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Harty: Derby lucky to have options

[ 21 ] April 16, 2011 |

Iowa quarterback A.J. Derby should consider the never-ending speculation about him changing positions as a compliment.

It’s not often that an Iowa quarterback is rumored to be switching to tight end or outside linebacker or defensive end because most Iowa quarterbacks aren’t capable of doing anything else but play quarterback and have done nothing else but play quarterback.

Derby, on the other hand, only started playing the position as a junior at City High. He excelled as a quarterback in high school, but he relied mostly on talent rather than technique.

But he also did so many other things as a Little Hawk, including playing safety and receiver as a sophomore. And he played both of those positions well.

Before that, Derby was a man amongst boys playing running back in junior high. The stories about him carrying his overmatched defenders down the field are legendary around these parts.

None of that matters now, though.

If Derby is to be successful as an Iowa quarterback, it’ll because of his poise and accuracy and his ability to grasp the offense, not because he physically dominates his opponent.

Those days were over as soon Derby finished playing in high school.

There is this assumption that Derby will grow tired of not being the starter, even as a redshirt freshman, and ask to switch to another position.

And while that might happen, let’s give the 6-foot-4, 232-pounder a chance to compete for the quarterback position before assuming it will.

The fact that Derby has pulled even with junior John Wienke as the No. 2 quarterback is a major development this spring.

That doesn’t mean Derby would be the first person off the bench if starting quarterback James Vandenberg got injured next season. It just means that he could be.

Incoming freshman Jake Rudock from Florida also could be in the mix next fall, but the preferred plan would be to redshirt him.

So in that case, why would Derby ask to switch to a different position? And why would the coaches suggest it to him if he as a redshirt freshman is just one injury away from being handed the keys to the Iowa offense?

This thing needs way more time to work itself out.

Derby also needs more time to figure out just how much he wants to play quarterback. Is it worth the risk of sitting behind Vandenberg for the next two seasons?

And what if Rudock is as good as or better than advertised?

Derby would have seniority over Rudock by a year, but Wienke has it by two years over Derby and yet now they’re both even on the depth chart.

This isn’t youth sports where some coaches are known to play favorites or cater to outside influences.

This is big-time college football where jobs ultimately are on the line.

If Derby someday proves to be Iowa’s best quarterback, he’ll run the offense.

But if it doesn’t happen, you think about making a switch, but only when Derby is ready to concede the quarterback position.

Derby is lucky to have options because, as previously mentioned, Iowa quarterbacks are usually limited to playing that position.

Other than Brad Banks and maybe Nathan Chandler, it’s hard to think of another Iowa starting quarterback over the past two or three decades that could have excelled at another position.

Marvin McNutt gave quarterback a try before switching to receiver, where he is now an NFL prospect. He made the change knowing that he likely would remain buried on the depth chart at quarterback and because he could.

As great as Chuck Long, Chuck Hartlieb and Ricky Stanzi were as Iowa quarterbacks, they weren’t physically capable of doing what McNutt did.

Many feel that Derby is capable of following in McNutt’s footsteps. Derby might feel the same way. But until he says otherwise, his place is still behind center.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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