Four downs with the QBs

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March 31, 2014 | 12:21 pm

QUICK LOOK BACK:In his third season as the Hawkeyes starter, Ricky Stanzi put up his best numbers, 25 TD passes, just six interceptions and a 64 percent completion percentage. He also became just the fourth quarterback in Iowa history to pass for more than 3,000 yards (3,004) in a season and first since Chuck Hartlieb passed for 3,738 in 1988. And now, even after an NFL combine performance where he was widely panned, Stanzi will be the first Iowa quarterback to hear his name in the draft since Matt Rodgers went in the 12th to the Buffalo Bills in 1992.

As for the candidates to replace Stanzi, 2010 was kind of a lost season. After starting two games in '09, including a brave effort at Ohio State, junior James Vandenberg threw eight passes in 2010. He was DNP in Iowa's final nine games. Junior John Wienke threw just one pass. Freshman A.J. Derby redshirted. I believe sophomore Wyatt Suess is still around, but he's not listed on the roster at the official site.

It's not starting from scratch, but there's definitely some reacquainting that needs to be done (at least between players and fans, obviously offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe knows who these guys are).

FOURTH DOWN -- CONCERNS: What is James Vandenberg? We know he's a carbon-based life form from Keokuk. Let's start there. The 6-3, 213-pounder led Keokuk to the Class 3A state title in 2007. The numbers he put up are legendary. He holds 12 different Iowa high school passing records, including career passing yards (7,709), touchdown passes (93), single season passing yards (3,729 as a senior) and single season touchdown passes (49 as a senior). He ranks sixth all-time nationally in single-season completion percentage (70 percent) and 10th nationally in career completion percentage (64.6 percent). If Vandenberg put those numbers up in Florida or California, he's at Florida State or Cal being talked about as a starter in the "four downs" blogs at those schools.

During his freshman year, Vandenberg replaced Stanzi after an ankle injury took him out of the last three games of 2009. Vandenberg stunk against Northwestern, completing nine of 27 for 82 yards and an interception. You can't fault him. The reps for the backups became a point of contention for coach Kirk Ferentz in the news conference during the week after Northwestern.

No one knew what to expect the following week at Ohio State, where the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes played for the Big Ten title and the Rose Bowl on ABC. Vandenberg completed 20 of 33 for 233 yards, two TDs and three interceptions. His QB rating went from 51.43 the week before against Northwestern to 121.74 in what amounted to a Big Ten championship game at Ohio State, which the Buckeyes pulled out, 27-24, in OT.

Yes, Vandenberg had an interception that was returned for a TD waved off because of penalty and had another near pick bobbled away to Iowa TE Tony Moeaki, but the two TD passes to WR Marvin McNutt showed range (a rocket between defenders and a perfectly placed jump ball). He also had a TD pass dropped by wide receiver Trey Stross.

Forget about the numbers. Maybe the takeaway here is the fear factor. Vandenberg didn't seem to show any.

"He played with great poise, great mental toughness and great physical toughness," Ferentz said. "We've had the benefit of being around him for the last 18 months. He just give you a good vibe. He gave us a chance to success and that's all you can ever ask." Vandenberg's performance left ABC analyst Matt Millen giggling.

Vandenberg wasn't allowed to do much in the 2009 season finale, but Iowa hounded Minnesota for a 12-0 victory. And then 2010, which turned out to be the Stanzi show, rightfully so. Stanzi went into the season with an 18-4 career record. Vandenberg was 1-1. So, eight passes in 2010, four of which came in a 45-0 blowout over Ball State and none of which came in the final nine games.

"Without game experience, again, you're asking me to comment on something that would be totally practice-based," O'Keefe said after the season. "James has had a great year in practice. He wore a red shirt and no one's hit him. He gets chased around a little bit. He usually has the benefit of seeing what Rick is doing first, can check or read the coverage that way himself. It's kind of how practice is built.

"James has grown up a lot, has made himself a better player . . . even though he hasn't been in the game. If you're asking me to evaluate him on practice, I would say all of our guys are better in that regard. So, where that takes us after that, neither one of us know."

What is James Vandenberg? Don't read that as a doubt, but this was a season in a red jersey for him and the rest of the Iowa QBs for that matter.

THIRD DOWN -- ADDITIONS/SUBRACTIONS: We at "On Iowa" officially bid goodbye to Ricky Stanzi, the Americanzi and all other "anzi" iterations. He was a great interview from day 1 to the NFL combine when he reference the speed dating scene from "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." The staff at "On Iowa" is a sucker for pop cult references. Vaya con dios, Ricky Stanzi, who earned his "Chuck" card this season (all good QBs at Iowa were named "Chuck" at one point, right?).

The addition is Florida prep Jake Rudock.

