QUARTERBACK JAMES VANDENBERG
Vandenberg posted a 1-1 record as a starter in ’09, when he replaced injured Ricky Stanzi. Then, as a sophomore in ’10, Stanzi stayed healthy and Vandenberg threw just eight passes.
Last season, Vandenberg took over. His numbers were terrific — 3,022 yards (No. 4 on Iowa’s season record list), 25 TDs (No. 9 for a season) and just seven interceptions. The only number that you could quibble about was completion percentage (58.7 percent), and even that could be explained by Vandenberg’s 404 attempts, the second most in Iowa history.
The victories and road record (1-5 counting the Insight Bowl), those need improvement. Poise in the pocket? That’s a debate, and it’s something that few first-year starters nail down. You had both ends of the spectrum — greatest comeback victory in Iowa history, 31-27 over Pitt (399 passing yards vs. Pittsburgh tied as seventh best single-game total in school history, while 31 completions ranked fourth best and 48 attempts tied for seventh best) and a mad scramble to nowhere at the end of the Minnesota loss.
He was named to the Capital One/CoSIDA District Six Academic All-America team and is a two-time academic all-Big Ten honoree. He is on the Maxwell Award and College Football Performance Award preseason watch lists.
Because there is zero experience at quarterback beyond Vandenberg, he is Iowa’s most irreplaceable player.
2012 Takeoff: Vandenberg is the translator.
He takes first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis’ offense and terminology and communicates it to the rest.
Vandenberg said it took some time, but the offense made strides. Earlier this summer, he talked comfort level on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being most knowledgeable.
“Out of 10, I would’ve given myself a 6, maybe 7,” he said. “I’m a little higher than that now. I just want to continue to grow. I was probably at a 9 and a half on the old playbook and that’s where I want to be in this one. I was in that system for four years.
“It’s been easier to learn than I could’ve imagined. Once you know college concepts, it’s all kind of the same. It’s a lot of new terminology, so more than anything, it’s getting comfortable with it.”
Of course, when spring practice ended, organized team activities ended because that’s against NCAA rules. This summer, Iowa’s 7 on 7 has been 100 percent Davis’ new passing schemes, passing ladders and all that football terminology.
Vandenberg visited Davis’ office more than a few times this summer. He’s been leaning on him to learn this and be able to translate it by the time practice starts Aug. 3 (or Aug. 6).
“Me and him hang out all the time, we meet a lot,” Vandenberg said. “We just want to really detail things.
“I want to know what he’s thinking when he calls certain plays. It got to that point with the other offense. That’s the little thing. It’s not knowing the play, it’s knowing when the play might be called. How many yards you’re going to get if you dump it to this guy? All the intricacies that go with a complex offense.”
Vandenberg’s video study has been Iowa’s spring practice, watching Iowa run bits and pieces of Texas’ offense under Davis.
“We have a lot of good cuts of the plays run by us now,” Vandenberg said. “We don’t have to watch Texas clips. Obviously, they ran it well, too, but being able to see us on film and learn from the mistakes we made those first couple of practices and how we kind of changed is nice.
“We’ve got a cut of everything with us doing it, that’s something we’re all checking out, down to the smallest details. We’ve got to keep that train going during the summer.”
So, the idea is to look a lot like Texas, probably with Colt McCoy at QB. That could work. It’ll take time and translation, but it could work.
Last Monday, the ESPN.com Big Ten blogger staffed put Vandenberg as the No. 2 QB going into the Big Ten season. Michigan’s Denard Robinson was the No. 1.
What’s the essential difference between the two? Robinson makes plays that aren’t there. Vandenberg makes plays within an offense. Robinson is a threat with his feet. Vandenberg is a thrower who can make positive plays on the run.
This might be the essential Vandenberg question — Can he make something out of nothing?