IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kirk Ferentz spoke for 30 minutes at his introductory spring football news conference. He said nearly 6,000 words.
Few mattered as much as this: Teammates selected quarterback Nate Stanley as a team captain.
“I don’t know how many votes [Stanley] would have gotten for captain last August,” Ferentz said on Tuesday.
Spring is all about growth, and becoming a captain is the best sign of Stanley’s development.
Next, Stanley needs to take the reins of the offense and make it his own. Several factors — hello, wide receivers — will dictate how many points Iowa scores this fall, but the Hawkeyes will go only as far as Stanley takes them.
That is a lot to put on a player, but it is the reality of the situation. Look at the depth chart. A lot will change between now and preseason, but one fact won’t: It is a young offense. Seniors are rare. Only three are running with the first team to open spring practice. And wide receiver Nick Easley is the only one at a skill position.
Stanley, with 13 career starts, is the established player of the group. Quarterback is always a focal point, but Iowa’s situation magnifies Stanley’s importance in 2018.
Tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson are weapons. Easley is another good piece to the passing game. But the rest of the wide receivers are young and not overly experienced. It is the same at running back.
The offense will be limited until the wide receivers become viable weapons.
Stanley can serve as a catalyst for the group, especially if he improves his accuracy. He completed 55.8 percent of his passes last season.
“Hopefully he’ll be sharper this year,” Ferentz said. “He should be. He’s a year older and seen a lot of things now in 13 games. So you count on him making that next step.”
Really, it’s a necessity. The better he plays, the easier it is on the offense and the easier it will be for a wide receiver such as Brandon Smith to transition into a bigger role.
Think back to last season. Stanley struggled just holding on to the football in his first start. It was the definition of learning on the job. It will be the same way with so many skill position players this season.
Stanley progressed during the season, his sophomore year, with 2,437 passing yards and 26 touchdowns. It is going to be tough for Iowa to improve if Stanley doesn’t, though. The rest of the offense likely isn’t in a position to pick things up if he doesn’t move forward.
It is why he needs to make this his offense. Knowing that, he started working on it late last season.
“I just know that I have to put in that much more effort and continue to duplicate what we did this year and not be satisfied with what we did this year,” Stanley said in December. “I think you can really use it as a motivating tool, not just for myself, but for other teammates to continue to push ourselves in the bowl game and obviously in the spring into next fall.”
For Stanley, it started with leadership. The quiet introvert needed to speak up more.
“It’s more so stepping out of my personality from that standpoint,” Stanley said, “but I continue to get more comfortable every single day doing that.”
He seems to have the hang of it now. Team captain honors is encouraging. Ferentz mentioned it multiple times during his news conference for a reason.
It is the first step in Stanley making the Hawkeyes offense his.