Rudock comes in from St. Thomas Aquinas (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.), which he led to district, regional state and national championship with perfect 15-0 record. He completed 157 of 242 pass attempts for 2,827 yards and 36 touchdowns, with three interceptions.

Iowa had to fend off Miami (Fla.) late in the recruiting process, with new coach Al Golden coming in and trying to make a local splash. But Rudock held firm in a commitment he made to Iowa last June.

Rudock sees himself as a pro-style quarterback. Iowa is a pro-style offense. “I am going to the University of Iowa,” Rudock told the Miami Herald. “Great program, tremendous coaching staff and a chance to play on a team that fits exactly what I do.”

Before Rudock, Aquinas ran a spread offense with veer-option quarterbacks. They changed to play to Rudock’s strengths.

“We’ve built it around him a little bit because of his size and his style of play,” said Aquinas quarterbacks coach Dave Bilitier. “He’s comfortable in the pocket with a really good arm.”

Will Rudock factor this year? Probably looking at a redshirt, barring injury.

SECOND DOWN -- BATTLES BREWING: Giving the fact that we don't know what is being said in the QB room, the battle for No. 2 is still interesting.

You have Wienke, who'll be in his fourth season in the program. He has one career passing attempt. Then there's Derby, who redshirted last season after enrolling early. So, when he starts spring practice, he'll have had Iowa's playbook for more than a year. It's not much of a headstart, but if nothing else, it shows how serious and dedicated he is to learning the QB position at Iowa.

So, please, stop trying to make a linebacker/defensive end/tight end out of him. Derby will be a QB until it stops making sense to him. If it's what is in his heart, he'll pursue it until it stops making sense to him.

When the whole "position switch boogie" began under Kirk Ferentz 13 years ago at Iowa, Ferentz always threw out "a happy player is a productive player."

Will Derby be happy for two seasons behind Vandenberg (if that's how it plays out)? Would he be happy competing tooth and nail with Rudock after that? In there here and now, Derby has a chance to earn the No. 2 spot. It might not mean anything more than a "red jersey year," but it would elevate him in practice with reps and preparation.

Remember what Ferentz said about Derby when he signed last February: “That’s our intent is for him to play quarterback. We’re eager to see how he can progress and improve. And if things change in our style a little bit, that’s fine. Down the road we think that’s he’s a guy that can win and lead the football team.”

Should be one of the more interesting spring/fall camp battles, even if we have no idea who's where on the depth chart

until No. 2 comes out of the bullpen.

FIRST DOWN -- "On Iowa" prediction for 2011: I'm going to try to put a number on this after kind of whimping out on last year's "four down" series.

For Vandenberg, let's go 18 TD passes and eight interceptions. Factor: I fully expect Iowa to be closer to a 60-40 run-pass ratio this fall -- called the "championship balance" by OL Julian Vandervelde at the combine. Factor: Iowa will return three O-linemen this fall, including both tackles. I expect the guards will fall into more of a run-block mode (Adam Gettis and, possibly, Dan Heiar). Factor: I think Marcus Coker is pretty good and Iowa will want to feed the 6-0, 230-pounder.

So, fewer TD passes, assuming Iowa can run like I think it will be able to run. That's not saying there will be a drop-off in the passing game. If Iowa runs the ball at a 5.0 yards a carry, everyone on offense will get fat (by that, I mean the passing game will be all that much more effective).

Factors that could completely unplug that prediction: 1) Marvin McNutt. If he has a 1,000-yard kind of season, he could be a first- or second-round NFL draft pick. He's capable. 2) Two new guards might leave the middle of Iowa's OL shaky. When the middle is strong (2008), Iowa has a better shot at 5.0 yards a carry. Am I overvaluing 5.0 yards a carry? Four teams averaged 5.0 or more a carry last season (Ohio State, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan). Those four finished 21-11 in the Big Ten and all played in bowl games.

Rating Big Ten quarterbacks in 2011

Illinois -- Nathan Scheelhaase, sophomore, 6-3, 195. Threw for 1,825 yards and rushed for 868. Scheelhaase had a nice security blanket in running back Mikel Leshoure (1,697 rush yards), but made plays for one of the most improved teams in the Big Ten.

Rating -- Mainstay. Look for Scheelhaase, son of former Hawkeye defensive back Nate Creer, to grow his talents and become one of the league's top-tier QBs.

Indiana -- Dusty Kiel, sophomore, 6-2, 230 OR Edward Wright-Baker, sophomore, 6-1, 215. Someone will take over for former quarterback Ben Chappell, who threw for more than 3,000 yards last season. Kiel threw 17 passes in five games last season. Wright-Baker threw a TD pass. They might only be keeping the seat warm this spring for Tre Roberson, Indiana's Mr. Football last year.

Rating: "Hello, my name is Indiana QB." Unknowns here, but there seems to be a lot to like about Tre Roberson.

