Positional Awareness is our annual rundown of the Iowa depth chart, from the position where we are most confident in what Kirk Ferentz intends to do to, well, wide receiver.
Previously on Positional Awareness:
Following years of stability under C.J. Beathard, Iowa is facing a quarterback “controversy” for the first time since 2014. Last season, when Iowa took a comfortable lead against Miami (OH), it wasn’t presumed heir Tyler Wiegers who led the second team offense onto the field, it was true freshman Nathan Stanley. Over the course of the 2016 season Stanley played in seven games, Tyler Wiegers played in zero. By the 2017 spring game, they were listed as co-starters. Neither looked effective. With the release of the training camp depth chart, Stanley is once again considered the frontrunner for the starting position but Kirk Ferentz is telling us not to read into that:
“Don't read into it, please…I don't want to discard anyone on the depth chart."
"You have to (split reps)…Because in our mind we don't have a number one right now."
"Coming out of camp last year we thought that Nathan had the edge, but that's ancient history. That's 11 months ago…The biggest thing that has changed is C.J. is not here. You just never know until a guy gets on the field and gets the opportunity, what he's going to do with it.”
So, yeah. Controversy.
READY PLAYER ONE
NATHAN STANLEY (#4, Sophomore, 6'5, 235 lbs., Menomonie, Menomonie, WI)
The presumed front runner, or at least the training camp starter, is Nathan Stanley. A three-star recruit from Menomonie, Wisconsin, Stanley committed to Iowa’s 2016 class way back in November of 2014. At the time he only had offers from Pitt but was also receiving interest from Michigan State, Stanford, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Naturally, after he committed to Iowa, Wisconsin suddenly took paid more attention and offered him a scholarship but Stanley stood firm with the Hawkeyes.
Entering the 2016 season as a true freshman, we (as in PATRICK VINT) weren’t too optimistic about Stanley’s chances at seeing the field. After all, Kirk Ferentz has historically been allergic to giving true freshmen an abundance of playing time. This rule is especially applicable to quarterbacks.
Yet when Iowa was up 38-21 on Miami (OH) in the first game of the season, it wasn’t sophomore Tyler Wiegers who took the field. It was Stanley. They’d been listed as co-backups entering the game but again, we thought that was just a formality. It was a surprise to see him in the game. It was less of a surprise when he only attempted one pass and handed the ball off to bleed out the clock.
Next week, against Iowa State, it was Stanley in garbage time. Against North Dakota State when Beathard had to leave the game with an injury, it was Stanley:
How did we get here? A true freshman being the first quarterback off the bench? It starts in the classroom. One of the reasons Stanley committed to Iowa was due to academics. He had a 3.98 GPA in high school and was impressed with the U of I’s physical therapy program. When he arrived on campus he quickly caught onto the college game, impressing coaches with his humility and eagerness to learn the playbook. Chad Leistikow wrote a great profile on Stanley here and the overall sense you get is that he’s the type of player that Kirk Ferentz loves: smart, hardworking and who puts the classroom first.
What about his performance on the field? That’s largely a mystery. He only threw nine passes last season, completing five of them for a total of 62 yards. He looked great against NDSU in the extremely limited action but was less than spectacular in the spring game. In fact, he looked bad during the spring game. Then again, maybe that had more to do with the options at receiver.
The question in 2017 will be how Stanley adjusts to new quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz. As OC, O’Keefe had a reputation for developing quarterbacks into quality starters as early as their sophomore year (whether they maintained that success by their senior year is another story). Brian Ferentz’s “new system” is expected to be similar to O’Keefe’s system, dependent on running the ball and longer developing passing plays. There will be wrinkles, yeah, but remember who the head coach is.
