Cade McNamara is Iowa’s starting QB, other takeaways from spring training Day 1
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Hawkeyes opened spring training Wednesday morning with many question marks remaining, especially on offense.
Foot injuries flooded the sidelines, which coach Kirk Ferentz said included 10 offseason surgeries. Among those out for part or all of the spring are sixth-year defensive tackle Noah Shannon, wide receivers Seth Anderson and Jacob Bostick and offensive lineman Gennings Dunker. The good news is that former starting cornerback Jermari Harris is returning after missing the entire 2022 season and transfer tight end Erick All was going full steam ahead Wednesday morning.
Iowa releases its spring football depth chart. Four transfers appear on the two-deep offense, and new WR Seth Anderson will have a chance at upward mobility. June arrivals guard Rusty Feth (Miami-Ohio) and LB Nick Jackson (Virginia) are not there yet. pic.twitter.com/04QLX3CTKX
—Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) March 22, 2023
Spring football ends on April 22 after three practices per week for five weeks. With one practice less and 14 to go, here are six takeaways from Ferentz:
1. Cade McNamara is the starter, period.
On the initial spring depth chart, the former Michigan quarterback was at the top. It’s no surprise, but at no time in recent memory has Iowa listed a transfer as a starter before the first practice.
As a full-time starter in 2021, McNamara threw for 2,576 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions while completing 64% of his passes. He guided the Wolverines to the Big Ten title and a college football playoff appearance. Last year he played three games but suffered a knee injury and was out for the season after surgery. McNamara is almost fully recovered but will be held back from team activities threatening to re-injure his knee.
“The good news is that he throws individual stuff, he throws on his own,” Ferentz said. “He’s capable of going seven-on-seven right now. As long as there is no one around him, as long as he is comfortable, we will let him participate in this.
“He’s not going to move much right now. I think we’re still probably a month and a half, two months away from it being at full speed. He is able to do things like that.
What does Cade McNamara bring to Iowa?
The competition for McNamara’s backup is intriguing with sophomores Joe Labas and Deacon Hill this spring. Labas started the Music City Bowl when Spencer Petras suffered a torn labrum and rotator cuff in his right shoulder in the regular season finale. Hill started last fall at Wisconsin, then left after Paul Chryst was fired as head coach. He initially committed to Fordham but returned to Iowa in January after freshman Carson May reached the portal.
“I think it will be a good competition from what I’ve seen,” Ferentz said. “I think Joe has done a really good job over the month making some major progress.
“Where he is now compared to where he was in December is day and night. He looks like he’s been in the program, sort of figuring things out. We’re delighted with him. We are delighted with Deacon and Cade. I think we have a good player coming to join us in June (real rookie Mario Lainez III), as well.
2. Thin OL – for now.
At first glance, Iowa’s offensive line is full of experience. Left tackle Mason Richman (25 starts), left guard Connor Colby (24), center Logan Jones (13), right guard Beau Stephens (10), right tackle Nick DeJong (17) are all back, all like starters Tyler Elsbury (2) and Gennings Dunker (1). Additionally, transfer graduate Daijon Parker has 18 starts since moving to Division II Saginaw (Mich.) Valley State. In June, Miami (Ohio) lineman Rusty Feth joins the program as a grad transfer after earning second-team All-MAC honors at center.
But…Iowa’s offensive line struggled mightily last year. The Hawkeyes produced 251.6 yards per game, the lowest production for a Big Ten team since Ferentz took over in 1999. Inconsistency and youthfulness were major issues for the unit, which has condemned the whole offensive. Of the returnees, only DeJong is a senior. Richman and Colby started as freshmen in 2021. Stephens and Dunker were freshmen last year. Jones moved to center last spring after playing defensive tackle, and he’s been out for most of the 2021 season with a knee injury.
“I went through the litany of challenges that we’ve probably faced over the past two years with this group and continue to face because we’re a little skinny right now,” Ferentz said. “I wish we weren’t, but we are.
“In my experience, the only way to improve is to go for it. You have to practice it, you have to repeat it, just improve in developing your skills, and physical maturity helps. I still remain very cautiously optimistic. If we can do what we need to do reasonably, I think we’ll be fine. But I’d be misleading to say that the past two years have been the norm we want or hope for. That’s how it is .”
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3. AIRBHG returns, this time to the receiver.
