WEST DES MOINES — Here are my five observations from the Iowa football team’s unseasonably warm and humid spring football practice Saturday at Valley Stadium in West Des Moines:
QB CONTEST: The competition at quarterback between junior starter Jake Rudock and sophomore backup C.J. Beathard still seems pretty much the same as last season based on Saturday’s practice.
Rudock showed more consistency, while Beathard showed flashes of brilliance with his powerful right arm and his gunslinger mentality. Beathard’s 50-yard touchdown pass to redshirt freshman receiver Derrick Willies was one of the highlights of Saturday’s practice unless you were pulling for the defense.
However, Beathard knows that to supplant Rudock he has to improve at reading defenses and changing plays at the line of scrimmage. Beathard often chose to throw it deep downfield last season instead of settling for a shorter and safer pass.
“Sometimes, I’d be slow to get it to the check-down, and this spring I’ve definitely progressed at making that decision faster,” Beathard said.
WILLIES IMPRESSES: Speaking of Willies, he stood out the most among the four redshirt freshman receivers, not only with his performance on the field but also because of his physique.
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Willies just looks like a big-time college receiver. He also was a star sprinter in high school, so he has speed to complement his size.
Now he just has to be more consistent as Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz pointed out Saturday.
“He’s doing some good things and flashing,” Ferentz said of Willies. “And then, he’ll have some plays where it’s like, ‘What are you doing?’”
ALSTON AS A LEADER: Time and his performance ultimately will determine Quinton Alston’s value as Iowa’s new starting middle linebacker. But I saw enough in about 30 seconds of Saturday’s practice to know that the senior-to-be from Sicklerville, N.J., is a gifted and respected leader.
Alston apparently noticed something on the field that the offense was doing, and he wanted to help fellow linebacker Cole Fisher by explaining it on paper. Realizing that he was standing near a bunch of reporters, Alston asked one of them if he could borrow a pen and a sheet a paper.
Alston then diagrammed something as Fisher listened intently. I couldn’t hear what Alston was saying, but he certainly had Fisher’s full attention.
Several of the Iowa players praised Alston on Saturday for his leadership skills. Alston faces a big challenge in trying to replace departed senior James Morris at middle linebacker. But if Saturday is any indication, the Iowa defense will benefit greatly from Alston’s leadership.
FERENTZ PRAISES HILL: Sophomore-to-be running back Barkley Hill turned a few heads Saturday with his performance in practice, including the one that matters the most.
“On the positive, I thought Barkley did a good job,” Kirk Ferentz said. “He’s done a good job this spring. I thought he had a really good day today. He was focused. He may have missed some stuff. I didn’t see him miss anything today.
“It was good to see. He’s continuing to move along a little bit.”
Hill will enter his third season in the program this fall, but he still hasn’t appeared in a game because of injuries and because of all the proven running backs ahead of him on the depth chart.
“We didn’t really get to look at him last fall, but now we’re getting a peek at him,” Ferentz said of the 6-foot, 215-pound Hill, who rushed for more than 6,000 yards and scored a state record 89 touchdowns for Cedar Falls High School.
BOETTGER’S POTENTIAL: Hill wasn’t the only former Cedar Falls star to make an impression Saturday. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Nate Boettger showed a nasty side during practice, but that’s meant as a compliment. The former tight end, who now weighs nearly 270 pounds, played through the whistle and showed a willingness to scrap with anybody.
Keep a close watch on Boettger because he might develop into something special in the trenches. The fact that he switched from tight end to the offensive line puts Boettger on the same early path as former Iowa star offensive linemen Eric Steinbach and Robert Gallery. They both blossomed into all-Big Ten offensive linemen after switching from tight end early in their career.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football