STANZI: Deja vu all over again

16 08 2011

 

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Ricky Stanzi (13) passes to a teammate during the second half of an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., Friday, Aug. 12, 2011. The Buccaneers defeated the Chiefs 25-0. (AP Photo/Reed Hoffmann)

Ricky Stanzi has been in this position before – and thrived.

The Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie quarterback was taken in the fifth round out of the University of Iowa with the second highest career win total in school history (26-9), 7,377 passing yards (3rd),  56 TDs (3rd) and a reputation for being a clutch, big-game performer.

Already one of the fan-favorites, Stanzi finds himself in a familiar position; the backup quarterback the fans are looking to be the future of the franchise.

After two seasons, the Chiefs’ fans are not convinced current starting quarterback Matt Cassel is the captain that will guide their ship to a championship. However, Chiefs coaches and management seem to have a vastly different opinion.

The situation mirrors Stanzi’s previous quarterback competition as an Iowa Hawkeye in 2008.

Stanzi started the 2008 college football campaign as a red-shirt sophomore, second on the depth chart behind incumbent starter Jake Christensen. By the time the first regular season game rolled around, Stanzi had worked his way to co-starter with Christensen and the fan-favorite at quarterback, despite only throwing four career passes at the college level. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said at the time, both players would rotate and get playing time.

But it only took one week for Stanzi to set himself apart as the frontrunner for the starting job.

Stanzi entered the game in the second quarter of the first game of the season, against Maine, after Christensen threw an early interception in the end zone – much to the displeasure of the 70,000+ on hand in Iowa City. Stanzi only went 9 of 14 passing with 90 yards as the Hawkeyes dominated Maine 46-3.

He started the next game against Florida International, going 8 of 10 passing for 162 yards and three touchdowns in his first start while also splitting time with Christensen. Iowa rolled FIU 42-0 earning Stanzi his first career victory.

Iowa then played in-state rival Iowa State, and Stanzi earned his second career victory as Iowa won 17-5.

Coach Ferentz went with experience on the road as Iowa traveled to Pittsburgh. Christensen started the game and split time with Stanzi, but Iowa lost 21-20.

Stanzi’s third start followed against Northwestern. Stanzi threw for 238 yards and a touchdown as Iowa lost 22-17. But the performance, despite the loss, was the first time he played the full game without splitting time with Christensen — and would essentially be the last.

Stanzi earned his first road win against Indiana, 45-9, throwing for 184 yards and two touchdowns. Christensen came in late for mop-up duty, signaling his official demotion to second-string quarterback.

Stanzi finished the 2008 season 8-3, including a win against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, with a 4-game winning streak, and Christensen transferred to Eastern Illinois University following the season. Stanzi went on to lead the Hawkeyes for two more seasons finishing near the top in all of the Iowa passing categories. He even set the mark for 21 consecutive games with a touchdown pass (longest in school history) and is the only player in NCAA history to start three games against Joe Paterno (Penn St) and win all three games.

But if the fans want Stanzi to repeat his previous success dethroning the incumbent quarterback, they should allow him to follow the script he used while at Iowa. It is a similar script Cassel parlayed into his current position.

In 2007, Stanzi spent his entire freshmen (red-shirt) year holding the clipboard, more like sending in the hand signals at Iowa, on the sidelines. He made one appearance at the end of the game in Syracuse, attempting four passes and only completing one to a Syracuse defender, in Iowa’s 35-0 shutout of the Orange.

In 2007, Cassel was also on the sidelines holding the clipboard behind Tom Brady, only making six relief appearances (4/7, 38 yards, 1 Int). Then in 2008, he burst onto the season after Tom Brady suffered a season-ending injury in the first game of the season. The Patriots went 11-5 (10-5 with Cassel as the starter) and missed the playoffs in 2008. In 2009, Cassel signed a lucrative deal to be the Chiefs’ starting quarterback.

Ironically, it is that contract which may be the biggest obstacle to Stanzi taking over the starting role. Organizations may preach they want the best 53 guys on the team and the best guys will be the ones who start. But we all know finances play a role in roster spots and positioning.