About a decade ago, Iowa fan site Black Heart Gold Pants dubbed the glut of starting running backs AIRBHG – Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God. In recent years, it seems the acronym has lost a letter and moved a group of positions.
Clearly, AIRHG (receiver without running back) found Iowa’s receiving corps worth infesting. After offseason transfers and pre-camp injuries, the Hawkeyes were down to just one scholarship recipient in the team’s first two games last season. This spring, redshirt freshman Jacob Bostick (foot) is absent and recent transfer Seth Anderson (soft tissue) is likely absent from all 15 practices. Sophomore Brody Brecht remains with the team but in a limited capacity as he pitches for the baseball team.
“(Anderson is a) great young man,” Ferentz said. “He looks like a great athlete. Good attitude. Everything was positive. Unfortunately, before the break, he suffered a soft tissue injury.
It will be difficult for the offense to build cohesion with only two scholarship recipients available for spring training – sixth-year product Nico Ragaini and junior Diante Vines. Anderson, Bostick and Brecht are all expected to be available this summer along with rookie Alex Mota, Jarriett Buie and Dayton Howard. The Hawkeyes could also hit the portal again in early May.
A key difference from the offensive line is that the receiving corps can continue to work with McNamara and other quarterbacks in pitching sessions and seven-on-seven practices once they are all healthy. .
4. Welcome back, Jermari Harris.
Now a redshirt junior, Harris (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) has started four games at cornerback in 2021, had four passes and broken four more. He intercepted McNamara in that season’s Big Ten Championship game and recorded his best game in the Citrus Bowl with a late game interception, six tackles and two breakups. But in that game, Harris injured his shoulder and then encountered a different injury that kept him out of action all year. Now Harris is back and listed as the starting right cornerback.
“He went through a tough medical situation, a serious injury,” Ferentz said. “He tried to come back. It became apparent when he tried to come back that it wasn’t going to be a positive, so he went ahead and got it fixed.
“But throughout, he was invested. He was an excellent teammate on the field, totally involved. He helped lead. You talk about the leadership vacuum; he’s going to be one of those guys. He is in front. No it will be; he is. Totally invested.”
5. Good news tight end.
While injuries have limited many position groups, the Hawkeyes learned some good news with All participating fully on Wednesday. All, who played with McNamara at Michigan, caught 38 passes for 437 yards and two touchdowns in 2021. He was team captain last year, but an early-season back injury required surgery and left him cost the season. All joins junior Luke Lachey (28 catches for 398 yards, four touchdowns in 2022) to form one of the best tight tandems in the country.
“We weren’t sure initially two months ago, but (All has) went really well,” Ferentz said. “I think the first positive thing, he went skating, I think it was in Cincinnati again, over Christmas. It was a good sign. But he has made really good progress.
“We’re going to be smart about how much work he does, so we don’t overdo it now. He was at full speed this morning. We expect him to be there all spring.
6. Let’s move on.
Ferentz had little interest in discussing two topics that dominated the offseason: his son’s new contract arrangement and the recent settlement related to a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by former black players.
While a federal judge’s decision may be just days away, the state attorney general’s office has forced a settlement — due to concerns from the University of Iowa, de Ferentz and other defendants — to pay $4.175 million to former players and their attorneys on March 6. State lawmakers and elected officials have denounced the state’s negotiated price of $2 million for the settlement and called on the athletic department to pay it. On March 9, UI President Barbara Wilson agreed to take over the settlement portion of the state.
Iowa finalizes settlement in racial discrimination case
Even though the judge did not rule for summary judgment, Ferentz was confident he would have won the case had it gone to trial.
“That’s my opinion,” he said. “I was very involved in this. Worked closely with the legal experts on the thing. That’s my opinion. That’s why I said it. It’s resolved. Can’t say much – something more.
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who is officially overseen by athletic director Gary Barta due to state nepotism laws, had his two-year rotation halted, had his salary reduced by $50,000 from his 2022 salary and will need to average 25 points per game to keep his job after the 2023 season.
“It was really between Gary and Brian, that arrangement,” Ferentz said. “Gary supervises Brian for obvious reasons. It’s really the same thing. It’s in the books. We are moving forward. It’s not something we think about. We are thinking of our entire football team who are having a great season.
(Photo: Matthew Holst/Getty Images)