By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Don Patterson made an interesting prediction on Monday’s Hawk Fanatic radio show and podcast.
The former Iowa offensive coordinator under Hayden Fry, and former Western Illinois head coach, said that he thinks redshirt freshman quarterback Marco Lainez should, and would, get most of the snaps with the No. 1 offense during spring practice rather than junior Deacon Hill.
Patterson feels that Lainez’s dual-threat capability, which was on display in the Citrus Bowl, should give him the edge over Hill, who started the final nine games this season after Cade McNamara was injured.
“Marco showed in the bowl game that he’s a threat as a runner and the offense needs that from the quarterback,” Patterson said.
Patterson assumes that McNamara won’t be at full strength for spring practice after having suffered a season-ending knee injury against Michigan State on Sept. 30 at Kinnick Stadium.
McNamara has had season-ending knee injuries in each of the past two seasons, so there is reason to be cautious moving forward.
There also are reasons to give Lainez a chance to work with the No. 1 offense in spring practice, including the fact that Hill failed to show in multiple games that he deserves it.
Hill might have shown it in practice, as Kirk Ferentz said throughout the season. But as former NBA great Allen Iverson once said, we’re talking about practice.
Hill’s lack of mobility and pocket awareness hurt the offense as did his multiple turnovers.
Hill was given more than a fair chance to establish himself as a reliable option, but it just didn’t work out.
And while Hill shouldn’t be blamed for all the problems on offense, somebody besides Brian Ferentz will have to be held accountable.
This isn’t to say that Hill’s demotion should be permanent.
Patterson said Hill, assuming he is demoted, should be inspired by it, and use it as motivation to play better.
Patterson also hopes that whomever Kirk Ferentz picks as his next offensive coordinator will convince Kirk Ferentz to stretch the field and use more of it on offense and be more aggressive.
Patterson thinks highly of both Joe Philbin and Paul Chryst and believes that either one would be a good pick for offensive coordinator.
“They’re both outstanding football coaches,” Patterson said. “And men of high character.”
There is an unsubstantiated report that Kirk Ferentz reached out to Washington offensive coordinator and Iowa native Ryan Grubb about the job, but that Grubb wasn’t interested.
Assuming that is true, Kirk Ferentz deserves praise for at least contacting Grubb, who is considered a rising star as an offensive coach.
As for Cade McNamara, his recovery from knee surgery is critical because Kirk Ferentz is basically going all in with the former Michigan quarterback.
That’s why it was so surprising, and odd, that Oregon quarterback Ty Thompson had reportedly scheduled a visit to Iowa that was supposed to take place last Friday, but not a surprise when he didn’t follow through with the visit, and has since committed to Tulane.
McNamara announced on social media shortly after his latest surgery that he was fully committed to being a Hawkeye for another season.
That seemed to be his way of saying that Iowa still has its quarterback and there is no need to use the portal.
Nothing against McNamara, but Iowa is clearly taking a risk by putting all their eggs in his basket.
The hope is that with McNamara fully recovered the Iowa offense would at least be average.
McNamara certainly had his struggles on the field this past season, completing just 51.1 percent of his passes. But he was also hampered by a soft tissue injury that occurred in August.
The few times when he scrambled from the pocket, it was easy to see that he was less than 100 percent.
It was also easy to see that Hill wasn’t ready to be a starter when he took over for McNamara.
But it also wasn’t Hill’s fault that the Iowa coaches moved him ahead of Joe Labas on the depth chart this past spring.
Hill must have performed better than Labas in practice because why else would Kirk Ferentz have played Hill over Labas, who has since transferred to Central Michigan?
Predictable portal: So far, the roster developments with Hawkeye football have been easy to understand, and hardly a surprise.
The few players that have entered the portal did so mostly in search of more playing time, while defensive back Cooper DeJean by declaring for the 2024 NFL draft did what almost anybody would do in his position as a likely first-round pick.
In a matter of weeks, DeJean will be a multi-millionaire from playing a violent sport in which longevity is the exception rather than the rule.
DeJean as a third-year junior is different than any other member of the Iowa defense in that the NFL is saying loud and clear that he’s ready for the next level, and there is a lot of money waiting for him.
As for his now former Hawkeye teammates on defense that have decided to stick around for one more season, they probably didn’t hear what they wanted to hear from the NFL, so as a consolation prize, they get to be Hawkeyes for one more season, and be part of an Iowa defense that is highly respected.
They also get to play under Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker for one more season and will help usher Iowa into a new era of Big Ten football.
While it would be easy to assume that playing with an offense that rarely holds up its end of the complementary football deal might be a huge turn-off, there is a flipside in that the Iowa defense is sort of recognized as the savior of Hawkeye football right now, the difference, along with a stud punter, between being good or average to below average.
Linebackers Jay Higgins and Nick Jackson, defensive lineman Yahya Black, and defensive backs Sebastian Castro, Jermari Harris and Quinn Schulte know a good thing when they live it and that’s why all six have decided to return for one more season.
Jackson, Castro, Harris and Schulte will all be sixth-year seniors next season, while Higgins and Black will be a fifth-year seniors.
That’s a lot of experience and maturity to build around.
And while NFL fame and fortune is the ultimate dream, the Iowa defensive players have it pretty good as student-athletes.
They have the privilege of playing for the Big Ten’s third all-time winningest head coach in Kirk Ferentz, and for somebody who is widely recognized as the best defensive coordinator in college football in Phil Parker.
They also get to benefit financially from NIL, and from being around teammates that are now friends for life.
It seems likely that some other schools tried to entice them with NIL money.
And why not?
It’s within the rules in this new Wild, Wild West environment, and they are all established players.
Iowa apparently did what it had to from an NIL standpoint, and the chance to play another season under Phil Parker apparently was just too good to pass up.
And say what you want about the Iowa offense, but tight end Luke Lachey believes in it enough to return for another season.
Lachey seemed on course to be an early entry in the 2024 NFL draft until he suffered a season-ending lower leg injury in the third game against Western Michigan.
Even with the injury, Lachey could have shopped around in the portal, and he would’ve had multiple suitors because he’s that good.
But the Ohio native is loyal to the Hawkeyes, and he knows that even with all the problems on offense, the tight end position is built to excel at Iowa.