Iowa -- James Vandenberg, junior, 6-3, 213. After starting two games because of injury as a freshman, Vandenberg spent the 2010 season carrying a clipboard. He looked good in a short 2009 stint. Carried himself well as a sophomore in a de facto Big Ten title game at Ohio State.

Rating -- Possible playmaker. After watching Ricky Stanzi last season, it might take some time for Vandenberg to find his stride. But he showed playmaking potential as a sophomore and might have more polished QB mechanics than Stanzi. But, really hate to read too much into one performance at Ohio State two years ago now.

Michigan -- Denard Robinson, junior, 6-0, 193. Robinson threw for 2,570 yards and ran for 1,702 while being named Big Ten offensive MVP and finishing sixth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

Rating --  Heisman short list. Can't see first-year UM coach Brady Hoke messing around too much with a proven commodity like Robinson. The Wolverines' defense is another story, but Robinson will be given the keys to the offense.

Michigan State -- Kirk Cousins, senior, 6-3, 202. Cousins has 41 TD passes in three seasons. He led the Spartans to an 11-2 record last season.

Rating -- All-Big Ten potential. The Spartans have a lot of the main weapons back from a terrific running game last season, and Cousins should benefit from that. He has enough talent to keep the Spartans in the Big Ten contenders category.

Minnesota -- MarQueis Gray, junior, 6-4, 230. When Gray got lined up at QB last season, he was used primarily as a runner, passing just eight times. Will he win the job? It's one of the big questions for first-year coach Jerry Kill.

Rating -- Total unknown. The Big Ten knows Gray is an athlete and has some potential. He's never been given the keys to the car, so who knows. Work in progress.

Nebraska -- Taylor Martinez, sophomore, 6-1, 205. Martinez, the Big 12 offensive freshman of the year, started fast but faded because of an ankle injury. He did account for 22 TDs.

Rating -- Better than you think. Yes, the Huskers have a new offensive coordinator in Tim Beck. This is the Big Ten, where defenses gear to stop the run first. But Martinez put up strong numbers in the air, with his 8.32 yards per attempt at No. 22 in FBS. If Nebraska establishes a running game, Martinez will become that much more dangerous with his arm.

Northwestern -- Dan Persa, senior, 6-1, 205. Depending on your point of view, Persa was either one of the most exciting quarterbacks in the Big Ten last season or one of the most frustrating. In other words, if you're team lost to Northwestern, you probably were left asking yourself how'd he do that.

Rating -- Pain in the can. Persa has total confidence from coach Pat Fitzgerald. He'll gladly let Persa do whatever is needed for the Cats to win. What's more, he'll put the weight or the world on his QB, who accounted for 23 TDs and something like 70 percent of NU's offense. Of course, he tore an Achilles against Iowa. Will that be healed? If it is, Persa could unleash 40 TDs on the Big Ten.

Ohio State -- Terrelle Pryor, senior, 6-6, 233. Pryor accounted for 31 TDs and led the Buckeyes to a share of their record-tying sixth Big Ten title.

Rating -- Big Ten title. Yes, Pryor will be suspended for the first five games of 2011. Doesn't matter when it comes to the Big Ten race. Pryor and the Buckeyes will have their say in a quest for a record seventh straight.

Penn State -- Matt McGloin, 6-1, 209, junior. OR Robert Bolden, sophomore, 6-4, 208. After taking over for starter Bolden, McGloin gave the Nittany Lions offense a spark, throwing for 14 touchdowns in 2010. Bolden wanted to transfer, but decided to stick it out.

Rating -- Chaos. Bolden is still on campus, but still might transfer pending his status after spring practice. Meanwhile, McGloin (14 TD passes, 9 INTs) grew in the position until some critical mistakes in the Outback Bowl against Florida.

Purdue -- Robert Marve, senior, 6-1, 210, OR Rob Henry, sophomore, 6-2, 198. Marve played just three games last season before an ACL injured put him on the sidelines. Purdue coach Danny hope has said a player can't lose his job due to injury, but Henry was named starter for spring practice.

Rating --  Unknown. Marve could be the guy. He started his career at Miami and has shown flashes of ability. But, he got hurt last season. Henry might give the Boilers stability after finishing the final six games.

Wisconsin -- Jon Budmayr, sophomore, 6-0, 205. Wisconsin might be less in QB search mode than we think. During the Rose Bowl, departing starter Scott Tolzien made it sound as though the baton had already been passed.

Rating -- Game manager. Some QBs might bristle at this, but it's a fact of life at Wisconsin with running backs James White and Montee Ball givens for Wisconsin. Some QBs bristle at the "game manager" tag, but every QB loves winning. If that's what it takes, Budmayr would probably be cool with it.

Here's James Vandenberg at media day last August.

Remember when Stanzi looked to have done something pretty bad to his knee against Eastern Illinois?

   

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