’s a lot of opportunity for players who saw limited action in 2019. Ferentz would like to have at least a six-man rotation on the defensive line. And it’s clear that it doesn’t matter what position is “natural” for those players. The best will take the field somewhere.

Ferentz said he entered last spring unsure about who would be the starters at tackle, but came away pleased after Lattimore and Reiff each had 15 strong practices. That’s what he’s hoping to see again this April.

Ferentz mentioned Daviyon Nixon, Austin Schulte, Noah Shannon, John Waggoner, Joe Evans, Zach VanValkenburg and Logan Lee as those who will battle for playing time.

“We’ll let all those guys get out there and compete,” Ferentz said. “The goal is to come up with four, then five, then six.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at memmert@registermedia.com or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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