Hawkeye football focuses on air attack

Heading into his final year at Iowa, quarterback Nate Stanley has continued to gel with his targets.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith makes a leaping catch during Iowa’s game against Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Friday, November 23, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskers 31-28.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

Spring practice is heating up on the offensive side of the ball. The air attack – as well as defending it – took center stage in Iowa City this week.

Receivers and Stanley in sync

One of the bigger stories heading into this offseason was how Iowa planned to replace its top three receivers who have all either entered the NFL Draft or graduated.

It’s definitely something that could be cause for some concern, however, many of the receivers who will see significant action next year have spent considerable time with quarterback Nate Stanley and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, and that’s certainly an edge.

“It’s a huge advantage,” wide receiver Brandon Smith said. “Since we’re getting used to each other, he knows how I run my routes and I’m used to how he throws the ball. We’re getting a lot better chemistry.”

That chemistry has manifested itself in practice as well, as Smith noted that he and Stanley are able to communicate well non-verbally.

“[Tuesday] I had a little slice route and I knew the corner was playing off and I kind of side-eyed Nate and I already knew the ball was coming to me,” he said. “It’s good to have that kind of chemistry.”

Smith also credited redshirt freshmen Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy Jr. for showing the most growth this spring.

Versatility key in competitive secondary

Last year, Iowa’s secondary, specifically the corner position, was plagued by injuries. That resulted in more playing time than expected for freshman corners Julius Brents and Riley Moss.

The Hawkeyes return those two, along with their original starting corners in Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins.

All of those players saw significant playing time last year, and it has all of them hungry for more action in 2019.

That’s why Ojemudia believes the cornerback room is overflowing with competition.

“Our group is especially talented,” he said. “That’s why I think our group is the most competitive on the team. So that makes Coach [Phil] Parker’s job harder to put the right defense on the field, but that’s our job.”

Parker’s job has also been made tougher this offseason as he tries to adapt to the ever-changing landscape that is college offenses.

Versatility played a critical role in last year’s team, and Parker is hoping for even more of that in order to stay current.

“We have to adapt because we’re facing more spread teams and we can’t do the same things that we’ve done in the past like put a linebacker on a slot [receiver],” Ojemudia said. “So kudos to Coach Parker for adapting to the new style of offense.”

Who’s behind Stanley?

There’s not much deliberation over who will be Iowa’s quarterback next season, as Stanley returns for his senior year after two solid seasons under center.

But the race for the No. 2 spot behind him seems to be heating up, and according to Peyton Mansell – Stanley’s backup last year – it has made for quite the atmosphere in the quarterback room.

“I think this is probably one of the better QB rooms we’ve had in a while just because everybody’s is such a baller,” Mansell said. “Everyone’s going in and making great plays. It’s nice to be able to go out and compete with people you’re friends with.”

There’s certainly no harm in having a skilled quarterback room. After all, injuries are no stranger to football.

It also bodes well for Stanley inevitable departure after next season.