WEST DES MOINES – First, let’s start with the good.
Junior quarterback C.J. Beathard made it through Saturday’s open practice at Valley Stadium unscathed.
At the risk of sounding like Captain Obvious, the 2015 Iowa football team would be in serious trouble if Beathard gets injured.
Former starter Jake Rudock isn’t around to play backup and redshirt freshman Tyler Wiegers is still a ways from being ready to compete at this level.
That isn’t a knock against Wiegers because he just needs more time to develop. He certainly has the size (6-foot-4, 222 pounds) and the arm strength, but it takes more than that to excel as a Big Ten quarterback.
One thing it takes is a talented and experienced supporting cast, which Iowa doesn’t have at this stage. There is talent, but it’s scattered throughout the roster and much of it is unproven at this level.
Beathard threw lasers on Saturday, beautiful, tight spirals that usually hit their target. He looked comfortable behind center. He looked like a quarterback who knows that his starting job is safe and secure.
“He’s done a really good job in nine days of practice, and even prior to that with his leadership and what have you,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Beathard. “Now he’s got free reign here if you will and I think that’s encouraged him to step forward a little bit as a leader, which is something a quarterback has to do.”
What Ferentz meant by free reign is that Beathard isn’t looking over his shoulder at Rudock, who started 25 of Iowa’s last 26 games. Iowa has gone from having one quarterback controversy to another that in my opinion is more serious.
Gone is the controversy between Beathard and Rudock about who should be the starter. That’s been settled, but at a heavy cost with Rudock now transferring to Michigan to play his senior season.
The new controversy is the lack of depth at quarterback. The pickings were slim on Saturday as I didn’t see another quarterback on the field except Beathard and Wiegers.
I never did spot sophomore walk-on Justin Joyce on the field Saturday. And that’s it for quarterbacks on Iowa’s current roster.
Incoming freshman quarterback Ryan Boyle attended Saturday’s practice, but he still has to graduate from West Des Moines Dowling Catholic High School before entering Iowa’s quarterback competition next fall.
The only other quarterback candidate is Drew Cook, who also has to graduate from Iowa City Regina before becoming a Hawkeye this coming fall.
Boyle and Cook are both intriguing talents, but they both also could benefit from redshirting next season.
And fans can rave all they want about Beathard’s upside, but he’s still mostly unproven at this level, with just one start under his belt.
Ferentz was asked after Saturday’s practice if the play calling might change without having an experienced backup quarterback on the roster.
“You can’t play scared,” Ferentz said. “You have to play football.
“But we do need C.J. to play smart. And that’s true of any quarterback that’s in there. You don’t want them running smack into linebackers. That’s not smart. If it’s a game-winning play, that’s one thing.”
I wouldn’t want Beathard running smack into anything under the current circumstances. I’m not saying he has to live in a protective bubble over the summer, but he has to stay healthy in order for Iowa to have a realistic chance of competing for anything worthwhile.
Depth is always a concern for Iowa, but even more so with this team. It’s hard to imagine the receivers being very productive without senior Tevaun Smith leading the way. Smith is another player who has to stay healthy for Iowa to make a run.
Senior kicker Marshall Koehn also falls into that group, even more so if he becomes the starting punter. Iowa will need all the help it can get next season, including favorable field position.
As for the good news, several players stood out to me, including sophomore strong safety Miles Taylor and his backup, Brandon Snyder. They’re both aggressive against the run and sure-tacklers, which are two things Iowa’s defense didn’t show in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
I also thought that converted receiver Derrick Mitchell Jr. showed some flashes at running back. He hit the hole hard on Saturday, while also showing a little wiggle.
Senior defensive end Drew Ott also has all-Big Ten potential, as does senior center Austin Blythe. So the cupboard hardly is bare.
But after watching Saturday’s practice, I’m convinced even more that Iowa’s success next fall will depend mostly on who is playing quarterback. I’m afraid what to think if it’s not Beathard.