By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Even during a COVID-shortened season, junior Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras heard a full season’s worth of criticism.
Petras led Iowa to a 6-2 record and finished third in the Big Ten with 1,569 passing yards in 2020.
“It is what it is,” Petras said. “I’ve had my fair share of experience watching Nate (Stanley) deal with it. Everyone has their own opinion, and that’s OK. No offense to the fans, I could care less what they say about my performance and improvement and trying to have a great spring.”
This is the 6-foot-5, 231-pound Petras’ first spring as a starting quarterback.
Spring practice was canceled last year due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz reminded fans and the media several times last season that spring is an important time for a football team, but particularly quarterbacks.
“Spring is great,” Petras said. “Spring is an opportunity for us older guys to develop our chemistry and really work on our offense. It’s really 15 practices to just improve. And then for young guys, a lot of time this is their first real opportunity to get some real reps with our offense, learn the system some, and learn how to execute efficiently in our system.”
Petras, a native of San Rafael, California, said he spent a lot of time self-scouting and watching film of other quarterbacks like Alabama’s Mac Jones.
Petras said he wants to improve on his 57.1% completion percentage, among other things.
“I want to get that completion percentage up to about 65%, at least,” Petras said. “I think that comes from mainly two things. For me, it’s taking gifts more efficiently. If I have an easy completion I might as well take it, that kind of thing. The big thing is ball placement on these timing routes. That’s an area where I know I can improve and I have the last eight weeks. I really want to focus on taking matchups when they present themselves.”
First spring for many: Senior free safety Jack Koerner said Tuesday that around 75% percent of Iowa’s roster has never participated in a spring practice.
That includes junior defensive back Dane Belton, who has played in 16 games during his first two seasons as a Hawkeye.
In those 16 games, the Tampa, Florida, native has 66 tackles, including 3.5 tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble.
“You’ve got a guy like Dane Belton (with a lot of experience) and this is his first spring ball,” Koerner said. “That’s something that I didn’t really think about too often. It’s been quite awhile. I think 2019 was my last spring ball. Young guys keep asking me what the schedule is like and everything and I have to tell them I honestly don’t remember.”
Johnson stands out: Another player making his first spring practice appearance is freshman receiver Keagan Johnson.
The Bellevue, Nebraska, native enrolled early at Iowa after his senior football season in which he totaled 1,337 all-purpose yards and 17 touchdowns in seven games.
Senior defensive back Riley Moss said Tuesday that in time, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Johnson will become an impactful player in Iowa’s offense.
“He’s been making a really good push,” Moss said. “I think he’ll be pretty good with time. He’s been a standout for sure for the younger guys.”
Johnson came to Iowa as a four-star prospect, according to Rivals.com, and had Power Five scholarship offers from Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas State and Nebraska.
Positive change: Two of Iowa’s most outspoken players, defensive backs Matt Hankins and Kaevon Merriweather, also met with the media Tuesday.
Hankins and Merriweather were asked how the social climate has changed within the program since the departure of former strength and condition coach Chris Doyle.
Doyle and Iowa reached a separation agreement last June after numerous former players came forward with allegations of racial bias.
“I can’t speak for other teams, but for out team, a lot of positive change,” Hankins said.
Merriweather said that it was key for the team to come together and accept that everyone has their differences.
Players also have been granted more freedoms, including being allowed to use Twitter again.
“I think we have a little bit more voice, a little bit more say,” Merriweather said. “If we see anything that’s going on, or any changes, we’re more confident to go to our coaches and actually talking about those issues and seek change within the program. I think that’s one thing that has definitely changed within our program.”
Koerner on Clark: Koerner, a graduate of West Des Moines Dowling High School, gave props to fellow Dowling graduate and Iowa women’s basketball star Caitlin Clark.
Clark, a freshman guard, led the nation in scoring and helped Iowa make it to the Sweet 16 despite the Hawkeyes not having been picked to make the NCAA Tournament during the preseason.
“After seeing her in high school and seeing what she did this year I was not surprised at all,” Koerner said. “I even reached out to her and told her it’s pretty tough to have a better freshman year, start to a career than that.”
Hankins asked the questions: Hankins flipped the script at the beginning of his media availability.
The Lewisville, Texas, native began by asking reporters why they got involved in journalism.
Hankins said he was not interested in pursuing journalism and is more interested in entering the business field or starting his own clothing line.