Vandenberg steps into QB spotlight for Hawks


SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

James Vandenberg was swarmed by reporters seconds after he walked onto the practice field at Iowa football media day.

After almost three years of watching Ricky Stanzi handle all the media attention that comes with being a Big Ten starting quarterback, it was a new experience for Vandenberg.

“Well, it’s a little different, that’s for sure,” the junior said with a sheepish grin. “But it’s something I’ve looked forward to for a long time, and it’s something I’m willing to embrace.”

While Vandenberg adjusts to the increase in interview requests, his teammates and coaches say the team’s offense has changed surprisingly little since he took over for Stanzi, who went 26-9 as a starter and led the team to three bowl victories.

Offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe said the players were similar in their extensive grasp of the team’s playbook, their poise in the pocket, and their ability to throw on the move. And while he said every quarterback has a distinct style and set of throws they’re most comfortable with, he couldn’t think of any real differences between Stanzi and Vandenberg.

“They’re not that different as far as the type of guys they are,” O’Keefe said. “Neither of them is a running quarterback, and they’re the same guy in a lot of ways. I don’t see them as different guys as far as their overall ability is concerned.”

And it isn’t only Vandenberg’s mechanics and playing style that remind people of his predecessor. Senior wide receiver Marvin McNutt said the two are so similar in demeanor that he hardly notices a difference in the huddle.

“You still have that same kind of leadership that you need in the huddle,” McNutt said. “They’re both funny guys, so there’s less tension in the huddle — just like when Rick was here.”

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Vandenberg can have success similar to Stanzi’s. His career 49 percent completion rate, 515 yards, three touchdowns, and five interceptions don’t necessarily jump off the page.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz pointed to the last three regular-season games of 2009 — when Vandenberg played in relief of the injured Stanzi — as evidence that his new quarterback is ready to start.

Then a redshirt freshman, Vandenberg played well in the most pressure-packed of the three games.

He threw two second-half touchdown passes in an overtime loss at Ohio State. But his 9-of-27 performance a week earlier hurt Iowa in a home loss to Northwestern, and he completed just 11-of-24 passes against Minnesota in his last start. In both games, he threw an interception and no touchdown passes.

But Vandenberg has had more than a year’s worth of experience since then, and teammates are raving about his performance in spring and fall practices.

“The thing about James Vandenberg is, he’s so accurate,” cornerback Shaun Prater said. “I’m like, ‘Where are you throwing the ball, how do you fit it in there?’ The only way you can stop Vandenberg is if you have perfect technique, and even when you have perfect technique, he still finds a way to get it in there.”

Center James Ferentz said his new quarterback’s transition has been a smooth one.

“It’s been fine,” he said. “Vandenberg is a natural leader. I think he’s ready to take over [and] get our team going, and I think people will be really impressed by him this fall.”

Vandenberg himself said he and Stanzi were “pretty similar.” The Keokuk, Iowa, native said the biggest difference may be that one had the advantage of being able to sit for so long and learn from the other.

“I got to follow Ricky for three years and see him change from year to year to year and the little things he tweaked,” Vandenberg said. “I know all those learning experiences are going to help me this fall.”

Follow DI football reporter Sam Louwagie on Twitter.

> Share your thoughts! Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.

comments powered by Disqus

Privacy Policy (8/15/07) | Terms of Use (4/28/08) | Content Submission Agreement (8/23/07) | Copyright Compliance Policy (8/25/07) | RSS Terms of Use

Copyright © The Daily Iowan, All Rights Reserved.