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Petras ready to take significant step forward for Iowa

IOWA CITY — Spencer Petras was the one who organized the summer workouts with the players at Iowa’s offensive skill positions.

That’s what a good quarterback does, receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. said.

“He had us come in, do walk-throughs, run routes, three times a week,” Tracy said at Iowa’s media day Friday. “Whatever was going to make us better in the long run, he was going to do that.”

Petras, who started all eight games for the Hawkeyes (6-2) last season, struggled at times in his first season as the starter after two seasons getting limited playing time in a reserve role.

Now, he said, he feels more settled in the role, especially because he had a normal summer. Petras didn’t get spring practices in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The limited summer workouts and hurried-up fall preparation for a Big Ten season also hindered his preparation.

“You get more settled and more comfortable as you go,” said Petras, who completed 140 of 245 passes for 1,569 yards and five touchdowns last season. “The more time that there is, the more comfortable I get. Especially having a normal offseason, that kind of deal, it’s big. I think anybody in a leadership position would say the same thing.”

Quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said he noticed Petras’ improvement throughout the season. He threw four interceptions in the first four games, but only one in the last four.

“There’s nothing like game-day experience to help you figure out, ‘Hey, this is really something Coach is talking about. Now I understand better, because I’ve been out there for 60 minutes,'” O’Keefe said. “He operates at a fast pace. Sometimes you’ve got to slow him down a little bit. Which is OK, because it’s hard to do the other way. It’s hard to speed someone up who plays at a slow pace.”

Tracy said Petras was timid early last season.

“Right now, you can tell he’s confident in the pocket,” Tracy said. “He’s taking control when he’s in the huddle. So that’s something you love to see out of the quarterback.”

Tight end Sam LaPorta, Iowa’s leading receiver from last season, returns, but wide receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith are gone. Tracy and Nico Ragaini are No. 1 on the depth chart at the two receiver spots, and there is a young group of receivers with them, including true freshmen Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV.

Center Tyler Linderbaum anchors the offensive line, which has already suffered its first injury. Right guard Kyler Schott is out indefinitely with a foot injury suffered when he was bailing hay on the family farm in Coggon, Iowa.

“I think he’s the first guy, at least in 23 years, I can remember that got injured bailing hay,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Jumped off a bail and landed on his foot and had a foot injury.”

The cast of players around Petras is something he appreciates.

“I think we have a lot of potential, a potential to be a really good offense,” Petras said. “Young guys are growing up, the older guys are getting better.”