Leistikow's Iowa football thoughts: On vaccinations, Alex Padilla's QB rise, Logan Jones' injury
Things continue to trend toward "normal" in the Iowa football world. Last month, athletics director Gary Barta told the Des Moines Register of plans to fill Kinnick Stadium with fans this fall. On Tuesday, five Hawkeye football players and 23rd-year head coach Kirk Ferentz met Iowa media members in person, inside Kinnick's suite level.
Ferentz, who contracted COVID-19 in December, said he had been vaccinated. Iowa athletes and staff members have been encouraged to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, but it’s not required.
"Me personally," Ferentz said, "it seemed like the right thing to do."
Football personnel who have received the vaccine are not subject to contract tracing, which Ferentz said cost a lot of players valuable training time last fall. Those who are vaccinated can operate mask-free on team grounds, and that even included the media on Tuesday.
Both sides appreciated the interactions after the last year-plus of the Zoom era, which thankfully might be waning. Affable wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. went out of his way to express delight in having face-to-face conversations with reporters. The feeling was mutual. It was good for everyone to see each other again.
These are positive signs as we approach Iowa’s Sept. 4 opener against Indiana. With that, here are some things we learned Tuesday as players continued their third week of Iowa's summer strength and conditioning program.
Ferentz has two quarterbacks he would trust in a game.
The QB discussion will continue for the next several months, and Ferentz seems resigned to that reality. Tuesday, he was asked about how the staff has reviewed the quarterback race after reviewing spring-practice film. The last time we talked to Ferentz, on May 1, he said there was a clear No. 1 (junior Spencer Petras), No. 2 (sophomore Alex Padilla) and No. 3 (freshman Deuce Hogan).
Tuesday, Ferentz made sure to praise Petras for having a solid spring, start to finish. But he added, "The real story is that the other two guys improved."
Ferentz described how Padilla "just kind of flat-lined for the first 2½ weeks" of spring practice but then took a sharp step forward.
“He looked a lot more comfortable, a lot more natural, just a little more decisive,” Ferentz observed. “The takeaway for us right now is that we feel like we have a couple guys that can go."
That was a notable acknowledgement, that maybe the starting job isn’t solidly in Petras’ corner — though he’s obviously the front-runner after leading Iowa to six straight wins to close Iowa's 2020 schedule. Ferentz also left open the possibility that Hogan, a highly anticipated Texas prospect entering his second year in the program, would take a jump this summer.
"Deuce does a lot of good things, he’s just on that learning curve. Those (two) guys have a big jump on him," Ferentz said. "That’s his biggest challenge, I think. But with the summer and August, hopefully he’ll be on that same path. I don’t know if it’s possible to have three guys you feel good about, but we’re hoping so."
Ferentz seemed to pump the brakes on recruiting expectations for this weekend.
Iowa’s Class of 2022 was at five verbal commitments through Tuesday. It is planning to host somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 official visitors, starting Friday. This is THE big recruiting weekend of 2021. In many years, Iowa has its class for the following year buttoned up by late June. But as we know, this has not been an ordinary year.
Stingy-to-offer Iowa is typically more methodical than its peers in its recruiting approach. Even with in-person visits finally permitted June 1 for the first time in 15 months, it was important to Ferentz and the recruiting staff to not get too caught up in the expected frenzy. They didn't want to rush. They're still getting to know many 2022 prospects. Perhaps that is why we haven’t seen the flurry of commitments that has often occurred for Iowa by now.
If this weekend doesn't produce a big pile of commitments, it sounds like Ferentz might be more curious to see what prospects emerge during the upcoming high school season. And while he didn’t mention the transfer portal, that's another avenue that Iowa could pursue to add talent.
"If we don’t sign a full class, what I don’t want to do is start doing things to do things. We’ll make up for it next year," Ferentz said. “Or we’ll have good (walk-on) stories on this team that emerge. We’ll figure it all out. It’ll work itself out."
Remember all those injuries in the spring? There’s mostly good news there.
At the May 1 final spring scrimmage, about 20 players were sidelined for various injuries — many of them minor and precautionary. On Tuesday, Ferentz seemed optimistic that most of those players would return for the start of August camp. One of those injured players, wide receiver Nico Ragaini, was among those interviewed Tuesday and indicated he’s close to being full speed.
Ferentz did tell the Register in an interview earlier Tuesday that redshirt freshman defensive tackle Logan Jones is facing a more extended recovery. Jones exited the April 17 open practice with what appeared to be a left leg injury.
"He won’t be ready in August, I don’t think,” Ferentz said. “For the most part, everybody (else) is scheduled to be coming back."
Jones, a weight-room warrior and U.S. Army All-American, was discussed as a potential young difference-maker at a position that that the Hawkeyes need help to backfill the losses of Daviyon Nixon and Jack Heflin. With Jones unlikely to be back by the start of training camp, that puts more urgency on the backs of youngsters Noah Shannon and Yahya Black to hit the ground running.
Yes, Kyler Schott saw the Pro Football Focus love that was thrown his way.
Back in May, the analytics service does what it does — and threw a list out to the general public. On that list, it graded Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum as the No. 1 returning interior offensive lineman in college football. No shock there for the Rimington Award finalist.
But more notable was that PFF ranked Schott, a former walk-on in a somewhat undersized 6-foot-2 frame, as the No. 8 returnee on the interior offensive line.
Still, the ever-smiling Schott was not impressed.
"I saw it. I believe that I’m THE best guard, not one of the best guards,” Schott said, before adding, “It’s not something I’m really focusing on."
Last thing: Tyrone Tracy has some love for Brian Ferentz.
Hey, you can’t blame Iowa’s expected No. 1 wide receiver if he’s massaging the media to get his offensive coordinator’s attention. But Tracy certainly wanted to make clear two things Tuesday.
No. 1, he wants the football. A lot. The playmaker is itching to contribute after being held to just 16 touches in eight games last fall. In his mind, 10-plus touches a game is more apropos.
No. 2, he credited Brian Ferentz for scheming different ways to get him the ball this fall. Tracy can play all four of Iowa’s wide-receiver positions and is part of Iowa’s Wildcat package with Tyler Goodson.
"A lot of people don’t praise him as much as they should. Brian does a great job sharing the ball, moving the ball around,” Tracy said. “I can already see he’s putting in a lot of work to put me in a lot of different positions … just to get me the ball. That’s love. I respect that. I appreciate that."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.