IOWA CITY, Iowa – They’re more solidified as a group.
They’re better at providing leadership.
They’re more dangerous on offense because their new starting quarterback has a powerful right arm and isn’t afraid to use it.
And they’re ready to fix all that ails the sputtering Iowa football program under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz.
That was the message said over and over during the Iowa football team’s annual media day event on Saturday.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned about this football team this summer I think is just there were a lot of guys last year that had potential to be great leaders on this team, and I think this offseason I’ve seen a lot guys step up and become leaders,” said new starting quarterback C.J. Beathard. “Whether it be doing things in the weight room the right way, getting people out here to throw on our own, just the leadership is a lot more present than it was last year.”
Media day has a way of making every goal seem within reach and every problem seem correctable. If you can’t feel good on media day, then something is seriously wrong.
The situation hasn’t reached the serious stage under Ferentz, but it’s creeping that way, one average season and one horizontal pass at a time.
Fans have shown their displeasure by purchasing fewer season tickets.
Not to worry say the current players because the 2015 team is different than the 2014 Hawkeye squad that lost its final three games to finish 7-6 overall. It’s different say the current players because it’s more unified and more focused on the task ahead.
It’s common for players to talk about being unified at media day, but not at the expense of the previous team, especially at Iowa where saying the right things publicly is emphasized more than running between the tackles.
None of the players went as far as to criticize former starting quarterback Jake Rudock, who now plays for Michigan, but they made it sound as if last year’s team was divided by the competition that ultimately turned into a quarterback controversy.
The only controversy at quarterback right now is what’ll happen should Beathard get injured? Rudock and Beathard together might have been a distraction, but life without Rudock, who started 25 games for Iowa, also has some concerns.
“I went to sleep last year feeling really good that I had two guys if something happened,” said Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis. “I’m not sleeping as well right now. I think I will. But right now, I’m not.”
Davis seemed annoyed on Saturday with having to readdress the decision to make Beathard the starter. The decision came shortly after last season, and after Beathard’s father had hinted in a newspaper article in the days leading up to the TaxSlayer Bowl that his son might transfer.
The timing of the position switch gave the impression that Ferentz caved to a meddling father.
“That was a long time ago,” Davis said. “I think we’ve talked about it. We just felt that we needed to make a decision that was best for the team and we made it.
“It wasn’t anything extraordinary. It was just something that we sat down and felt we needed to do, and we did it.”
Davis is wrong to suggest that benching a two-year starting quarterback isn’t extraordinary. It is under any circumstance, but even more so when it happens shortly after the end of a season in which the backup played sparingly when the starter was healthy.
Beathard apparently decided at some point last season that he didn’t want to wait until his senior year to start for the Hawkeyes. He forced the coaches to make a choice and they chose Beathard.
They sacrificed depth in order to eliminate a distraction, although, it seemed pretty clear that the loser in the quarterback competition would leave.
It’s not surprising that Beathard has emerged as a leader. The backup quarterback might be the most popular guy on campus, but that still doesn’t make him a leader on the field or in the locker room.
“I think it has cleared the air,” Davis said of Rudock’s departure. “And that’s why I think one of the first things you’ve seen is the growth of (Beathard’s) leadership.
“He’s much more vocal now and taking charge and all that kind of stuff.”
A quarterback can’t be a leader by himself, though. It also takes a strong senior class to bring a team together.
Iowa has 20 seniors on the current roster, including 11 who are listed as starters.
“There are a lot of seniors this year and a lot of us have talked about being successful this season during the offseason,” said senior receiver Tevaun Smith. “We all work out together in the offseason and we’re pushing each other as seniors.
“I feel like there is a lot of chemistry on the whole team. And we all feel like we have that chip on our shoulder.”
Smith’s comment seemed like another subtle hint that the environment is better suited for winning this season compared to a year ago.
The players want us to believe that all the right pieces are now in place and that everybody is on the same page when maybe that wasn’t the case last season.
But in fairness to Rudock, there was a buzz at media day last year with Iowa coming off an 8-5 season after winning just four games in 2012. He was described by his teammates as the thinking man’s quarterback, a stoic leader who did whatever it takes to win.
Now we’re supposed to believe that Iowa is better off without Rudock.
For Ferentz’s sake, it had better be.