The best opportunities for Stanzi to start in the NFL, is for Stanzi to follow in the steps of Kurt Warner and Cassel (ironically) and impress the fans and coaches so much while the starter is out with injuries that they can’t justify taking him out, or being traded to another team in order to be the starter (just like Matt Schaub and Kevin Kolb).

Regardless of how it happens, the best scenario for Stanzi and Chiefs’ fans, is to wait until 2012 before expecting Stanzi to start in the NFL. Anything sooner and you could end up with another Rex Grossman, Jimmy Clausen or Alex Smith. And no one wants that.

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Hawkeyes Handcuff Heisman Hopeful; Improved Stanzi, not improved result

30 11 2010
Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes

Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes

What makes Brett Favre Brett Favre? What makes Peyton Manning Peyton Manning? What makes Michael Vick Michael Vick? Drew Brees? Tom Brady? Aaron Rodgers? Phillip Rivers?

… Their ability to be themselves. They are all unique and have different skill sets, and their coaches utilize those abilities – not try to fit them in a neat little box.

While many try to figure out what went wrong after an indescribably disappointing 7-5 2010 season, I point the blame at one key area – Ricky Stanzi version 2.0. Not at Ricky Stanzi the man or the player, but at Ricky Stanzi 2.0 the offensive concept.

After a magical 2009 season that saw Iowa start the season with a team record nine straight wins, finish 10-2 (with Stanzi out and injured in the two losses) during the regular season, and 11-2 overall after handily defeating Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl, some in the Iowa Hawkeyes head-shed thought improving Stanzi’s touchdown-to-interception ratio would only make the team better. They were wrong.

Though Kirk Ferentz, Ken O’Keefe and company managed to transform Stanzi from a 17/15 (TD/Int) cardiac kid in 2009 to a 25/4 (TD/Int) precision machine in 2010, they also managed to take the spectacular Capt. America and turn him into the pedestrian Steve Rogers. They stripped Capt. Comeback’s powers, leaving him unable to overcome four-interception games with one magical drive. They converted a Heisman-hopeful into a quarterback who was not even an Honorable Mention in the All-Big 10 voting.

They were so focused on reducing Stanzi’s interceptions; they neutralized his abilities to be a playmaker, a field general, a game manager, a leader, and more importantly, a threat to opposing defenses. He may have had 25 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions, and he may have been ranked in the top five of all FBS quarterbacks, but when the game was on the line, Capt. Comeback was not a threat.

It was obvious throughout the entire season that Stanzi was so paranoid about finding the check-down receiver and not taking chances down the field, that he ignored wide-open targets streaking down the seams or on crossing patterns. It cost the Hawkeyes dearly.

Having 25 touchdowns and only four interceptions doesn’t mean much when you have five losses. In his first two years as a starter for the Iowa Hawkeyes, Stanzi had a record of 18-4 (.818) with 31 touchdowns and 25 interceptions (a 1.24:1 ratio). 2010 traded in 25 touchdowns and 4 interceptions (6.25:1 ratio) for an unranked 7-5 (.583).

There was no reason to mess with the formula. The prudent thing to do would have been to tweak a few things but leave the package, as a whole, virtually untouched. Why mess with success?

But to be completely fair, the special teams cost the Iowa Hawkeyes two crucial early games (Arizona and Wisconsin) and Adrian Clayborn admitted what we all feared, that after those two losses, the team basically fell apart and lost its motivation to go on. Stanzi could have thrown 50 touchdowns and no interceptions all year and that wouldn’t have made a difference if the rest of team basically quits after two gut-wrenching losses.

Again, this is not blasting Ricky Stanzi as a player or a person.  This is against the schemes and positions the offensive leadership of the Iowa Hawkeyes put him in, trying to make Stanzi into something he is not.

Stanzi is a playmaker, a leader, a game manager and a little  quirky. But one thing he is not, is a robot, and to expect him to behave and produce like one, was absolutely unreasonable and potentially what suffocated this extremely talented 2010 Iowa Hawkeyes team. Couple that with a ridiculous amount of key injuries, you’ve got a perfect s storm for losing five games by a combined total of 18 points.

