IOWA CITY — Within seconds of his team’s final spring football practice, Iowa quarterback Rick Stanzi showed a new side of himself.
Yes, like most veteran Iowa football players, he spouted coached-up cliches about working hard every day, competition and trying to get better. But he had a new look to him as well.
Gone is the flopping hair that Stanzi wore throughout the 2008 season. Stanzi, a current sophomore, now features a trim haircut.
“I think it’s more of a comfort thing,” Stanzi said. “I was saying I was going to grow my hair out for the season. And the next thing you know you flip a switch in your head and you say, ‘Ah, I’ll just cut it. It’s just better this way.’”
In the Hawkeyes’ final spring scrimmage, Stanzi was fairly sharp. Unofficially, he completed 6 of 12 passes during team competition for 91 yards. Stanzi — whether it was intentional or he was smooth through his reads — appeared to throw toward his primary option in all but one of passes.
“Rick certainly improved this spring,” Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said. “From his leadership ability to making decisions at the line of scrimmage to getting us in to the right types of plays and getting the ball where it’s supposed to go, most importantly as well. So he took advantage of each and every one of the 15 workouts that we had and took his job seriously and really came away a better player.”
Stanzi started 11 games last year. He completed 150 of 254 passes for 1,956 yards and 14 touchdowns. He threw nine interceptions but finished fourth in the Big Ten in passer efficiency.
In the offseason he’s watched tape on multiple NFL quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Cassel and tried to emulate some of their performances. But more importantly, Stanzi has tried to refine his game entering his junior season.
Stanzi ran 56 times last year for a net of 20 yards, which also was his longest run. He often scattered from the pocket if his primary receiver was covered.
“If there’s one thing that I really tried to work on it was probably be comfortable in the pocket,” Stanzi said. “It’s kind of hard to not practice that when you don’t have the line in front of you, and you’re in 7-on-7 drills. You try to soak up each rep that you get when you’ve got a full rush coming on and it’s not always easy. But it’s something, watching film and practicing as much as you can in the offseason, I hope to fix and so I can sit in the pocket and make better decisions and be more sure with my feet.”
When addressing the media, Stanzi now seems more confident when talking about his role. He sticks to the successful concepts of hard work, improvement and consistency. But, according to Coach Kirk Ferentz, he’s added one more successful trait this offseason.
“The most growth I’ve seen from him, and this started before we started spring practice, is just in the leadership realm,” Ferentz said. “But that’s what you expect again from a guy who has played and has got the confidence of actually playing on the field and has had some success. So the next step for me, especially at that position, is grow to a leadership role, and I think he’s done that. The players really respect what he does, how he works and his toughness.”
Stanzi clearly is the starter, but he faces competition from incoming red-shirt freshmen James Vandenberg and John Wienke. Unofficially, Vandenberg completed 8 of 10 passes in the scrimmage for 132 yards.
Stanzi is no stranger to competition at Iowa. About 14 months ago he was locked in with three other quarterbacks, including incumbent Jake Christensen, entering spring practice. Since then, Christensen and Arvell Nelson either have transferred or will transfer and Marvin McNutt was shifted to wide receiver.
“You’re always competing,” Stanzi said. “That’s the only way anyone can get better.”