IOWA CITY — Ken O’Keefe knows there will come a time when he will know who Iowa’s starting quarterback should be.
Just don’t ask the Hawkeyes’ quarterbacks coach when that time will arrive.
O’Keefe said Wednesday sophomore Nathan Stanley and junior Tyler Wiegers continue to battle “neck and neck’’ for the chance to replace C.J. Beathard behind center and are currently sharing an equal number of reps with the first team as Iowa works its way through spring drills.
“I have no idea how far it will go or when somebody separates totally from the group, but competition is never bad. It will only help us,’’ O’Keefe said.
Returning to Iowa this spring after spending the past five seasons on the Miami Dolphins’ staff, O’Keefe likes the quarterbacks he is working with this spring.
He said he told both Stanley and Wiegers early in spring drills that they needed to text his predecessor, Greg Davis, and thank him for teaching them how to properly use their feet.
“They’re both sharp guys and their ability to learn and process is pretty good,’’ O’Keefe said. “It’s just a matter of getting reps and being able to react to how they process things that is probably going to be the thing that separates people in the end.’’
Echoing coach Kirk Ferentz’s comments following a public practice in West Des Moines last Friday, O’Keefe said Stanley and Wiegers have separated themselves from other players at the position.
Peformance will ultimately dictate who will start the Hawkeyes’ season opener Sept. 2 against Wyoming.
“It’s as simple as that, but it’s not always statistically driven,’’ said O’Keefe, who spent 13 seasons as Iowa’s offensive coordinator before leaving for the NFL in 2012. “It’s more about who moves the team, who is making first downs.’’
O’Keefe pointed to former Hawkeye Drew Tate as an example, mentioning Tate’s ability as a backup to step in and move Iowa’s offense during two-minute drill work in practice.
“He separated himself right there,’’ O’Keefe said. “I wasn’t worried about how many passes were completed during that point in time. It was about who moved the team into scoring position or scored in those situations. Who wanted the job was a factor, too, because nobody wanted the job more than him.’’
From a technical standpoint, O’Keefe lists two critical expectations for his starting quarterback.
He wants a quarterback whose feet are under control and who is quick enough to get set, move within the pocket to avoid the rush and scramble at times for a first down.
The second requirement is a quick, consistent release.
“Quick feet, quick release, decision-making ability is critical and the anticipation to get the ball out of your hands when you see somebody about to do something. You cannot waste time letting the ball go.’’
Right now, that is an area where both quarterbacks are laboring at times as they adjust to the Hawkeyes’ new offensive scheme.
O’Keefe said the offensive look isn’t radically different from what Iowa has done in the past, but added, “Most everything is different in some respects’’ and labels it a combination of ideas Iowa’s new offensive coaches bring to the program from their collective experiences.
After 10 of the team’s 15 spring practices, fully grasping that remains a work in progress for both Stanley and Wiegers.
“Nobody is delivering the ball on time the way that we’d like it to be delivered on time at this stage,’’ O’Keefe said. “We still have to work on the anticipation as far as getting the ball out of our hands to its target. I’m hoping to see a big jump this week and then next week.’’