A Summer of Studying

June 20, 2012

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It took four years for University of Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg to understand the ins-and-outs of the “old” Hawkeye offense. Now he’s working to reach that point with Greg Davis’ new attack.

“I am pretty far along,” said Vandenberg, a fifth-year senior from Keokuk, Iowa. “It is a complex offense, and I want to be able to understand it like I did our old offense. I have a good grasp, but I think I can get better.

“You want to be able to know it all second-nature. There is a lot of stuff that I already do know that is already second nature, but there is a lot of detail — third-and-8 plays, second-and-7 plays. You want to know what plays are going to be called in those situations, and that comes from more time with coach Davis.”

Vandenberg’s 3,022 passing yards and 25 touchdowns speak to his comfort level with the offense the Hawkeyes employed under Ken O’Keefe, who vacated his post in February to take an assistant position with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. During his first season as a starter, Vandenberg completed 237-of-404 attempts for a 58.7 completion percentage.

His most productive game came in Iowa’s 31-27 nonconference victory over Pittsburgh, where he passed for 399 yards with three touchdowns, completing 31-of-48 attempts. Vandenberg threw for more than 250 yards in five games during his junior season — 273 at Purdue, 270 vs. Louisiana at Monroe, 262 vs. Michigan State and 253 vs. Indiana.

“I am pretty far along. It is a complex offense, and I want to be able to understand it like I did our old offense. I have a good grasp, but I think I can get better.”
UI senior quarterback James Vandenberg

During his final summer of voluntary workouts, Vandenberg has spent more than a few days picking Davis’ brain inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex.

“We hang out all the time, we meet a lot,” said Vandenberg. “We want to detail things. I want to know what he’s thinking when he calls certain plays.

“It’s not knowing the plays, but knowing when that play is going to be called. How many yards you’re going to get if you dump it to this guy… all the little intricacies that go with a complex offense.”

Vandenberg says his comfort level with the new system has continued to evolve since going through the 17 spring practices with Davis at the helm.

“Out of 10, I would have given myself a six, maybe seven,” said Vandenberg of his grade following spring ball. “I am a little higher than that now. I want to continue to grow. I was probably a 9.5 on the old playbook, and that’s what you want to get to on this one.

“It has been easier to learn than I could have imagined. Once you learn college concepts, it is kind of the same. More than anything, it is becoming comfortable.”

Being in his fifth summer of voluntary workouts, Vandenberg knows what to expect, and the importance of this period when preparing for the grind of a season, but he says this year has been different.

“The urgency comes more into play,” he said. “This is my last summer, my last spring ball. You start checking off the things you’re not going to do again. When you’re a young player, maybe you take it for granted… we have to go to 10 million spring ball practices, but as you get older, that goes away and I definitely felt that this year.”

The Hawkeyes open the season Saturday, Sept. 1, against Northern Illinois in Chicago’s Soldier Field. The game begins at 2:30 p.m. (CT) and will be televised on ESPNU.