The Des Moines Register

Behind the scenes of an Iowa football spring practice

- Tyler Tachman Des Moines Register Follow Tyler Tachman on X @Tyler_T15, contact via email at

IOWA CITY — It’s 8:03 a.m. on Thursday at the Hawkeye football facility, and practice is underway.

Players are transition­ing to a specialtea­ms formation on one of the turf practice fields. If someone does not totally have their senses by this point, a voice should quickly do the trick.

“Move your a--,” a voice yells. Iowa’s practices are normally closed, but reporters were allowed to watch a small portion of Thursday’s session. This is the ground floor of the building blocks for what will be on display at Kinnick Stadium in a few months. And this particular offseason is especially critical for Iowa.

Iowa is trying to rebuild a broken offense behind new coordinato­r Tim Lester. The Hawkeyes also have a new wide receivers coach, Jon Budmayr, who was promoted internally. For Hawkeye fans, tracking the progress of this much-maligned group is the top priority.

But first, let’s discuss … punting? Yes, because that is where players are lining up now.

Freshman Rhys Dakin is getting ready to launch the pigskin into the sky. For much of the country, punting is not necessaril­y a glamorous job. At Iowa, it is.

The reigning Ray Guy Award winner and Hawkeye legend Tory Taylor has moved on from the program. He will soon embark on his profession­al career. So Iowa is now turning the page to another golden leg from Australia.

“I know he’s a darn good punter,” Taylor said in March of Dakin, “and I think you guys will see that in the next few years to come.”

Now we are seeing it. This is just practice, of course, which is different than doing it in front of 50,000+ fans. But Dakin looks good. There’s that resounding “thud” and the ball goes flying through the air. Then Dakin does it again.

Now, let’s get back to offense.

Cade McNamara is running

Iowa is ready to do a dynamic warmup near the beginning of practice. McNamara, the quarterbac­k, is running to get into line, which in the grand scheme of things wouldn’t be an impressive accomplish­ment.

But it is noteworthy to see McNamara do it. He has suffered season-ending injuries the last two seasons. The first at Michigan. Then he tore his ACL last season as Hawkeye. At practice on Thursday, it’s not a sprint. Rather, more of a jog. But still, that’s an encouragin­g sign.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this of McNamara last month: “He can throw the football standing, but he can’t be really moving back, moving around or dropping, that type of deal.”

For the most part, that accurately describes what McNamara did at practice on Thursday.

For a portion of Thursday’s practice session, the quarterbac­ks are near the corner of a practice field working with Lester. McNamara can do some footwork along with fellow quarterbac­ks Deacon Hill and Marco Lainez. But on this particular drill, where the quarterbac­ks are faking a handoff and rolling right, McNamara is not participat­ing.

“Set, go,” Lester says, triggering the quarterbac­ks to start their movement. “One, two, three, four, five. Good.”

“He’s pretty intense,” Hill explains later about Lester. “But it’s a good intense. He’s very positive a lot of the time … You love him, because he’s really personable, as well. It’s also three months in, so we’re also figuring each other out. But it’s been going really well.”

Movement on the offensive side

Luke Lachey is in motion. He starts on the left side of the offensive line. Then moves to the right.

When he gets set, Terrell Washington Jr., who is split out wide, also comes in motion. Then the ball is snapped.

This is what we heard about just a few days ago. People want to know: What does Iowa’s offense look like? Defensive back Deshaun Lee gave a hint on Tuesday: “It’s just a lot of motion. They’re trying to just trick our eyes. Just get us off balance.”

And now, here is a brief preview of it on the practice field.

After Lachey and Washington Jr. each go in motion, the ball is snapped. Hill fires over the middle of the field to Lachey, who makes the catch.

This is a good reminder: Lachey is healthy. He looked like he was on his way to a breakout campaign last season. Then he suffered a season-ending injury against Western Michigan. He could’ve gone on to pursue a profession­al career, but instead elected to return to Iowa.

Now he’s back in action.

