Takeaways from Kirk Ferentz’s Spring Press Conference
Spring practice began in Iowa City on Wednesday, and with it came insight into the program’s development into the new season. Head coach Kirk Ferentz addressed the media in his Spring press conference, giving updates on ascending players, position competitions, and the new starting quarterback, Cade McNamara.
The Hawkeyes also released their first spring two-deep depth chart on Wednesday. The starters include McNamara, Xavier Nwankpa, and Jermari Harris to name a few. There are still a few players that will be joining the roster in June and their names aren’t yet listed. Notably, those being Nick Jackson and Rusty Feth. The program absorbed more transfers than ever before and Iowa’s new-look roster is starting to mesh.
At quarterback, there is no discussion for the starter. McNamara is the guy, but the competition lies behind him at the number two spot. Joe Labas threw one touchdown in the bowl game and is currently listed as the second-string quarterback. Behind him is Wisconsin transfer Deacon Hill. Ferentz had early praise for Hill, commenting on his size and ability to throw the ball. He said, “First of all, he’s big. Bigger than most quarterbacks I’ve been around.” At 6’-3” and 230 pounds, Hill has a lot of physicality in the position. He also delivers a great ball and is confident as a passer.
The other position group with healthy competition is running back. Kaleb Johnson is listed as the starter and is off of an impressive freshman campaign. He led the team with nearly 800 yards and six touchdowns. The other freshman was Jaziun Patterson. He only touched the ball 14 times last year for 47 yards. However, Ferentz noted how one rush last year caught his attention. “He hit that thing hard,” Ferentz said, referencing his 17-yard, explosive rush against Kentucky.
Leshon Williams is actually the veteran of the group as an incoming junior. He is currently listed second on the depth chart after tallying two touchdowns and 450 yards last season. The three backs have a tremendous combined skillset. Their similar age and the competition at practice will only help the group improve.
Ferentz also made note of a few players who are taking strides and are ascending in their positions. Kelby Telander is listed on the two-deep at the cash position. The sophomore from North Liberty, Iowa has not seen any game action to date but gained significant traction on defense during bowl prep last season. He spent the entire 2022 season on the scout team, and the bowl practices were a great chance to get that additional work at the position. Now, Ferentz said he “seems a little bit more comfortable” and added he may be getting a role on special teams this season.
Kyler Fisher is another one of those players. The incoming senior has played in 21 games for the Hawkeyes, and he’ll step into a more everyday role next season at linebacker. Ferentz said he is excited about this new group. Each one of them has a great opportunity to take on a new leadership role after the departure of two key linebackers.
Cornerback Jermari Harris is another player Ferentz brought up in this category. He said expectations for him are high after coming off of a season without any action due to injury. Through the injury, he remained very involved with the team and a leader off of the field. Now, Ferentz sees him not only as a potential new leader but already one of the established leaders on the team.
At the defensive line, Deontae Craig will likely take another step forward in 2023. As a sophomore last season, Craig led the team in sacks with 7.5 and had 31 total tackles. Ferentz said they saw it in him last year with his success on the field. Heading into 2023, he doesn’t see him being done yet. With a high ceiling, Craig will have a chance to develop into one of the leaders up front.
The starting quarterback at Iowa is a guy who beat Iowa in the Big Ten title game just two seasons ago. Ferentz noted that in his analysis of him at the spring press conference, saying that conversations with him are different than those with other new coming players. Most of the new players, especially recruits, don’t have the experience at the college football level that a transfer starting quarterback who played at the Big Ten level. Not only that but at a Big Ten Championship level. Ferentz sees this as a unique opportunity and a new way of approaching player development.
Ferentz also added the level of expectation with McNamara is a lot different – both for him and from the staff to him. There is already a foundation of championship-level experience in a guy like McNamara, so his introduction to a new program is much different than anything Iowa has done with a new player. McNamara expects to be challenged and presented with the tools he needs to continue his history of success at quarterback. In the same vein, the Iowa coaching staff expects him to establish leadership as he did at Michigan in transitioning to a new program. Ferentz recalled looking across the field in the Big Ten title game in 2021 and seeing a true leader and good football player on the other side.
McNamara has said that the support he is receiving from offensive analyst Jon Budmayr and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has been “refreshing”. He has been getting feedback and tips on offensive philosophy that have already helped him develop at Iowa.
McNamara’s Rehab Update
So far, this transition for McNamara has been looking good. He is not at full throttle, however. He is participating in practice and getting throws in, but is not at 100% mobility, and likely won’t be for at least a month or two. McNamara is able to participate in 7-on-7 drills but is keeping his mobility requirements low.
In any sense, Ferentz said he is really learning the system and communicating well with the guys at practice. Outside of spring practice, McNamara has been working out individually and getting a lot of throwing done. He knows he has to earn his leadership role in the program and is dedicating himself to that goal. McNamara in a Hawkeye uniform is huge for the offense, and his presence on the practice field is already showing up in positive ways.