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 spring practice column | Hawkeye offense still in the rebuilding process as transfer portral looms

While the Hawkeyes’ run game impressed on Saturday, the team’s quarterback play was volatile at best without starter Cade McNamara taking reps.
Emily Nyberg
Iowa quarterback Deacon Hill passes the ball to running back Kaleb Johnson during an Iowa football spring practice at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

Iowa football head coach Kirk Ferentz summed up his team’s progress over 15 spring practices in one play – a red-zone toss to a wide-open receiver that missed by two feet. This miscue occurred at the Hawkeyes’ annual open spring practice on Saturday  – a ritual of speculation and overreaction. Nevertheless, Ferentz’s post-practice comments were still telling.

“In the fall, we’ve got to make that play,” he said. “If it’s set up right and you’ve got a chance to convert it, that’s what you need to. That’s really the nature of football and the challenge of offensive football especially. The execution is easier said than done.” 

Indeed, the 68-year-old coach’s wisdom rang true inside a sparsely-filled Kinnick Stadium. Amid howling winds and chilly temperatures, the Hawkeyes proved they retained a red-hot defense, but an offense that still needs to thaw out. 

With starting quarterback Cade McNamara donning shorts and a brace on his left knee, backups Deacon Hill and Marco Lainez garnered all of the reps in 7-on-7 and 11-on-11. While Hill does have a clear edge in experience, having started nine games last season, the QB2 spot is clearly open for competition. 

Hill started off his 7-on-7 work by completing three of his first five passes but soon flashed signs of struggle that plagued him in 2023, overthrowing pass-catchers and placing the ball in the defense’s hands – twice.

His second pick was thrown a touch behind the intended receiver but still looked to be a miscommunication, only further evidence of an offense still trying to adjust to a new system under coordinator Tim Lester. 

Meanwhile, Lainez flashed the same mobility that left the Black and Gold faithful agape down in Orlando in the Citrus Bowl. Dashing out of the pocket for first downs and a touchdown, Lainez has hardly lost a step as he enters his second season. 

“Coach Lester always says, ‘Block for eternity,’ I’m going to continue to do that, but like, in the Tennesee game, when you see Marco take off, it’s like, ‘Oh jeez, there he goes,’” Iowa center Logan Jones said. “It’s pretty cool to see a quarterback get out like that.” 

And unlike his mop-up duty against Tennessee, the 6-foot-2, 225-pounder exhibited far superior passing ability than his 2-of-7 showing in the bowl game, rolling out to the right to find tight end Cael Vanderbush for a solid gain and finding Terrell Washington in a tight window for a first down.

But as Ferentz, said, the 20-year-old quarterback’s head is still “going 200 miles an hour” as he adjusts to his second coordinator in as many years. Lainez’s overthrows and near-interception demonstrate that fans must keep measured expectations. 

Yet if there’s anyone who’s exceeding expectations, it might be McNamara, who was more agile than I thought he would be, taking part in dropback drills on the sidelines. Fans will have to wait till the summer to witness his return, but it sounds like the fourth year will be more than ready to do so. 

“He’s been throwing the ball well and has been into it 100 percent,” Ferentz said of McNamara. “Maybe in some ways it’s easier for him because he’s not practicing so he can just process mentally and not worry about the physical aspect as much … [He] can’t wait to learn something, that seems to be his mode of operation.” 

Once McNamara does take over the reins, he’ll join an offense that appears to have the ground game figured out. While Leshon Williams was sidelined with a foot injury, youngsters Kamari Moulton and Washington delivered, with Moulton breaking tackles for long runs and Washington reeling in passes. 

“When he gets more reps and more experience, I mean, he’s going to be real good eventually when he puts it all together,” Williams said of the 19-year-old Moulton. “He already does a good job, and if he gets a chance this year, he can be a big part of the offense.” 

And as expected with eight starters returning, the defense was on-point all day, as defensive back Sebastian Castro broke up a pass while backup linebacker Jaxon Rexwroth hauled in one of Hill’s passes. And I would be remiss not to mention a special teams highlight – a blocked field goal. 

However, while a good defense will always ensure a chance to win, victory is achieved by scoring – which, more often than not, is accomplished through offense, which has increasingly turned towards the passing game. Thus, it’s perfectly reasonable to clamor for transfer portal additions at quarterback and receiver. The portal opened on April 15 and will be available for players until April 30. 

But to Ferentz, while the portal is always an option for roster upgrades, he added that roster attrition is constantly fluctuating as more and more players bounce between programs. 

“If there’s something that makes us a better football team, that’s what we’re all trying to do,” he said. “So we’ll definitely keep an open mind.” 

How much this “open mind” statement is true remains to be seen, but any new arrival would have to learn Lester’s offense and would likely be behind everyone else. But then again, based on what transpired Saturday, that gap might not be very far. 

Just don’t panic, it’s only April. The McNamara train is bounding down the tracks, but it’s up to Ferentz and the rest of the coaching staff to ensure a functioning station when the QB1 locomotive arrives. 

Injury Updates: 

Jones and Wiliams were two of several Hawkeyes who didn’t participate on Saturday. Among them are wide receiver Seth Anderson, cornerback Jermari Harris,  and offensive lineman Gennings Dunker. Ferentz said no one is dealing with any long-term injuries and all should be ready to go by the summer.

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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
Emily Nyberg
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.