IOWA CITY, Iowa — The talk around these parts this April centers on Iowa’s new offense. Except when it’s the guy running the offense who’s doing the talking.
Then player evaluation is the topic of choice.
For offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz., the spring is more about seeing how players fit into the offense than making sure they understand the playbook.
“It’s a little more we want to get these things evaluated,” Ferentz said. “We want to get these things on tape so we can coach off of it.”
For a developmental program such as Iowa, everything, including a new offense, revolves around teaching, growth and learning.
Ferentz wants to see that players understand the concepts, but he’s not waiting for the Hawkeyes to master 1b thing before adding another. He wants to see how they execute each new play.
What do they excel with? What don’t they understand? What can he build around for the season?
“That’s a big part of it every year,” Ferentz said. “Certainly when you’re trying to put a new system together, it becomes even more magnified to do things like that.”
Ferentz is a big proponent of letting players make plays. He wants to coach to their strengths and match them with a key tenet of the offense. The information learned in the spring can help him fine-tune the playbook to, ideally, obtain maximum performance.
“You can take any passing-game concept or any run, and you can fit it to your personnel,” Ferentz said. “Once you have a pretty good idea of what you want to do, it’s a matter of just tweaking a couple things to get the concept to fit a personnel group or formation.”
Let’s take the passing game. Ferentz knows finishing 118th nationally in passing offense for a second straight season won’t cut it. Something needs to change.
But limited numbers at wide receiver makes evaluation a little bit of a challenge. The 2 most experienced receivers, in Matt VandeBerg (injury) and Jerminic Smith (academic suspension), are out for the spring.
Ferentz tries to spin the situation as a positive because everyone available is given a clean slate to earn playing time with new wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland.
“What we’re trying to do at that position is build,” Ferentz said. “It’s kind of like the quarterback position. There are no incumbents. We’re not married to anyone, and we’re going to do what’s best for Iowa football. What’s best for Iowa football is great competition.”
Walk-on WR Nick Easley is making the most of the situation. So are the tight ends. Ferentz is using them more in the passing game than he might with a full complement of wide outs. It’s giving him a better idea of how he can utilize the tight ends in different packages.
“It’s forced us to be a little bit more diverse in our formations probably than you’d like to be when you’re just trying to get things installed,” Ferentz said.
Of course, a conversation about the passing game requires a comment on the quarterback. The position, and how quickly Nathan Stanley or Tyler Wiegers adjusts to starting, will play as big of a role in Iowa improving the aerial attack as anything else.
Neither quarterback is pulling away and the open competition is likely to extend well into fall camp.
“It’s really close right now, and I see this thing going into camp, probably midway into camp before we have to make a decision,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “But if we had to do it right now, we’d be throwing darts.”
The offensive coordinator, however, seeks a little more certainty with his new offense. The best way to ensure it is by talking evaluation over installation in April.