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)


McNutt has come a long way from third-string QB to leading WR

April 18, 2009
Iowa's Marvin McNutt (7) and Jewel Hampton (27) smile on the filed during the Iowa Football Team's spring practice Saturday, April 18, 2009 in Iowa City, Iowa. Saturday's practice was the last practice of spring football. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Iowa's Marvin McNutt (7) and Jewel Hampton (27) smile on the filed during the Iowa Football Team's spring practice Saturday, April 18, 2009 in Iowa City, Iowa. Saturday's practice was the last practice of spring football. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)

Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt ran 40 yards down the field, one-on-one with safety Jack Swanson and had nothing but air between he and the goal line Saturday afternoon.

Then, the whistle blew. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi was whistled for a sack on a cornerback blitz. A sideline official trotted with McNutt and said, ‘You had hit beat.’

“I was gonna kill him,” McNutt said.

Next play, Iowa called the same play. Same result. On the third consecutive play, McNutt ran a fly down the  left sideline. This time, cornerback Amari Spievey covered McNutt. Stanzi threw it down the field, away from both players. McNutt just nodded his head, smiled and trotted back to the huddle.

McNutt, a red-shirt sophomore this fall, has become the team’s spring practice surprise. After the final spring practice Saturday, McNutt is listed as a starting wide receiver, opposite Trey Stross, and ahead of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. In Saturday’s scrimmage he caught one pass for 11 yards.

But he’s come a long way from third-round quarterback last fall. McNutt played in three games last year. He completed 1 of 3 passes for 1o yards and an interception. After shifting to wide receiver, he caught one pass for 11 yards.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to shift positions, McNutt said.

“I was very open because I just wanted to be a big part of this team, the Iowa Hawkeyes,” he said. “I wanted to show that I’m here for the Hawkeyes, I’m not here just for Marvin McNutt.

“It wasn’t really any disappointment because I kind of felt like they wanted to use me. I wasn’t looking at it like it like, ‘Oh, man, I’m not a quarterback anymore.’ They tried to get me involved in the program.”

 At St. Louis’ Hazelwood Central High School, he was a first-team all-stater quarterback. He threw for 3,308 yards and 31 touchdowns in his career. He also ran for 337 yards and eight touchdowns.

He was an all-around athlete, earning all-state honors in basketball and baseball as well. It was a tough decision to commit to one sport when he picked Iowa. 

“It really was,” he said. “Even when they asked me here, right before I came, would I want to try and play basketball. And my decision coming out of high school was, ‘Do I play more sports or do I just want to focus on one?’ And I just chose to focus on one in the beginning.”

McNutt provides a big target, standing 6 feet, 4 inches, and weighing 210 pounds. McNutt said that gives him an advantage over smaller cornerbacks. He’s also earned the respect of his teammates this spring, such as former competitor and starting quarterback Rick Stanzi.

“Hat’s off to Marv,” Stanzi said. “He’s done a great job of going and getting the football. He’s a big body, he’s a big target and he’s really worked on his speed this whole offseason and it showed with his play throughout the spring.

“He’s been really smart guy in the offense, it helps that he knew what was going on from the quarterback standpoint so when he goes out there to receiver it’s a lot easier for him.He’s showed a lot this spring, and we’re excited for the season for him.”


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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