That is eerily similar to Stanzi’s first year as a starter (2008) when Iowa lost four games by a combined total of 12 points. To put it into perspective, Michigan State’s loss to Iowa was by 31 points, compared to Iowa’s 18 over five losses. And seven of Iowa’s 18-point differential came in the game against Arizona, leaving the last four losses with an average margin for defeat of less than three points (11 points, 4 games).

And those who are calling for Kirk Ferentz to resign or be fired are ignorant, misguided or simply blinded by the pain of such a disappointing season. Kirk Ferentz has earned the right to have a disappointing season every now and then, but he does need to make some changes, starting with the offensive coordinator and the offensive scheme.





Iowa Hawkeyes First Quarter Analysis: A Different Ricky Stanzi

20 09 2010

Ricky Stanzi, Iowa Hawkeyes“Be careful what you wish for.”

How many times have you heard that?

“Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it.” That’s been the warning for as long as I can remember.

Since January 6, the number one key to the Iowa Hawkeyes’ success has unanimously been that Ricky Stanzi must decrease the interceptions, especially the “pick-6s”. That has come from fans, media, coaches and even Ricky himself.

Preseason magazines, college preview shows, every article written on the promise of the 2010 Hawkeyes building on their success of 2009, and water cooler conversations among fans have all shared the same view; “the Hawkeyes cannot continue to win if Stanzi keeps throwing interceptions.”

So in the offseason, Ricky has had that mantra running through his head mixed in with all of the patriotic songs and verses, play calls and defensive reads he needs to work on to take that next step in his senior season as the Iowa quarterback.

Some pundits mentioned Ricky in the preseason Heisman talk, “as long as he cuts down the interceptions.” He was placed on the Davey O’Brien preseason watch list, “but he needs to reduce the number of interceptions.”

So Kirk Ferentz and Ken O’Keefe spent the offseason drilling into Ricky’s head, “don’t take the big risks, check down, hold on to the ball, run with it if you have to, throw it away, don’t gamble deep.” And it showed on opening day against Eastern Illinois.

Ricky looked afraid to throw the ball more than 10 yards down field. But when he tried, it worked (all three times). He looked anxious to hit the check-down receiver or the running back out of the backfield. He passed on wide open receivers (Marvin McNutt and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos) at least six times in the first two games, opting for either the tight end or running back instead. He definitely did not look like the Ricky Stanzi with the Captain America swagger he carried in the Orange Bowl, or in the fourth quarters against Indiana and Michigan State, or even late against Penn State in 2008.

Ricky Stanzi is now just Steve Rogers.

I wish the stats would show what is clearly evident by watching Stanzi version 2010, compared to Stanzi version 2009, but they don’t. They actually support the efforts of Ferentz and O’Keefe, except one major stat, and prove you can’t measure swagger with numbers.

After the first three games in 2009, Ricky was a clean 60 of 100 (60%) passing attempts for 644 yards with five touchdowns and three interceptions. He was sacked only eight times behind a veteran offensive line against teams like Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Arizona, and had 12 official rushing attempts.

In comparison, after the first three games in 2010, Ricky is 47 of 74 (63.5%) for 711 yards with six touchdowns and only one interception. All marked improvements from a year ago. He has been sacked nine times with 21 official rushing attempts. All of these numbers can easily be attributed to the new philosophy designed to reduce turnovers and interceptions.

But the most glaring statistic of them all is not the reduced interceptions or increased rushing attempts and sacks, it’s the record.

After the first quarter of the 2009 season, Iowa was 3-0, on their way to a school-record 9-0 start, ending with a BCS victory in the Orange Bowl. In 2010, the Hawkeyes are 2-1 (ranked 18 in both polls) with more questions than answers and seemingly lacking an identity to claim for the 2010 season.

This could easily be just like 2002, when Brad Banks led the Hawkeyes to an undefeated Big 10 conference run and an 11-1 regular season record. But in order for that to happen, the swagger of the Iowa Hawkeyes must return, and that begins with their leader, Captain America, Ricky Stanzi.

There is definitely a different feeling with this year’s Hawkeyes. But the teams have switched sides of the field and the Hawkeyes come out in the second quarter starting with Ball State, Saturday (Sept. 25), and then Big 10 conference play with Penn State and then to the Big House against whatever Michigan team decides to show up. The Parade to the Roses starts now.