The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa football notebook | Coordinators update schemes, personnel, position battles

New offensive coordinator Tim Lester said his playbook is about 85 percent implemented thus far into spring camp.
Grace Smith
Iowa offensive coordinator Tim Lester speaks during a press conference at the Hansen Football Performance Center in Iowa City on Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2024. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz announced on Jan. 31 that former senior analyst for the Green Bay Packers Tim Lester will serve as the next offensive coordinator for the Hawkeyes. Before his move to Iowa City, Lester held the position of head coach at Western Michigan University for six seasons and served as quarterbacks coach for both Purdue and Syracuse before his head coach title at WMU.

Iowa football coordinators Tim Lester, Phil Parker, and LeVar Woods spoke to the media for about 20 minutes each on Thursday afternoon. Lester is the freshest face of the trio, having taken over the Hawkeye offense in February. He answered the most questions by far – discussing quarterback Cade McNamara and Co.’s progress with two days to go until the Hawkeyes’ open spring practice on April 20. 

Based on interviews with offensive personnel in the past two weeks, Lester’s scheme has drawn rave reviews. The coordinator said he’s implemented about 85 percent of his playbook thus far, noting that a majority of the passing concepts involve five route runners. He also admitted an increase in motion at the line of scrimmage, so much so that linebackers have run into each other. 

“It’s been a fun group of guys that have been working hard, getting better,” he said. “A lot to get better at, it’s a marathon and a sprint at the same time.” 

The coach explained that he’s tracked how many times each of his plays have been run, as well as which players have participated in which plays. So far this spring season, quarterback Deacon Hill has been directing these plays, as the third-year gains reps with the starters while McNamara recovers from his ACL injury. Lester said McNamara is still limited to stationary throwing but acknowledged Hill is making strides in his footwork. 

When Lester first arrived, he noticed Hill’s balance as out of sorts. As a former collegiate quarterback at Western Michigan, Lester knew there’s more than one method of proper footwork in a dropback, adding that Hill has found a technique that suits his 6-foot-3 frame.

“I think it’s allowed him to get through reads better,” Lester said of Hill’s new dropbacks. “Still needs to be more accurate with the ball. I still think he has a long way to go.” 

Similar to the quarterback position, wide receiver has been flagged by fans as a spot in need of depth, especially after Jacob Bostick entered the portal earlier in the week. Bostick was listed behind Kaleb Brown on the spring depth chart, and out of the four receivers, he stood tallest at 6-foot-2. Brown and fellow wideout Seth Anderson are the oldest in the group, both juniors. 

Lester seemed unfazed by any outside concerns about the position, clarifying the transfer portal is always an option for any roster spot. He detailed that he was in a similar scenario last season with the Green Bay Packers – whose receiving corps was one of the youngest in the NFL. 

Running back Terrell Washington Jr. amassed nine carries for 50 yards in limited action in his debut season in 2023, but so far this spring, he has been running slot routes in Lester’s scheme. The coordinator said Washington will continue to take hand-offs but recognized the sophomore’s learning growth amid the position change.

As for what the Black and Gold faithful can look out for at Kinnick on Saturday, Lester preached efficiency. This involves entering and exiting the huddle quickly, executing the proper shifts and cadences, and grinding out first downs. 

“I just hope those are third and shorts and not third-and-10s,” he said with a smile. “I just want to see them continue doing what they’ve been doing because they have continued to show up. We’ve had some rough days, we’ve had some really good days. They always respond.” 

How to drive a defense 

Defensive coordinator Parker has been at Iowa since 1999, starting as the defensive backs coach. In his two-decade-plus tenure with the Hawkeyes, he’s seen plenty of roster fluctuation. This season, however, looks to be an anomaly, as Parker’s vaunted unit returns eight starters. 

Given this sizable veteran presence, the coach said he’s had to intentionally limit the number of reps for the starters to provide opportunities for guys lower on the depth chart. Sharing the wealth appears to be effective, as Parker noted considerable growth in defensive lineman Max Llewellyn, as well as safeties John Nestor and Zach Lutmer. 

Hailing from Rock Rapids, Iowa, Lutmer isn’t listed on the spring depth chart and only saw action in two games last season, but Parker lauded him for his versatility at both strong and free safety. As for Llewellyn, the 6-foot-5, 264-pounder amassed nine tackles and 2.5 sacks last season, and Parker has spotted improvement in the lineman’s strength and understanding of the game. 

“You see little jumps at a time, and then you keep on — just like everybody, you start seeing him grow a little bit, and then all of a sudden they become a good player,” he said. 

Naturally, Parker faced inquiries about defending Iowa’s new-look offense. The coordinator maintained the scheme still contains elements of the past but said the increase in motion sometimes upsets the simplicities of defense. 

“What it does with some of the motion over there, you have to concentrate and focus on where your eyes are, and you have to be able to — it’s like driving in Chicago during rush hour,” he said. “Sometimes it goes, but they’re not always doing that.” 

Competition abounds on special teams 

Special teams coordinator Woods was transparent that nearly every role on special teams – from kicker to holder to punter – isn’t set in stone yet. While Drew Stevens had a stellar first-year campaign, the teenager struggled late in his sophomore year, missing five field goals and an extra point in the Hawkeyes’ final six contests. 

In Woods’ eyes, these trials and tribulations only molded a more mature and humble character from the kicker, who arrived on campus early as an 18-year-old back in 2022. Now, Woods’ focus is on developing “consistent ball contact” with Stevens, combining power with accuracy. 

“The strength is there,” Woods said of Stevens. “Again, looking at it like golf, he can smoke the ball. But you watch some of these guys that get in those long drive competitions, sometimes it’s straight, sometimes it’s left, sometimes it’s right, but they’re smoking the ball. Now we’re trying to get a guy to play in the fairway more consistently all the time.” 

One glaring omission on Iowa’s special teams roster this season is former punter Tory Taylor, who is taking his talents to the NFL. Left to fill the gaping void of No. 9 are senior Ty Nissen and first-year Rhys Dakin, who has garnered plenty of hype. Both he and Taylor hail from Melbourne, Australia, and each underwent the same American football training program. 

Nevertheless, Woods was careful to temper expectations, pointing out that Dakin is only 19 years old, whereas Taylor was 22 when he arrived in Iowa City. 

“I think what we’ve seen so far with him is he’s a very talented young man, but he’s also young and green,” Woods said. “But I think Rhys is going to be fine. He’s incredibly talented. He has a very bright future.” 

In addition to his punting duties, Taylor also served as the holder on the kicking unit. While usually a job for the punter, Woods isn’t guaranteeing the role to either Dakin or Nissen. Woods said Nissen currently has the edge, as the Iowa Western transfer held the position in high school and with the Reivers. 

The gunner job last season was reserved for Cooper DeJean, but with the star corner off to the pros as a likely first-round selection, Woods said the gunner job is being considered for several candidates, including Nestor, Lutmer, Koen Entringer, and T.J. Hall. 

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.