IOWA CITY — In his role as the quarterbacks coach for the Iowa football team, Ken O’Keefe understands the importance of timing.
Since his return to the Hawkeyes a year ago after five seasons in the NFL, O’Keefe has gained an appreciation for how timing has changed at the quarterback position.
He sees how the recruiting calendar has sped up for prospective Hawkeye quarterbacks, and he’s experienced how players now reach quicker decisions about where they will conclude their college careers if they don’t have a realistic chance to see the field.
Those parts of the game have changed since O’Keefe left Iowa for a spot on the Miami Dolphins’ staff in 2011 after 13 seasons as the Hawkeyes’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
"It is different, and it is hard," O’Keefe said during a Tuesday news conference. "There are a lot of voices out there with the rule changes that allow people to move if you’ve got your degree."
With junior Nate Stanley entrenched as the Hawkeyes’ returning starter under center, O’Keefe is experiencing that for the first time this spring.
Tyler Wiegers and Ryan Boyle, the Hawkeyes’ second- and third-team quarterbacks last season, are both pursuing opportunities elsewhere as graduate transfers.
Wiegers, a December graduate, left in January for Eastern Michigan where he topped 100 yards passing in last weekend’s spring game.
Boyle has announced plans to leave Iowa for a destination yet to be determined once he receives his undergraduate degree next month.
O’Keefe called the rule that allowed both to leave Iowa a "fair" opportunity for players who have completed their degree work.
"They have an opportunity to go somewhere and play the game they love," O’Keefe said. "It’s a win for everybody in the end."
The situation has left Iowa without any experience at the position beyond the snaps Stanley took last season while leading the Hawkeyes to an 8-5 record.
Iowa’s only other quarterbacks on scholarship this spring are redshirt freshman Peyton Mansell, who arrived in Iowa City last summer, and true freshman Spencer Petras, who enrolled early in January one month after completing his high school career in California.
Ryan Schmidt, a junior walk-on who prepped at Linn-Mar, is the only other quarterback on the Hawkeye roster.
O’Keefe believes the situation Iowa now finds itself in with just three quarterbacks on the roster, including one veteran and two young, inexperienced reserves, is becoming the norm at the power-five level.
"It certainly appears to be more commonplace," O’Keefe said.
He said that puts a premium on bringing a quarterback in as part of each recruiting cycle, and for O’Keefe that process has changed as well as he searches for quarterbacks with skill sets that fit Iowa’s pro-style offensive approach.
"You can’t force the issue. You’ll find the right guys sooner or later. It just takes a little longer now with all of the (shotgun) offenses now," O’Keefe said. "You have to look at a little more tape, dig a little deeper. Eventually, you’ll get your guy."
But, it can take time.
O’Keefe recalled a recruiting trip last fall to watch a quarterback prospect.
"It was a 55-0 game at halftime, and his team threw the ball seven times. There wasn’t a lot of value there," O’Keefe said.
What O’Keefe hopes to see extends beyond a quick release and players who throw a tight spiral.
"You have to figure out how a guy will work within the offense, how he works when things aren’t going the way they’re supposed to go, that’s what you are looking at," he said.
O’Keefe likes the quarterbacks he is working with as Iowa works toward next Friday’s 7 p.m. public practice at Kinnick Stadium.
"They’re all making progress, doing a good job," he said. "They’re all on their own level based on their experience, but they’re doing a nice job."