Iowa football notebook: Spring football underway for the Hawkeyes, Ferentz talked to Jaguars before Doyle’s brief NFL stint

Hawkeye football coach Kirk Ferentz held a Zoom conference Monday ahead of the team’s first spring practice on Tuesday.


Katie Goodale

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz are seen without masks during the Iowa v Northwestern football game at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 21-20. Many Iowa Coaches wore Gaitor face guards, which the CDC has suggested is not as effective against the spread of COVID-19 as a regular mask.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Kirk Ferentz has always looked forward to spring practices. But maybe never this much.

Iowa’s first of 15 spring practices is scheduled to take place on Tuesday. It comes 23 months after the program’s previous spring activities. Last year, only weeks before the spring session was going to start, fears concerning COVID-19 shut the team down.

With the team scattered across the country and video calls the primary way for players and coaches to communicate, the normal development teams go through during the spring period never occurred. Now, the Hawkeyes are ready to get back on the field.

“As a coach, I’ve always enjoyed this time of year,” Ferentz, the Iowa football program’s 23rd-year coach said Monday. “Because it is pure teaching. It’s about development.”

Despite the limited offseason activities, Iowa went 6-2 last season and finished the year on a six-game winning streak. The team’s final two games — including the Music City Bowl — were canceled because of positive COVID-19 within opposing programs.

Three practices are planned per week over the next five weeks, one each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Iowa’s spring season will culminate with a practice on May 1 in Kinnick Stadium that will likely host fans.

After playing a 2020 season in stadiums with the family members of the team’s players as the only fans in attendance, Ferentz said he hopes to hold multiple events open to fans this spring.

Athletics director Gary Barta also said the current plan is that Kinnick Stadium will host fans this fall. Barta did not offer any specifics in terms of how many fans could be allowed to attend.

The Big Ten announced attendance policies for the remaining spring sports seasons on March 24, and later that day Iowa said it would allow 50 percent capacity at outdoor venues for events but will continue to restrict attendance at indoor events. Details on attendance at spring football activities have yet to be announced.

Ferentz confirms Jaguars called him ahead of Doyle hire

During his Zoom conference Monday, Ferentz confirmed that the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars contacted him prior to hiring former Iowa strength coach Chris Doyle in February.

Doyle was on the Hawkeye coaching staff for 21 years before reaching a $1.1 million separation agreement with the University of Iowa on June 15 amid allegations of racism and mistreatment from former players. Doyle was hired as Jacksonville’s director of sport performance on first-year NFL coach Urban Meyer’s staff before resigning the next day amid the criticism of the hire.

Meyer said after Doyle’s hiring that he, general manager Trent Baalke, and owner Shahid Khan had “vetted [Doyle] thoroughly” before making the hire.

In his first public comments since Doyle’s brief tenure in Jacksonville, Ferentz said Monday he provided the Jaguars with feedback on Doyle’s work as Iowa’s strength coach but declined to divulge personal details.

RELATED: Iowa football team releases depth chart ahead of spring practices

On July 30, Ferentz called Doyle “an outstanding coach” and said, “I know with his next opportunity he’s going to do a fantastic job.

Doyle and Iowa head coach Ferentz are among the defendants in a lawsuit filed by 13 Black former Iowa football playersin November. These players claim they faced “targeted and discriminatory behavior” in their time with the Iowa football program.

Ferentz confirmed that Raimond Braithwaite, an assistant on the strength staff under Doyle, has officially been elevated to full-time strength and conditioning coach and that his interim tag has been removed.

Petras gets long-awaited spring session to prepare for starting role

Spencer Petras ended up starting eight games before ever having a full offseason to actually prepare for the role of Iowa’s starting quarterback.

The junior is at the top of the depth chart again heading into the 2021 season (with Alex Padilla listed as his backup). But now, Petras has the luxury of spring practices to develop chemistry with his receivers, work through the playbook, and do everything else needed to play at a high level under center.

“Just the way he operates, the leadership, the ownership he’s taken,” Ferentz said. “This guy just operates how you’d want a quarterback to. I feel really good about the room overall. Those guys [Padilla and Hogan] don’t have the experience [Petras] does, but we’re going to let them all compete this spring.”

Petras finished his first year as a starter with nine touchdowns and five interceptions, while completing 57.1 percent of his passes.

Staff additions adapting to their roles

 Two Iowa assistant coaches departed the program in the offseason, and for both positions, Ferentz interviewed six candidates.

George Barnett was hired to replace Tim Polasek (who is now the offensive coordinator at Wyoming) and former Hawkeye running back Ladell Betts took over for running backs coach Derrick Foster (now with the NFL’s Los Angeles Chargers under the same title).

Barnett, a coach Ferentz could rely on to recruit in the Midwest, is tasked with replacing Iowa’s two starting offensive tackles from last season. Four-year starter at left tackle Alaric Jackson declared for the draft and right tackle Mark Kallenberger graduated and stepped away from football.

Jack Plumb, who started two games at right tackle last season, is listed as the starter on the left side of Iowa’s line in the depth chart released Monday morning. Cody Ince, a starter at guard last season, is slated to start on the right side.

For now, at least. Ferentz said Ince will not practice this spring because of an injury.

“He’s probably one of the few guys in 20-plus years that could play all five positions [on the line] and play them pretty well,” Ferentz said. “… He still doesn’t know his own strength. He does a lot of things really well. It’s all in front of him right now.”

Ferentz described Betts, who he coached from 1999-2001, as one of the toughest players he’s ever been around.

The headliner in Betts’ position unit is first-team All-Big Ten running back Tyler Goodson. But there’s not a lot of depth behind him. Backup Ivory Kelly-Martin is out for the spring with an injury and only two other running backs are listed on the roster.

What if more bodies are needed at that position?

“We have Plan A, Plan B, and then Ladell would be Plan C,” Ferentz joked Betts’ 3,686 rushing yards rank second in program history. “If we get there, we’re in trouble. With all due respect I think Ladell’s best football is behind him. The way we blocked in 1999, he probably lost about six years of his career right there.”

Joking aside, Ferentz said his staff will move players around if the team needs more running backs this spring. Freshman Arland Bruce IV, Ferentz admitted, could fit into that category, but coaches want to see him at wide receiver first.