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 quarterbacks Deacon Hill and Marco Lainez making the most of borrowed time

Fellow Hawkeye teammates and coaches credit the pair’s maturity and fierce competitiveness as main factors for their growth this offseason.
Emily Nyberg
Iowa quarterback Deacon Hill completes a drill during an Iowa football spring practice at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

As the hit Panic! At The Disco song, “High Hopes,” blared over the loudspeakers at Kinnick Stadium during Iowa football’s open spring practice, many of the fans in attendance shared the same feeling.

After all, their beloved Hawkeyes finished 132nd in total offense during the 2023 season while becoming a punching bag for the national media in the process. The Black and Gold faithful hope for immediate results this fall, but as the saying goes, “good things take time, better things take a little longer.”

With presumed starting quarterback Cade McNamara still sidelined due to an ACL tear, fans’ first peek at the new-look offense under coordinator Tim Lester featured backups Deacon Hill and Marco Lainez running the show while McNamara watched from afar.

The third-year Hill was thrust into action last season following McNamara’s injury and remained in the starting spot down the stretch. A transfer from Wisconsin, Hill struggled to adjust to his new role, throwing five touchdowns and eight interceptions and posting a measly quarterback rating of 18.5.

On the flip side, Lainez made his collegiate debut during the Citrus Bowl on Jan 1. Down multiple scores in the fourth quarter, Lainez relieved Hill and turned heads quickly. Though he only completed two passes, the first-year impressed Hawkeye fans with 51 yards on the ground, finishing as Iowa’s leading rusher that day.

Flash-forward to spring practice, where both players attempt to fine-tune their games ahead of the upcoming season. They each took reps during the scrimmage, but neither Hill nor Lainez had the outings that would solidify their place in the QB2 slot behind McNamara.

Both quarterbacks looked out of sync, with each frequently missing wide-open receivers. The groans from the Hawkeye faithful were evident, but Lainez redeemed himself with his rushing ability, highlighted by a 10-yard touchdown scramble midway through the scrimmage.

Despite the rough performance from the quarterbacks, one world circled throughout post-practice media availability: improvement.

Growing up fast

Though Iowa fans have openly voiced their frustrations about the quarterback situation for some time, Hawkeye players and coaches are quick to point out youth as a factor. Hill has roughly a year of starting experience, while Lainez hasn’t played a complete game since his senior year of high school.

Despite the outside frustration from the fanbase, fifth-year Sebastian Castro said both young quarterbacks continue to show growth in practice. Castro was named a first-team All-American by Pro Football Focus, and figures to anchor an Iowa defense that ranked in the top-five in points allowed last season.

“They are young, but they continue to learn every single day,” Castro said. “Marco is much more comfortable, and he’s getting used to seeing and reading different coverages.”

Fourth-year center Logan Jones credits Hill’s professionalism as a main factor in his growth during the offseason. After all, the quarterback is simply buying time until McNamara returns, and according to Lester, is running plays designed for McNamara.

“Deacon is taking this like a professional, and he has continued to grow this spring and show a lot of confidence,” Jones said.

Jones also respects the mature approach Lainez brings to the game along with his fiery competitiveness.

“Sometimes I forget how young he is, but he is such a competitor and just wants to be out there and compete with his teammates,” Jones said. “He just has a natural leadership ability too, which is pretty cool to see.”

McNamara provides veteran leadership

Despite the youth in the quarterback room, the group is anchored by the veteran presence of 23-year-old McNamara, who continues to be a strong voice for the younger players during his recovery.

Hailing from Reno, Nevada, McNamara transferred to Iowa following the 2022 season after spending one year as Michigan’s starting quarterback. McNamara helped lead the Wolverines to their first College Football Playoff appearance in 2021 but lost the starting job to J.J. McCarthy the next season.

The fifth-year attempted to revitalize his career with the Hawkeyes but went down on Sep. 30 against Michigan State, ending his season prematurely after only five games. McNamara finished his first season in Iowa City with four touchdowns and three interceptions.

Jones has spent two seasons as a center and has developed a close bond with the quarterback corps since. One of his main observations throughout the offseason has been McNamara’s leadership.

“All of the guys in the room want to be better, and Cade’s leadership gives them a great opportunity to grow,” Jones said.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said he expects McNamara to be fully healthy by June, so he can start “implementing some of the stuff he has been exposed to.”

New system, new challenges 

Following the dismissal of offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, Iowa underwent the tall task of hiring the savior for its doormat offense. The Hawkeyes chose Lester, a former head coach at Western Michigan with additional coaching experience in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers.

It wasn’t the splash hire fans were hoping for, but Lester is gradually introducing his scheme and plans to instill more motion along with the run-pass option, which are both uncharacteristic elements for the Hawkeyes. He said on April 18 that his playbook is only 85 percent installed.

Learning a new offense presents more challenges for a quarterback room that has already struggled to move the football, and the elder Ferentz said the group has experienced its fair share of hardships.

“Marco really hasn’t played a lot, and now the new system has made his mind go 100 miles an hour,” Kirk Ferentz said. “But I think it’s acceptable for a guy who hasn’t played a lot yet.”

Ultimately, all three Hawkeye quarterbacks are adjusting to the same system, and without an addition from the transfer portal, it will be up to the trio to ensure Lester’s system runs as intended.

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About the Contributors
Brad Schultz
Brad Schultz, Sports Reporter
Brad Schultz is a sophomore at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communication with a minor in Sports Studies. This is first year working as a sports reporter and he has a deep passion and love for sports. Outside of the Daily Iowan, Brad is a contributor for Saturday Blitz, a college football site, with his content primarily covering Iowa and the Big Ten.
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.