If Nathan Stanley is your starter in 2017 you shouldn’t base your expectations on how he looked for a couple of plays against an FCS team. If that was the bellwether for his career, we’d think he has patience, poise and all of the things you want in a quarterback. That simply isn’t the case. What we can take heart in knowing is that Stanley is intelligent, has a great work ethic, and worked his way up the depth chart as only a true freshman. With patience and a few breaks, maybe Nate Stanley can develop into the quarterback everyone wants him to be.
WHILE YOU WAIT FOR THE OTHERS
TYLER WIEGERS (#8, Junior, 6'4, 225 lbs., Detroit County Day, Lake Orion, MI)
Lost in the talk of the ascension of Nathan Stanley is the disappearance of Tyler Wiegers. Lest we forget that Wiegers was a 4-star recruit who was C.J. Beathard’s backup for the entirety of the 2015 season. He only threw a whopping four passes, completing three of them for 32 yards but again, he was presumably the heir apparent at quarterback. Apparently not.
Not only was Wiegers supplanted by Stanley last season, he didn’t even play in a single game. He did run the scout team, though, and Scott Dochterman quoted Wiegers as saying:
“You’ve got to focus on yourself and just try to improve yourself every day…There’s nothing you can do as far as looking at the big picture that’s going to help. You’ve got focus on the little things.”
Like Stanley, Wiegers didn’t impress at the spring game, going 12 of 23 for 99 yards with two interceptions, and now he enters training camp #2 at quarterback. Ferentz tells us not to read too much into the depth chart as there is no clear starter. That’s believable. There does appear to be a genuine controversy at quarterback. However, as Wiegers lost his position to a player two years his junior (he's a redshirt junior) and failed to see the field once in 2016, it’s not unrealistic to think that he faces an uphill battle in this competition.
RYAN BOYLE (#11, Sophomore, 6'1, 208 lbs., Dowling, West Des Moines, IA)
RYAN SCHMIDT (#17, Sophomore, 6'5, 235 lbs., Linn-Mar, Marion, IA)
Stay with me here. Ryan Boyle committed to Iowa as a quarterback in the class of 2015. With Beathard and Wiegers set at quarterback, he switched positions in early 2016 and became a wide-receiver. He barely saw the field last season and now he’s back to being a quarterback in 2017. He didn’t attempt a pass in the spring game but did see the field with the second team offense. If Stanley is your starter and Wiegers is your backup, Boyle is presumably QB #3 as Ryan Schmidt is a walk on with zero on-field experience.
THEY WERE ONLY FRESHMEN
PEYTON MANSELL (#2, Freshman, 6'3, 210 lbs., Belton, Belton, TX)
TOMMY HERION (#7, Freshman, 6'1, 185 lbs., Loyola Academy, Chicago, IL)
Herion is a freshman walk-on who will absolutely redshirt this year. As for Mansell... Ferentz saying that Peyton Mansell could be a possibility at quarterback is probably coachspeak more than anything else. Alternatively, consider that he combined for 48 touchdowns and over 3,600 yards as a high school senior. He completed a ridiculous 70% of his passes and only turned the ball over 10 times. He is the prototypical dual-threat quarterback. Marc Morehouse quoted him as saying:
“My dad and I have always joked that I’m a ‘dual-threat-ish’ quarterback,” Mansell said. “This year I kind of showed I could run a little bit and not just pick up a couple of yards. If I can extend plays, I think that will be really helpful on the next level.”
Another counterpoint, consider that Iowa hasn’t rolled out a dual-threat quarterback since…Jason Manson against Syracuse? Drew Tate could scramble but was adverse to moving the ball up the field (aside from 2006 when his best option at wide receiver was him running the football). Christensen, Stanzi, Vandenberg, and Rudock couldn’t run. Beathard could run until his groin needed oiling every 5 minutes. Historically, Iowa doesn’t trot out dual-threat quarterbacks.
Then again, Iowa has never trotted out Brian Ferentz as offensive coordinator. In the words of Kevin Garnett: Anything is possible.*
* - Except for Peyton Mansell playing next year he’s totally getting a redshirt.