IOWA CITY — It’s an opportunity many college quarterbacks never have. James Vandenberg hopes to make the most of it.
After throwing for 3,022 yards a year ago in his fourth season in an offense coordinated by Ken O’Keefe, the Iowa senior finds himself learning the game all over again.
Vandenberg embraces the opportunity to learn from the Hawkeyes’ first new offensive coordinator in 14 years, Greg Davis.
“It’s a unique experience and honestly, I think it is making me a better player,” Vandenberg said. “The coordinator change forced me to relearn everything, see things through a different set of eyes and learn a new way of approaching things. I learned a lot from coach O’Keefe, but I’m also learning every day from coach Davis.”
Vandenberg believes the timing of the transition, coming in the middle of his two seasons as the Hawkeyes’ starting quarterback, could not have been better.
From a developmental standpoint and with one eye on his own future beyond college, Vandenberg has had to learn and adapt to a new playbook and new terminology while getting used to working with a new position coach.
He considers the experience beneficial.
“I’m not looking past this year at all, but I do think having a chance to learn from two good coordinators can only help me as a player,” Vandenberg said. “I’ve tried to approach things that way and use the situation to my benefit. It’s been a positive thing for me.”
Vandenberg and the Hawkeyes open the season Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Northern Illinois at Chicago’s Soldier Field.
It will be the first opportunity for the 6-foot-3 senior from Keokuk, Iowa, to put on display what he has learned while working to master the offensive scheme Davis has installed.
There has been a transition from O’Keefe, who now coaches receivers for the Miami Dolphins, to Davis.
“Personality-wise, those two guys are a little different,” Vandenberg said. “Coach Davis is a little more upbeat and in your face. He’s out there running around with the receivers, he’s out there catching balls with the backs. He’s the kind of guy who brings a lot of excitement and spark all the time.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz watched Vandenberg and Davis develop a strong working relationship since the pair first met last February.
Ferentz said his senior signal caller took the right approach as he adapted.
“Nobody was closer to Greg right from the start than James,” Ferentz said. “This is James’ senior year and I don’t want to overstate it for him or speak for him, but he obviously wants to play his best football this year, like you’d hope.”
To accomplish that, Vandenberg quickly got on to the same page with Davis.
“He got the jump on things, and I’d venture to say he’s a couple steps ahead of all of us offensively as far as knowing what Greg is looking for, what’s going to do and how he operates, that type of thing,” Ferentz said.
Vandenberg compares the process to learning a foreign language, but said the reality proved less daunting than thinking about it.
He now finds himself with what he labels a little more freedom in Davis’ offense.
Vandenberg is allowed to read the defense a little more before making a final decision at the line than he was in past seasons.
“That’s the biggest change. It allows us to open up a little bit and hopefully catch more balls this season,” Vandenberg said. “The receivers have a few more options, a few more ways to make plays. I think fans will like what they see.”
They get their first true look Saturday, when the Hawkeyes and Huskies – who are also adjusting to first-year offensive coordinator and former Northern Iowa coach Mike Dunbar – open the season in Chicago.
“For me, this is the beginning of the end, I guess. It’s a little bittersweet, but it makes it that much more exciting,” Vandenberg said. “It makes me realize what a great opportunity I’ve had these last five years.”