Stanzi sports different look this spring

April 28, 2009
Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe gives instructions to quarterback Ricky Stanzi during the third quarter of the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 1, 2009, in Tampa, Fla. Iowa beat South Carolina, 31-10. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe gives instructions to quarterback Ricky Stanzi during the third quarter of the Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium on Jan. 1, 2009, in Tampa, Fla. Iowa beat South Carolina, 31-10. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

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.”

James Vandenberg

James Vandenberg

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.

Vandenberg clearly completed four of five passes to primary receivers, but had the same ratio to second- and third-option receivers as well. Wienke struggled a bit, completing three of seven passes for 34 yards and an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

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.”

Iowa quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi (12) and John Wienke (14) workout during the team's practice March 25, 2009 at the Kenyon Football Practice Facility in Iowa City.  (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Iowa quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi (12) and John Wienke (14) workout during the team's practice March 25, 2009 at the Kenyon Football Practice Facility in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)


Plenty of competition at QB for Iowa this spring

March 30, 2009
Iowa quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi (12) and John Wienke (14) workout during the team's practice Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at the Kenyon Football Practice Facility on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City.  (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Iowa quarterbacks Ricky Stanzi (12) and John Wienke (14) workout during the team's practice Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at the Kenyon Football Practice Facility on the University of Iowa campus in Iowa City. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Expectations were low for Iowa quarterback Rick Stanzi when he entered spring football last spring.

Stanzi had played in only two games in 2007, throwing the ball just four times with one interception. Jake Christensen had started all 12 games in 2007 and the quarterback job was his to lose.

“It is interesting last year at this time (Stanzi) wasn’t prominent in my thoughts,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s the neat thing about college football, I think, is a year ago he was down in the depth chart a little bit and really didn’t distinguish himself, I don’t think, until during the course of the spring. That’s when I thought maybe we had a little bit of a battle. I’m not sure we knew that going in.”

Stanzi’s battle with Christensen stretched from summer through early fall. Each player started two of Iowa’s first four games and both quarterbacks played with limited success. Following a one-point road loss at Pittsburgh, Ferentz ended the rotation by declaring Stanzi the starter.

The move seemed to pay off. Stanzi won eight of his 11 starts, including an upset of previously unbeaten Penn State and an Outback Bowl victory against South Carolina. He threw for 1,956 yards and 14 touchdowns. While he enters the season as the clear favorite for the starting position, Stanzi also will face challengers, Ferentz said.

“Good players expect competition and thrive on it and like it,” Ferentz said. “Obviously, Rick’s got a lot of things he can do better and should do better because he’s made a lot of first-time mistakes which all players make. Quarterbacks’ errors are a little more prominent obviously, that’s the downside.

“We’re hoping he can really refine his play.”

Red-shirt freshmen James Vandenberg and John Wienke enter spring football as Stanzi’s backups. Like Stanzi last year, both players have an opportunity to challenge the incumbent with a solid spring.

“Rick is clearly the favorite but we’re hoping both those guys can press him and make him better,” Ferentz said. “That’s what the thing’s all about, good competition out there and those guys both have a lot to learn. They were on the scout team last year, but we tried to give them some work in our offense. Both of them seem to be quick learners, so it’s going to be interesting to watch and see what they do and see where they’re at after 15 practices.”

Vandenberg, who stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 205 pounds, terrorized the Iowa high school record book after his senior season at Class 3A Keokuk. He holds 12 different state records, including career passing yards (7,709), single-season passing yards (3,729), career touchdown passes (93) and single-season touchdown passes (47).

Wienke (6-5, 220) also dominated high school football, throwing for 6,070 yards and 68 touchdowns at his high school in Tuscola, Ill.

“They’re a lot alike in a lot of ways,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got great personalities, they love football, they love being on he field, they make you feel good just being around them.

“They compete hard, yet they like each other and work well with each other. It’s an interesting dynamic.”

About 14 months ago, Iowa had four quarterbacks on its roster. Along with Stanzi and Christensen, who will graduate and transfer to another college for his final year of eligibility, quarterbacks Arvell Nelson and Marvin McNutt were in competition. Nelson left the program after a drug arrest and played free safety at Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College last year. McNutt, who entered last fall as the third quarterback, shifted to wide receiver a couple of games into the fall last year.

The defections of Christensen and Nelson, along with McNutt’s position change have left the backup position open.

“That’s part of the process here in the next 15 days,” Ferentz said, “is to see who does what and see if one will move ahead of the other.”


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