Football Catch Up

Hey folks! First time in a long time…well, I guess long is relative…but hey, let’s chat!

MOST ARE BACK: Charlie Jones, Jack Campbell, Riley Moss, Sam LaPorta are all coming back for 2021. Dane Belton and Tyler Linderbaum are not. Both Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla will also be back for the spring semester. More on that in a minute.

First, Linderbaum had to go. He is arguably the best center in the history of the program, or at least the best center in the living memory of most Iowa fans, regardless of their ages. He is a sure-fire first round pick and could be the highest drafted center in a generation. Given the center position and where the best of the best are typically drafted, Linderbaum had nothing to gain by returning to Iowa, at least financially. That injury scare in the bowl game might have made the decision even easier. I suspect his decision was a lot like that of TJ Hockenson; you want to come back and be a Hawkeye player one more season…but life changing money is on the table and you have to take it. All the best to the former Solon Spartan.

Belton’s decision wasn’t as cut and dried as Linderbaum’s from a financial standpoint, but I also think he made a solid choice. I am not sure he could have improved his draft stock any more than a round had he come back and I don’t know that he was going to play his way into a day one draft position. So why not get paid for next year’s football season as opposed to risking injury in college.

Now, as for the first four names mentioned…

Moss: The Big Ten’s Defensive Back of the Year is like landing a five-star commitment. Does he move to Belton’s CASH position? Maybe not, but Iowa is deep in the secondary and Moss’ return means one quarter of the field is going to be thrown at a lot less than the other three-quarters. I could have tossed Jack Koerner’s name as someone else who is not returning, but everyone has the COVID year…Jack had a heck of a final season for Iowa, but his departure gives Xavier Nwankpa, an early-enrollee, a better shot to see the field early.

Jones: I am really happy to see him return. Having at least one aged veteran in the wide receiver room is a good thing, but Jones’ value in the return game is self evident. I said this last year and stand by it, he’s the best punt returner Iowa has had since Tim Dwight, and Dwight was one of the best in Big Ten history. We all know how dependent Iowa is on hidden yardage and Jones was second in the league in kickoff return average and fifth in punt return average in 2021 after being 1st in punt return average in 2020. ISM was #1 in the league in kickoff return average in 2020 and one of the best in Big Ten history…so the Hawkeyes have had one of the leagues best kickoff returners for a good stretch now and Jones’ return means more of the same in 2021.

LaPorta: I feel this was the right decision, as LaPorta has a chance to play his way into a first or second round draft position with another solid year. While he might not lead the team in receptions and receiving yards in 2022 as he did in 2021, I think he can add that ‘star’ gear with one more year in a program that produces tight end stars.

Campbell: The league’s third leading tackler and an All American at linebacker…and he’s growing into one of the best interior linebackers Iowa has ever had, which is saying something.

The defense figures to have a good chance of being a National Top 15 unit yet again next year. Losing Zach Van Valkenberg, Belton, Koerner and Matt Hankins stings, but Iowa was living without Hankins for the last quarter of the season and I really liked what I saw from so many younger linemen this year. The offensive line was one of the biggest disappointments this year, and even though they lose Linderbaum, I think there is a chance the entire 2022 group could play better. Iowa will be better at tackle and solid at guard…who they plug in to replace Linderbaum has the biggest of shoes to fill.

This leads us to quarterback.

What I am about to say is my opinion and my opinion alone. It’s not shaped by any conversations I have had with anyone. Just thinking through things.

Both Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla are set to be in spring camp. Petras is a two-year starter and Padilla started a few games when Petras was not at 100% physically. That’s really the bottom line here; Petras was never pulled from a game in favor of Padilla when Petras was 100% healthy. Padilla’s high school coach was chirping on twitter after Alex was pulled during the Nebraska game. Padilla didn’t play one snap in the bowl game when Petras turned in a forgettable first half. Petras’ performance in that bowl game, like much of the 2021, was rather meh to uninspiring.

I didn’t expect both Petras AND Padilla to be in the program for the Spring 2022 semester. I assumed both players would meet with Kirk Ferentz after the bowl game, and based on what Kirk told them, one would hear something he liked and stay put where the other would hear something he did not like and enter the transfer portal. However, both will be enrolled when classes begin this week…at least, that is the assumption this ten seconds.

This is where I begin to speculate…because I am certain that conversation with Kirk Ferentz happened for both players.  I see two viable scenarios relative to how that conversation when down:

Scenario One:  Kirk told both players that the competition for quarterback was wide open for the spring, and nobody had the job locked up.  Padilla chose to bet on himself and his desire to be Iowa’s starting quarterback, so he said ‘Game on, I’ll see you in the weight room in January’, where Petras felt much the same, and being the incumbent, believes he has the inside track.

I find that to be the less likely scenario, especially in this day and age, the transfer portal, Padilla having enough on tape to likely have gotten a scholarship at a P5 school (unlike Duece Hogan, whose mom famously brought up teammates comparing him to Patrick Mahomes, who will be walking on at Kentucky).

Scenario Two: Kirk told Padilla that he will be competing for the starting job with Joey Labas, and that Petras is going to be a backup.  Petras was also told this, and he realizes he is unlikely to be an NFL quarterback, and he loves being a Hawkeye, being with this band of brothers and he also had Kirk Ferentz’s deep respect, which if someone wants to get into coaching or the like, isn’t a bad thing to have.

Now, you may think Scenario Two is a bit far fetched…but given that Padilla has likely already heard that the QB competition was wide open relative to last spring and summer, and he had the chance to start a few games and performed, at least generally, similar to what we saw from Petras but with the ability to move his feet…and was replaced by Petras late in the season and for the bowl game?

I just find it hard that he would accept Scenario One, when he could transfer to a new program to start the spring semester and before spring drills at a new program which would give him a far better chance of earning a starting job in 2022 than if he transfers after the Spring of 2022 semester and just three or four months before the start of the 2022 season.

Maybe I am missing other plausible scenarios…I don’t have the market cornered on critical thinking and perhaps I am just off base here…but it’s what comes to mind.

Regardless, I just don’t think it’s wise to recruit/start a quarterback who can’t extend plays with his feet.  Perhaps Petras can put in some prodigious offseason work that helps him get to that point.  I guess it’s not impossible, it’s just not probable.  Padilla can do that, but his accuracy was sub 50% and he didn’t play against the level of defenses that Petras saw.  Labas is essentially and unknown commodity who turned a ton of heads directing the Scout Team this year (which is the real reason why Hogan is no longer at Iowa, despite momma’s protests).

Center and Quarterback are the two biggest question marks for me going into this offseason….which is…kind of concerning, no?

(EDIT: Sharing something that was tweeted at me as a plausible Scenario Three…which, if I am being honest, may have Occam’s Razor on its side)

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