Opinion | Observations from the Iowa football team’s open practice

Only 133 days until the season-opener.


Dimia Burrell

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz leads an applaud for a trainer during a spring practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 23, 2022.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

The Iowa football team held its 15th and final practice of the spring on Saturday. Roughly 1,000 Hawkeye fans sat in the West stands of Kinnick Stadium 133 days before Iowa will open its 2022 season in the same venue against South Dakota State.

Is there a lot of time left until the regular season? Yes. Will things change for the Hawkeyes over the next four months or so? Also yes. May I be over-analyzing things a bit? Well, yes.

But hey, that’s football.

Plenty of questions were on my mind heading into Saturday’s practice, which lasted about 90 minutes. Obviously, there is the quarterback situation (dilemma?). This was also a chance to see who is getting starting reps heading into the summer (and to see who is hurt). Plus, where is Iowa struggling or excelling at? That will all be covered in the following paragraphs.

And let’s start with the position everyone is thinking about…

Spencer Petras is the frontrunner at QB

There’s no doubt that Petras remains Iowa’s top option at quarterback at the end of the spring.

And you don’t even need to take my word for it. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was asked if Petras is the frontrunner to be Iowa’s starter under center for the third season in a row in 2022.

Overall, yeah,” Ferentz said. “But we’re going to keep an open mind. With our whole football team, we’ll keep competing. I think he has done a lot of really good things. He seems confident, healthy. He throws the ball well.”

Petras took all but one snap with the first-team offense in 11-on-11 action on Saturday. Backup Alex Padilla, who started three games last season, took the other one, but spent most of practice with the twos. Redshirt freshman Joey Labas, the scout team quarterback last season, worked exclusively with the third team.

Unofficially, Petras went 7-of-16 for 66 yards passing. Overall, I’d say he looked… fine? I don’t want to put much stock into 16 throws over an hour-and-a-half period, but I guess I expected a little more out of Petras. Instead, we saw more of the same. An overthrow here, a lack of touch here. Petras did look a tad more mobile after losing eight pounds since the Citrus Bowl. But heading into his fifth year in the program, Saturday’s performance was unexceptional.

As for the other two quarterbacks, Padilla went 5-of-7 for 66 yards and a touchdown (unofficially), while Labas completed seven of his 12 passes for 93 yards (also unofficially) and a score.

Padilla admitted that, after last season, he considered transferring for about a week. After hearing former Hawkeye football player and NFL head coach Jim Caldwell speak at an Iowa function, Padilla decided to stay put.

“He said if you’re transferring [because] you’re not playing, then you’re really running away from the problem,” Padilla said. “And that’s not the way I was raised. I’m not going to shy away from competition. I feel like this situation was good for me, coming back into a competition.”

Padilla said he believes he is still in the hunt to be the starting quarterback and that “the coaches have said from the jump that the best man’s going to play.” Padilla was out with an unspecified injury early in the spring, allowing Labas to take over as the backup quarterback.

RELATED: Spencer Petras emerges as frontrunner in Iowa football’s quarterback competition

Let’s talk a little more about Labas.

Ferentz said he hasn’t ruled out Labas as the starting quarterback. That seems like a longshot, though.

That being said, Labas did have the standout throw of the day.

Labas rolled to his right on a play that was well covered by the defense. But a lack of an opening didn’t stop him. After buying himself a couple extra seconds, Labas delivered a high ball to wide receiver Jack Johnson, who improvised his route to make the 13-yard grab. A few plays later, Labas stood in the pocket and delivered a shot over the middle to Iowa Western transfer Kaden Wetjen for a 33-yard gain.

“Right now, Joe’s got a ways to go for us to have confidence that he can go out and play,” Ferentz said of Labas. “We’ve seen the other two guys win games for us as the starting quarterback … He’s made progress. He’s doing a good job. He’s still got a lot to learn. We would expect that. He has a good attitude. He works really hard. He’s very conscientious. And as you saw, he does some good things out there.”

“He’s done a great job this spring,” tight end Sam LaPorta added. “And he looked really good today.”

Labas probably looked the best of any quarterback on the field on Saturday. Sure, he was playing against third-stringers, but still. The Petras-Padilla-Labas, starter-backup-No. 3 dynamic seems pretty set right now. But I think there is certainly time for that to change.

I would have liked to have seen a little more of Padilla, but practice was shorter than normal because of a number of injuries. About that…

Injuries dominated the day

It might be easier to say who wasn’t held out of Iowa’s practice.

OK, maybe not. But it is a very long list. Among the players who did not participate: Terry Roberts, Jack Campbell, Joe Evans, Justin Britt, Keagan Johnson, Nick DeJong, Luke Lachey, Seth Benson, Jestin Jacobs, and Kaevon Merriweather, to name a few. Ferentz said that Iowa has an “inordinate” number of injuries at the moment but almost everyone should be healthy by the start of summer practice in June. A handful of the players held out, like the starting linebackers, did not participate so they could be fresh heading into the season.

On a slightly different note, starting cornerback Jermari Harris did not participate in practice after his OWI arrest last weekend.

Ferentz said that Harris will likely be suspended for the season-opener unless “something else comes up.”

“I’m not happy,” Ferentz said of Harris’ arrest. “Most importantly, I think he feels bad about it. Seems to really feel bad about it. If there’s a positive, he was able to walk away without hurting another person or himself. That’s going to be a hard price to pay. It’s unfortunate. Have to remind yourself you have a hundred-plus people that sometimes make bad decisions.”

Defensive line looks dominant, offensive line not so much

Iowa’s defensive line was one of its biggest question marks heading into last season. At the end of spring practice, it seems like the unit could be a strength for the 2022 Hawkeyes.

John Waggoner, Noah Shannon, Yahya Black, and Deontae Craig took first-team reps on the defensive line, while Lukas Van Ness (who recorded seven sacks as a defensive tackle last season) rotated in on the edge. Let’s just say, it was a very good day for defensive line coach Kelvin Bell’s unit. There was penetration into the backfield on seemingly every play, and passers never looked comfortable all morning.

“We played well today,” Waggoner said.

No kidding.

Add in Evans, and that’s a solid top six up front. Watch for Van Ness to break out this year. He has the power of a tackle with the speed of an edge rusher. If I wanted to make a bold prediction, I’d say he’d make an All-Big Ten team next season. But I’m not sure if I want to be that bold yet.

Across the line of scrimmage, the starters from left to right were: Mason Richman, Tyler Elsbury, Logan Jones, Connor Colby, and Jack Plumb. Collectively, it wasn’t their best day.

“We’re still young,” Ferentz said of the offensive line. “We’re certainly more experienced than we were a year ago. But all that being said, we still have work to do.”