July 20, 2024

Kirk Ferentz enjoying smooth transition with new offense this spring

Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz congratulates linebacker Nick Jackson (10) after a stop on third down during the second quarter against Purdue Saturday October 7, 2023 at Kinnick Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

IOWA CITY, Ia. — College football’s longest-tenured coach is approaching his 26th season with the Hawkeyes, and he’s proving an old dog can learn new tricks as they navigate through spring ball.

Kirk Ferentz has a track history of being conservative, and somewhat old school with his coaching philosophies. However, he’s keeping an open mind this time around as a new staff member orchestrates the offense. Tim Lester was hired last month to replace Brian Ferentz. Not to mention Jon Budmayr got elevated from Special Senior Assistant to Wide Receivers Coach.

The players have completed eight weeks of winter conditioning, and are adjusting on the fly to a new playbook. There will be 15 spring practices to iron everything out, but Ferentz is feeling positive about the direction of the play-calling.

“I think the bottom line is the guy who’s going to call the plays has to be really comfortable with what the terminology is going to be because it has to come out, it’s got to come out pretty quick and naturally,” Ferentz said. “Whether it was Tim or whomever we hired this year, it was going to be the same thing, same discussion, and basically we’re just taking his playbook material and going with it.”

Ferentz admires the fact that Lester has 22 years of experience, including being a head coach at Western Michigan for six seasons. Lester was a Senior Analyst for the Green Bay Packers in 2023, and understands the physicality it’s going to take to succeed in the Big Ten. As of now, Ferentz is making it a priority to build a strong relationship with Lester.

The players respect Lester’s knowledge of the game, which should go a long way with communication on the gridiron. Meanwhile Ferentz is taking input, along with welcoming new ideas and concepts. Everything seems encouraging, and going according to schedule in Ferentz’s eyes. Lester is making an impact, and the players are responding, so the transition is going smooth.

“Tim is a great guy, great person, he’s a veteran coach and been in a lot of different situations, a lot of different levels” he said. “I think he’s handling it really, really well, and has done a great job with the players.”

It’s no mystery that the urgency to improve is in the air. After all, the Hawkeyes finished dead last in the Power Five in scoring, passing and total offense. Still, pressure creates diamonds. Ferentz understands there’s going to be a learning curve, and some growing pains.

The cupboard isn’t bare by any means, and Lester will have some talent to operate with. Everyone must buy in though, and leaders have to emerge over the next three weeks. All eyes will be on the quarterback room. Lester will have three options in Deacon Hill, Cade McNamara and Marco Lainez. Hill started the most games last season, McNamara will be extremely limited this spring, and Lainez has received valuable reps.

McNamara will also be wearing a harness in practice as a precaution. Ferentz expects McNamara to be fully healthy by June. Hill needs to make strides in several areas, including mechanics, throwing motion, footwork and accuracy. Lainez displayed breathtaking mobility in the bowl game against Tennessee, but needs to spread his wings as a passer.

The backfield is loaded with the return of Leshon Williams, Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson, who combined for 1,490 rushing yards last season. If they all can stay healthy and play up to their potential, Iowa will have a three-headed monster at running back.

Blocking and protection from the big boys up front has been a liability for quite some time. Iowa allowed 32 sacks last season, which ranked 12th in the Big Ten, and 84th nationally. Regardless, Ferentz believes the offensive line has the potential to raise several eyebrows throughout the spring.

“I think the good news is right now we have an opportunity maybe to develop into a good line because we do have pretty good experience,” the 68-year old coach said. “I think we have good leadership in there too, and that’s paramount to any group, any team.”

Pass-catching will be a big question mark, considering Nico Ragaini ran out of eligibility. No other Hawkeye wideout had more than 31 receptions in 2023. Kaleb Brown is looking to become the go-to receiver, but needs to cut down on the dropped balls. Luke Lachey only played in three games last year due to a season-ending leg injury. If Lachey can return fully intact, Iowa will have a weapon representing for Tight End U.

A depth chart is out, but there are still plenty of positions up for grabs. Ferentz just wants his players to take advantage of every opportunity, which in return should create some good competition.

“It’s March 26th right now, so it doesn’t mean a lot, nobody knows what it’s going to look like on August 31, and I told the players that in the first meeting.”