I’ve been really slow getting the positional features to the blog. They’ve been on the paper and The Gazette site, so might as well bombard you.
The first stop was QBs and Jake Christensen.
In my 10 years covering these guys, I’m not sure there has been a more polarizing player than Christensen. Some of you believe in him, want to see him perform with a full deck of offensive weapons and a functional offensive line. Some of you have seen enough and want Rick Stanzi, whose resume includes one interception and no completions.
I want to wait and see. He needs accuracy and poise in the pocket. But he also needs to not be sacked 46 times (I know, every takes a share of the blame when it comes to those, but still . . .).
Christensen checks his grip on game
By Marc Morehouse
(Brian Ray/The Gazette)
Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen works out during the team’s practice last Thursday. Christensen struggled last year but is hoping a trip to a spring camp in Florida will pay off this fall.
IOWA CITY — Jake Christensen is a lifelong quarterback. His dad, an NFL quarterback himself, passed the torch and Jake carried it at every level of football, culminating in an Illinois state prep championship and a scholarship to the University of Iowa.
Then, last season happened.
Christensen stepped into the starter’s role after waiting his turn behind Drew Tate. What Christensen stepped into was an offense that shuffled injuries along the line, never found a consistent running game and found itself with a nearly all-freshmen receiving corps after injuries and suspensions.
Christensen struggled with accuracy. His numbers were among the worst in the conference. And he, gamely, took the blame.
Last season got Christensen thinking.
Instead of a traditional college spring break of fun in the sun, Christensen went to Florida and consulted with former NFL quarterback Steve DeBerg, who runs a camp — check that, a quarterback academy — and is considered a QB mechanics guru. DeBerg played in the NFL for 18 seasons and caters his teaching to college and NFL quarterbacks.
Footwork, grip and release were dissected. He watched film with DeBerg, comparing himself to NFL quarterbacks.
Christensen was open to the coaching and criticism. Yes, he’s a Division I quarterback, but no, he doesn’t know all the answers. He readily admitted that.
“I needed it and someone needed to tell me before it was too late,” Christensen said. “I’m glad he did and I’m glad I went through it, making some fundamental mistakes and realizing I had something to work on.
“The tendency is to get kind of stubborn about it and say, ‘I don’t have to fix anything.’ But I did and I have and I think it’s going to be a really good outcome.”
Christensen concentrated on pointing his feet where they needed to be pointed. His fingers will be in the same spots on his grip, but he’s using his fingertips more than before and “it helps,” he said.
Christensen said his release last season was a little long. Grip and release were the concentration at DeBerg’s academy in Tampa, Fla.
“It’s hard to argue with a 17-year NFL veteran,” Christensen said. “Pretty much what he says goes. He has NFL teams calling off the hook to want him to come and help out and coach. So, you know, I’d probably go out on a limb and say he’s the best quarterbacks coach there is. There’s no doubt in my mind, from what I’ve been around.”
Offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe also serves as quarterbacks coach. He’s fine with his quarterbacks seeking outside help. He’s careful about giving them too much information.
“You can’t coach everything, otherwise you end up paralyzing people,” said O’Keefe, in his 10th season as Kirk Ferentz’s offensive coordinator. “I just know that sometimes if you have too much information, or try to give someone too much information, they have a difficult time focusing on what they need to do better.”
The last look into the Iowa QB situation had Christensen, a junior, and sophomore Rick Stanzi splitting time in spring practice. That was quite a statement considering Christensen is 7-6 as a starter (6-6 last season with one victory in ’06) and Stanzi has thrown four passes with no completions and one interception.
The competition, however, is on hold. Stanzi sprained an AC joint in his left shoulder, his throwing shoulder, July 18 and missed at least the first week of camp.
“(Stanzi) has brought competition to the table,” O’Keefe said. “He has pushed Jake to the hilt especially coming out of spring ball. Those guys were virtually neck and neck.”
So, yeah, on media day, Christensen conducts interviews respectfully but also has a little bit of an edge to him. Media day is, after all, on Iowa’s practice field. This is where Christensen will put his new grip, release and footwork to the test. This is where he’ll battle Stanzi, red-shirt freshman Marvin McNutt and either of the incoming freshman, James Vandenberg and John Wienke.
This is where Christensen will make his stand.
“I can’t wait to silence everybody,” he said. “I don’t think any of us can.”
n Contact the writer: (319) 398-8256 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Breaking down Iowa at QB
Brian Ray/The Gazette Iowa quarterbacks Marvin McNutt (from left), Jake Christensen and Ricky Stanzi laugh as they pose for photos during the Iowa football team’s media day activities Aug. 4 in Iowa City.
Jake Christensen, Jr, 6-1, 215; Rick Stanzi, so., 6-4, 225; Marvin McNutt, #fr., 6-4, 210; James Vandenberg, fr., 6-3, 195; John Wienke, fr., 6-5, 225
INSIDE THE HUDDLE
n With freshman David Blackwell in NCAA Clearinghouse limbo, Iowa has five quarterbacks. The starting job is likely in the hands of junior Jake Christensen, who had a Big Ten-low 53.5 completion percentage last season. Sophomore Rick Stanzi has the best chance of challenging if Christensen falters, but Stanzi hurt his left shoulder in July and was limited in his first weeks of camp.
Without an injury, it’s hard to imagine the Hawkeyes dipping past their third option, likely red-shirt freshman Marvin McNutt. McNutt does have good size (6-4, 210) and athleticism.
Ferentz was asked on media day if the job is Christensen’s to lose: “Yes and no. Right now it’s everybody’s job to lose or gain,” he said. “Jake is the front-runner, but he’s got to earn the job. He’s got to play the position better than he did a year ago, just like I’d expect anybody who’s a first-year player to.”
RED-SHIRT OR NOT?
There is precedence for a freshman to drop a red-shirt without playing meaningful minutes on the field. Just go back to 2003, Drew Tate’s freshman year was spent as Nathan Chandler’s caddie.
Vandenberg and Wienke will need to earn the right to carry a clipboard. They have two upperclassmen ahead of them. They come in with otherworldly high school stats — Vandenberg holds 12 Iowa prep records; Wienke was an Elite 11 QB.
But barring a sparkling camp, think red-shirt.
“To think really that they would get into the mix, that’s probably a big stretch,” Ferentz said. “But we’ll see what happens.”
HAWKEYES BOWL IF . . .
The offense doesn’t collapse around Christensen. He wasn’t a martyr last year. He has his share of blame to take for the Big Ten’s worst offense last season, but you can’t argue the O-line and receivers didn’t fail him time and again. If you buy into the “Stanzi pulling even” stuff, the leash will be considerably shorter for Christensen.
HAWKEYES HOME IF . . .
n If Christensen struggles and the depth chart fails to produce a viable backup. Last season, Christensen was the man, good and bad. If Iowa can’t produce a second option for a second consecutive season, then something’s really, really wrong.
— Marc Morehouse