Harty: Life after C.J. Beathard at quarterback should be intriguing
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Of all the storylines heading into the offseason for the Iowa football team, one of the more intriguing involves somebody who doesn’t even start.
That somebody right now is sophomore-to-be quarterback Tyler Wiegers.
He has the role of next-man-in behind senior-to-be CJ. Beathard, who is coming off a junior season in which he made second-team all-Big Ten while leading Iowa to the Big Ten West Division title and a 12-2 record.
The old saying that the backup quarterback is the most popular player on campus doesn’t describe Iowa at this point. Beathard endeared himself to Iowa fans by playing injured and by doing whatever it took to win games.
It was basically Beathard or bust in 2015. Wiegers appeared in four games, completing 3-of-4 passes for 32 yards as the backup.
The other two quarterbacks on scholarship this past season were true freshmen Drew Cook and Ryan Boyle. The plan heading into the season was to redshirt both of them and that’s what happened. Neither Cook nor Boyle appeared in a game, meaning they’ll both have four seasons of eligibility beginning next fall.
So while Beathard works this spring to take his game to the next level, Wiegers will work to stay ahead of Cook and Boyle, both of whom are two of the most celebrated quarterbacks in Iowa high school history.
That has intrigue written all over it because whoever emerges as Beathard’s backup next season, will be in line for significant playing time beginning with the 2017 season. Wiegers would have two seasons to start, while Cook and Boyle would have three apiece, assuming they would hold on to the position.
Incoming freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley also will be in the mix next season, assuming he honors his verbal commitment and signs a letter of intent with Iowa in February.
And there is no guarantee Beathard will stay healthy next season. He was injured for much of the 2015 season, but not severely enough to where he missed any playing time.
The 6-foot-4, 222-pound Wiegers currently has an edge over Boyle and Cook, partly due to having one more year of experience in the program.
Wiegers still could have an edge after spring drills because it only consists of 15 practices against your own teammates. The biggest challenge for Wiegers will be to stay ahead of Cook and Boyle throughout the 2016 season.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz stressed throughout the 2015 season that Cook and Boyle were equal. Offensive coordinator Greg Davis said the same thing.
It seemed that Ferentz and Davis didn’t want to offend or discourage either freshman quarterback by listing one ahead of the other.
The subject was brought up early in the season after reporters noticed that Boyle was third in the rotation for taking snaps, while Cook was fourth.
Ferentz said the rotation meant nothing in terms of the depth chart and that Cook and Boyle still were even.
It made sense to keep both freshmen quarterbacks on equal ground throughout the 2015 season because there was no need to identify a third-team quarterback. An injury to Beathard or Wiegers would’ve stripped Ferentz of that luxury, but it didn’t happen.
This coming spring probably will be the first time that Ferentz and Davis talk specifically about where each of the freshmen quarterbacks stand.
Wiegers made huge strides from last spring to this season based on his performance in two open practices. In the spring, he looked tentative and was inaccurate as a passer. By fall, though, he had a better grasp of the offense and was hitting his target more frequently.
It’s reasonable to assume that Cook and Boyle will make similar progress this coming spring. They both know the playbook and have watched a 14-game season unfold.
Cook led Iowa City Regina High School to two consecutive state titles as a starting quarterback, while Boyle led West Des Moines Dowling Catholic to two in a row as a junior and senior.
Both players were effective at running and throwing in high school.
Cook rushed for over 1,100 yards during his high school career despite barely playing in the second half of multiple games in which Regina led by a wide margin.
Boyle combined for 366 rushing attempts as a junior and senior, compiling more than 3,000 rushing yards in high school.
Beathard showed this season the value of having a quarterback who can create offense with his legs. He kept alive numerous drives by scrambling for first downs.
Cook and Boyle would appear to have that same skill set, but neither has shown it at this level yet.
The biggest difference between Cook and Boyle is size. Cook is listed at 6-5, 220, while Boyle is listed at 6-2, 215.
There is speculation Cook might switch to tight end where his father, Marv Cook, was a star for Iowa and in the NFL.
But the younger Cook is adamant about his desire to play quarterback. Drew Cook wants to carve his own path from behind center and create his own legacy.
He brings a unique skill set to the quarterback position, as does Boyle.
And together, they bring a lot of intrigue to a position that’ll be up for grabs a year from now.