“I love Iowa,” Lachey is saying later about his decision to return. “I don’t think I could really leave this place. The people are great. I knew a lot of guys were thinking of their decision and a lot of guys were kinda leaning on coming back … I just felt like there was more I could do here. And more I could learn to help myself be better prepared for the NFL.”

Back at practice, the quarterbac­ks are throwing again. McNamara is participat­ing. So are Hill and Lainez. It’s worth noting that Washington Jr., who played running back last season and is still listed there on the roster, is catching passes at wide receiver on Thursday.

That might actually be a good idea, because Iowa already has a stable of running backs. At another corner of the field, there’s a handful of them getting in work with position coach Ladell Betts — Kaleb Johnson, Leshon Williams and Jaziun Patterson, among others.

Budmayr is out here watching the wide receivers. His promotion by Ferentz this offseason was far from universall­y praised, in part because Iowa’s receiving corps has a long way to go and, though Budmayr has experience on the offensive side of the ball, he hadn’t extensivel­y coached wide receivers at the college level before now.

On Thursday, Budmayr is watching as Lainez tosses a pass to wide receiver Judah Mallette.

“Make sure we’re not drifting,” Budmayr calls out to Mallette. “Don’t drift off of that.”

“I think the weirdest thing is hearing him yell, but it’s not at me,” Hill says later of Budmayr, who was a reason he came to Iowa after entering the transfer portal.

On a more serious note, Hill says, “It’s also nice having a quarterbac­k brain in the wide receiver room. He understand­s what we’re trying to do and he can help the receivers understand what we’re all trying to do. So there’s benefits to all of it.”

Would it be wise to make sweeping conclusion­s solely based on the observatio­ns from Thursday’s practice? Absolutely not. Media were allowed to watch for approximat­ely 20 minutes. So take it all with a grain of salt.

But this is where Iowa is right now, on ground zero of trying to improve an offense that ranked last in FBS last season.

“I would say: I like the way Lester thinks,” wide receiver Kaleb Brown said. “That’s for sure. I like the way that he thinks and game plans.”

A surprise for Phil Parker

The defense is here on Thursday, but you’ve probably noticed that we haven’t mentioned it a single time up to this point in the story. But that is for good reason. Defensive coordinato­r Phil Parker has built a beast. Watching Quinn Schulte and Sebastian Castro and Deshaun Lee do footwork wasn’t the highest priority for reporters during Thursday’s brief view into the Iowa practice.

But there is something eventful after practice.

Parker, as you probably know, won the 2023 Broyles Award, given annually to college football’s top assistant coach. He is in for a surprise on Thursday.

Ferentz is addressing the team when he says: “Just kinda wanted to break the routine here a little bit. We have special guests with us.”

One of them is David Bazzel, founder of the Broyles Award.

“By the way, where is coach Parker at?” Bazzel asks.

Parker, somewhat hidden, makes his way toward Bazzel.

“Coach didn’t know this was going to happen today,” Bazzel says.

Parker shakes Bazzel’s hand.

“Let me tell you this,” Bazzel says, addressing the team, “for years we have heard from Iowa fans that were not happy that coach Parker had not won this award. So we’re very grateful that that has finally changed.”

He goes on: “There’s a narrative about Caitlin Clark — for those of us outside the state of Iowa — that when you watch Caitlin Clark play basketball, it makes it fun to watch. Well, when you watch a Phil Parker defense here at Iowa, it makes it fun to watch.”

Later, Parker takes the floor to talk. But he takes a pause. More than 10 seconds pass, and Parker is clearly emotional. Ferentz is looking on behind him.

After a few more words, Parker takes hold of his own, personal Broyles Award trophy.

Iowa opens the 2024 season by hosting Illinois State on Aug. 31. That’s still a ways away. But it will be here sooner than you think, and the Hawkeyes are making preparatio­ns to be ready.

 ?? JULIA HANSEN/IOWA CITY PRESS-CITIZEN ?? Iowa quarterbac­k Marco Lainez (11) throws a pass during practice Thursday in Iowa City.
JULIA HANSEN/IOWA CITY PRESS-CITIZEN Iowa quarterbac­k Marco Lainez (11) throws a pass during practice Thursday in Iowa City.

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