The Iowa football team held its 15th and final spring training on Saturday. About 1,000 Hawkeye fans sat in the west stands of Kinnick Stadium 133 days before Iowa opens its 2022 season at the same venue against South Dakota State.
How much time remains before the regular season? Yes. Will things change for the Hawkeyes in the next four months or so? Yes too. Can I over-analyze things a bit? Well yes.
But hey, it’s football.
A lot of questions were going through my head before Saturday’s practice, which lasted about 90 minutes. Obviously, there is the situation of the quarterback (dilemma?). It was also a chance to see who gets some starting reps before the summer (and to see who gets hurt). Also, where does Iowa struggle or excel? All of this will be covered in the following paragraphs.
And let’s start with the position everyone thinks about…
Spencer Petras is the favorite at QB
There’s no question that Petras remains Iowa’s best option at quarterback come late spring.
And you don’t even have to take my word for it. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was asked if Petras was the favorite to be Iowa’s starter under center for the third straight season in 2022.
“Overall, yes,” Ferentz said. “But we will keep an open mind. With our entire football team, we will continue to compete. I think he did a lot of very good things. He looks confident, healthy. He throws the ball well. »
Petras took all but one shot with the first-team attack in 11-on-11 action on Saturday. Substitute Alex Padilla, who started three games last season, took the other but spent most of training with both. Redshirt rookie Joey Labas, the scout team quarterback last season, worked exclusively with the third team.
Unofficially, Petras went 7 of 16 for 66 passing yards. Overall, I’d say he looked…good? I don’t want to put too much emphasis on 16 shots over an hour and a half, but I guess I expected a little more from Petras. Instead, we saw more of the same. A reversal here, a lack of touch here. Petras looked a bit more mobile after losing eight pounds from the Citrus Bowl. But heading into her fifth year on the program, Saturday’s performance was not exceptional.
As for the other two quarterbacks, Padilla went 5 of 7 for 66 yards and a touchdown (unofficially), while Labas completed seven of 12 passes for 93 yards (also unofficially) and a score.
Padilla admitted that after last season he considered a transfer for about a week. After hearing former Hawkeye football player and NFL head coach Jim Caldwell speak at a reception in Iowa, Padilla decided to stay put.
“He said if you transfer [because] you’re not playing, then you’re really running away from the problem,” Padilla said. “And that’s not how I was raised. I will not deprive myself of competition. I have the impression that this situation made me feel good to come back in a competition.
Padilla said he thought he was still looking for the starting quarterback and that “coaches said from the jump that the best man was going to play.” Padilla was out with an unspecified injury early in the spring, allowing Labas to take over as backup quarterback.
RELATED: Spencer Petras emerges as Iowa football’s quarterback competition favorite
Let’s talk a little more about Labas.
Ferentz said he didn’t rule out Labas as the starting quarterback. That seems like a long shot, though.
That being said, Labas had the best pitch of the day.
Labas rolled on his right on a game well covered by the defense. But the lack of openness did not stop him. After buying himself a few 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 fired a shot to Iowa Western Kaden Wetjen’s transfer center for a 33-yard gain.
“Right now, Joe has a long way to go for us to have confidence that he can come out and play,” Ferentz said of Labas. “We’ve seen the other two guys win games for us as a starting quarterback…He’s made progress. He does a good job. He still has a lot to learn. We would expect it. He has a good attitude. He works really hard. He is very conscientious. And as you’ve seen, he’s doing some good things there.
“He’s done a great job this spring,” added tight end Sam LaPorta. “And he looked really good today.”
Labas probably looked the best quarterback on the field Saturday. Sure, he was playing against third strings, but still. The Petras-Padilla-Labas, starter-backup-No. Dynamic 3 seems pretty well established right now. But I think it’s definitely time for that to change.
I would have liked to see a little more Padilla, but training was shorter than usual due to several injuries. About that…
Injuries dominated the day
It might be easier to tell who hasn’t been left out of the Iowa practice.
Alright, maybe not. But it’s 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 Iowa has an “inordinate” number of injuries right now, but almost everyone should be healthy when summer practices begin in June. A handful of retained players, such as starting linebackers, did not participate so they could be fresh before the season.
On a slightly different note, starting cornerback Jermari Harris did not participate in practice after his arrest by OWI last weekend.
Ferentz said Harris would likely be suspended for the season opener unless “something else happens.”
“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 hurting himself. It will be a difficult price to pay. It is unfortunate. You have to remember that there are more than a hundred people who 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. As spring training wraps up, it looks like the unit could be a strength for the 2022 Hawkeyes.
John Waggoner, Noah Shannon, Yahya Black and Deontae Craig took on the first-team reps on the defensive line, while Lukas Van Ness (who recorded seven sacks as defensive tackle last season) turned on the edge. Let’s say it was a very good day for defensive line coach Kelvin Bell’s unit. There was backfield penetration seemingly every play, and passers never looked comfortable all morning.
“We played well today,” Wagoner said.
Add in Evans, and it’s a solid top six up front. Watch for Van Ness’ breakout 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 would make an All-Big Ten team next season. But I don’t know yet if I want to be so bold.
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 was not their best day.
“We’re still young,” Ferentz said of the offensive line. “We are certainly more experienced than a year ago. But all that said, we still have work to do.