CHICAGO – Now that the awkwardness of the off-season has disappeared, Kirk Ferentz can openly speak on the virtues of his new starting quarterback. When he does, you can tell Iowa’s coach has a great deal of respect for C.J. Beathard as a person and player.
Ferentz named the junior his top signal caller with the release of an unprecedented January depth chart. He dropped two-year starter Jake Rudock down to the second line leading to his spring transfer to Michigan.
When the media last had access to Ferentz in April, he still tip-toed around the subject of his quarterbacks. At the Big Ten Media Day here last week, he lowered his guard.
"He’s an other-people kind of guy," the coach said of Beathard. "He’s very cognizant of others, in a good way. He does what he does but I think he’s very aware.
"He’s a really good teammate. He’s very unselfish. Even cutting his hair, that was a charity thing, which doesn’t surprise me. He’s been raised right. He’s got a lot of empathy for people and I think he’s certainly demonstrated a lot of maturity in the past six, eight months. It’s been fun to watch him."
Beathard’s calling card has been his strong arm and his long golden locks. He chopped them off and donated them to be used for children who had lost their hair from cancer treatments.
"It probably is a family trait. He comes from a tremendous family," Ferentz said of Beathard’s generosity. "I know his granddad (longtime NFL executive Bobby Beathard) as well as his mom and dad. But it starts there.
"He’s got a good heart. He looks at the world in a way that you’d hope all people do. He cares a lot about the people he’s around. So that’s a good starting place."
Iowa faltered down the stretch of the 2014 season, losing four of it’s last five games. That stretch included beat-downs at the hands of Minnesota and Tennessee. At the center of the fans’ discontent was the quarterback situation.
Many folks among the Hawkeye faithful called for Beathard throughout the season. Ferentz and the coaches stuck with Rudock. He missed one start due to injury but was under center to begin 25 of 26 contests over the last two campaigns.
Things apparently clicked for Beathard during bowl prep. Earlier in the year, when fans were calling for a change, Ferentz wasn’t seeing it.
"Going back in the fall, there was a day that stands out in my mind early in the season that was underwhelming at a time where maybe I was hoping to maybe see him be a little bit more ready to go," Ferentz said.
"But I think the work that he’s done since that, that’s what I’m more focused on and excited about. It’s like every player. If we’re going to be a good team or a guy is going to be a good player, he’s going to have to keep climbing the ladder."
Beathard’s lone start last season illustrated the good and bad with Beathard. He overcame a first-half Pick-6 to lead the Hawkeyes to a road victory with solid play after the intermission.
Ferentz said that the Tennessee native has advanced his game beyond the guy whose rifle arm captured the imagination of fans.
"He’s always had a live arm. That’s never been the issue," Ferentz said. "He’s always been willing to throw the ball, sometimes too willing to throw the ball when we wouldn’t want him to.
"I think that’s what we’ve seen, the maturity, the growing-up part of it, and using a little bit better judgment. So, he’s always had good skills but now he’s in a better position to really use those in a really productive way where he can help our team be an offense that’s going to function the way we want to."
Stepping into the role of starting quarterback at Iowa carries with it expectations. It’s arguably the most recognized position of any athlete in the state. With it comes pressure.
"I think that’s just part of being a quarterback, especially in a system like ours," Ferentz said. "It’s always been an important position so if you’re going to be that guy you better willing to accept that because that’s part of the territory. There’s no escaping that."
Ferentz believes Beathard has the maturity to handle being under the microscope and is preparing to be there.
"The thing that I’m really pleased about just watching C.J. is that since January he’s taken each step and embraced it," the coach said. "You can tell he’s really trying to not only be a good quarterback but trying to be a leader. The last couple of months I haven’t had the ability to see him throw a football but I’ve seen him condition. I’ve seen how he’s approached that and how he’s attacked that and that’s been really impressive."
Beathard can hurt opponents with his legs in addition to his arm. The delicate dynamic there is that his back-up, Tyler Wiegers, is a redshirt freshman with no college snaps under his belt.
In the past, Beathard has taken hits instead of sliding out of harm’s way. Ferentz has discussed that with him.
"We might have to borrow the sliding pit from (Iowa Baseball) Coach (Rick) Heller," the coach joked. "Maybe he’ll let us come over and take a visit.
"I’m all for him running as long as he runs smart. We just can’t have him taking senseless chances. That’s not what we’re looking for."
Should something unfortunate happen to Beathard or he struggles to perform at the level Iowa needs him to do be successful, Wiegers stands next in line. Things could get interesting at that point.
"The first part of spring was a little bit tough. He had a hard time actually getting the plays called and getting the guys to snap the ball and come off together. There’s something to that. You can do it in the meeting room but it’s different when you’re out there on the field. Every quarterback goes through that," Ferentz said.
"I thought the progress he made in the second part of spring was substantial. I know how he approaches things. He’s a really serious student, serious about everything he does."
Incoming freshmen Drew Cook and Ryan Boyle will compete for the No. 3 spot this spring. If things work out the way the coaches would like, they’ll both red shirt.
"We’ll see how that goes. You have to have a No. 3 ready to go. But then the reality is it’s hard to get No. 3 ready. It’s one of those double-edged swords. Right now our No. 1 focus is, obviously, having C.J. ready to play in games and then having Tyler ready to step in if something were to happen," Ferentz said.
Ferentz likely would feel a lot better had Rudock stayed another year at Iowa. That would allow the young signal callers more time to develop. That wasn’t meant to be and there are no hard feeling on the Hawkeye side.
"Jake is a great young guy," Ferentz said. "We’ve got nothing but respect for him. He was totally on board his entire time at Iowa so I wish nothing but the best for him. I know he’s going to do well academically. I hope everything works out for him athletically, too. He’s a great young guy."