Stanzi studies, gets comfortable

BY RYAN YOUNG | APRIL 21, 2009 7:30 AM

Comfort has been big for Ricky Stanzi this spring.

That’s why he buzzed off his shaggy locks, and that’s why he isn’t prematurely anointing himself as Iowa’s No. 1 quarterback with four months to go before fall practice.

The Hawkeyes’ most recent two-deep may have him listed over redshirt freshmen James Vandenberg and John Wienke as the unquestionable front-runner under center, but as far as Stanzi is concerned, he could very well be the team’s third-stringer when camp opens in August.

“You don’t call anyone a starter, or anyone a backup — that’s how I like to look at it,” the junior-to-be said moments after Iowa’s final spring practice on April 18. “It’s the same thing that it is every spring. It’s competition. I’m going through competition right now. Everybody is, and that’s the only way we can keep pushing to get better.”

One aspect Stanzi said he has tried to better halfway through the off-season is keeping a consistent comfort level at all times within the pocket, something that has been difficult for him to polish lately without a group of offensive linemen always in front of him.

But even when he’s at the epicenter of a defensive rush during practice, he said, it’s not always easy to gain experience from such a short burst of action.

To compensate for his lack of live reps, however, he watches game film to evaluate his decision-making. It’s a studious habit that Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said has helped Stanzi distance himself from Vandenberg and Wienke this spring.

“One of Rick’s big strengths is he studies stuff pretty well,” O’Keefe said last week. “He’s a real student. He’s interested in studying other quarterbacks, both pro and college, and he’s interested in studying defenses and how he can get us in better situations.”

Caring for the football is another facet Stanzi and the Hawkeyes will need to improve on collectively.
In 2008, Stanzi finished with the Big Ten’s fourth-best pass efficiency rating at 134.8 but tallied nine interceptions, while Iowa stood as the No. 2 scoring offense in the conference but posted 20 fumbles. And with 11 game starts and 13 appearances now tucked away under Stanzi’s shoulder pads,

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz expects his newly seasoned signal-caller to make fewer novice mistakes.

“Like every quarterback, it’s still about the decisions you make,” Ferentz said. “The way we play, ball security is really important.”

Still, in order to emerge as a complete quarterback for the Hawkeyes in 2009, Stanzi said he hasn’t left any proverbial stone unturned — even in the leadership department.

“My biggest thing right now is putting the physical part with the mental and, you know, showing good leadership to the guys that we have out here right now,” Stanzi said. “We have a great group of guys on offense, a lot of smart guys, guys that are willing to play hard, and my job is to go out there and lead, and command, and compete.”

His teammates say it seems as though the Mentor, Ohio, native is fulfilling those duties as a leader so far.

Offensive linemen Dace Richardson and Bryan Bulaga raved about Stanzi’s ability to command the huddle, even after a botched snap, an overthrown pass, or a running blunder.

“He’s really taken the leadership role as the quarterback,” Bulaga said. “He’s in control of the offense. I have a lot of trust in him, and I think everyone else does.”

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