IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz expects competition at every position, including quarterback, when Iowa begins spring football practices in late March.

And even with a returning starter in Jake Rudock, the Hawkeyes coach is OK with that.

“Every position on our football team will be open when we get going in the spring," Ferentz said. “The guys know that. They’ve been told that. That’s just how it works. This is a competitive exercise."

That includes behind center, where Jake Rudock and his backup, C.J. Beathard, both saw action in three of the Hawkeyes’ final five games last season as Rudock dealt with knee sprains.

Rudock threw for 2,383 yards and 18 touchdowns, gaining experience and displaying a level of toughness that Ferentz labeled important.

“The good news to me is right now we have confidence in both those guys. They both have proven that we can win games with them, put them out there as starters and win," Ferentz said. “That being said, C.J. still has some catching up to do. Jake has really accelerated."

Ferentz said both quarterbacks proved the needed physical toughness to compete at the Big Ten level.

“We don’t let our guys get hit in practice, that’s just how it is," Ferentz said. “Jake more than proved that he was physically tough. I think C.J. did, too. We feel good about those guys. We’ll let them both compete. It’s only fair to both of them that the best guys start."

Ferentz wants the level of competition he saw in practice that benefited Iowa last season to continue as the Hawkeyes work toward the start of the 2014 season.

“We expect both (Rudock and Beathard) to play better next year and compete even harder, so that is going to be a good thing for our football team," Ferentz said.

SIGNED: Iowa officially added St. Louis running back Markel Smith to its 2014 recruiting class Thursday, receiving his signed letter of intent.

Smith’s signing was delayed after he found himself snowbound as he and classmates at St. Vianney High School in St. Louis attempted to return from a two-day religious retreat.

“I’ll never forget my signing day," Smith said. “The roads were just too bad to get home safely. It’s pretty memorable. I’ve waited for years to have a chance to play college football, so one more day I can deal with. I feel good about signing with Iowa and I’m ready to start the next chapter in my life with the Hawkeyes."

IN THE FOLD: Ferentz said stability on his coaching staff is providing him with a chance to spend additional time focusing on the Hawkeyes program rather than dealing with staff issues.

Ferentz declined to detail the depth of discussions that Iowa offensive line coach Brian Ferentz might have had with Bill O’Brien about taking a similar post with the NFL’s Houston Texans last month. The pair worked together with the Patriots.

“I’m thrilled that he’s here," Ferentz said. “I’m thrilled our whole staff stayed intact. You never know what’s going to happen, but I feel confident we’ll all be together at the start of next year."

RETURN TRIP: Details have not been finalized, but Iowa expects to begin spring practices during the final week of March.

Ferentz did say the Hawkeyes will hold a public practice at Valley High School in West Des Moines for the second straight year, most likely during the second weekend of April.

ON THE MEND: Hawkeye safety Anthony Gair underwent hand surgery last month and likely will begin spring drills with a cast.

Ferentz said that was the only major surgery any of the Hawkeyes have faced since the Outback Bowl.

STAYING PUT: Iowa coaches have no plans to move either Reggie Spearman or Nate Meier from the positions they played last season.

Spearman saw time at linebacker as a true freshman and displayed pass-rushing abilities, while Meier lined up at defensive end.

Ferentz said the decision to play Spearman last season was made in part because of a desire to get a younger player experience at a spot where the Hawkeyes had three senior linebackers getting the bulk of playing time.

“We felt it was good to get him on the field, get him active and get him in a role so he’ll be better prepared and more confident to compete for a job this spring," Ferentz said.