Chuck Long Talks About Spencer Petras Playing Catch-Up
IOWA CITY, Iowa – I called Chuck Long the other day to see what he could tell me about Spencer Petras, who will succeed Nate Stanley as Iowa’s starting quarterback this fall.
“I don’t really know much about Spencer,” said Long, the former Hawkeye great, Heisman Trophy runner-up and first-round NFL draft pick. “I haven’t really studied the kid.”
There’s little to study. Petras was the durable Stanley’s backup in 2019, completing six of 11 passes for 25 yards. And he didn’t take a snap in spring practice because there was no spring practice due to the ongoing pandemic.
Yes, Petras is a bit of a mystery. We know the redshirt sophomore from San Rafael, Calif., committed to Oregon State, but signed with Iowa in December of 2017 after the Beavers had a coaching change.
We know he stands 6 feet 5 inches tall, weighs 230 pounds and was rated No. 11 nationally on Rivals’ list of the nation’s best quarterback prospects as a senior.
We know he threw for 4,157 yards as a senior at Marin Catholic High School. That included 50 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He broke Jared Goff’s passing records at the school. Goff, the first pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, has already taken the Los Angeles Rams to one Super Bowl.
And Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz spoke highly of Petras in January.
“Especially in December, he looked like a college quarterback,” Ferentz told reporters. “He looked like a Big Ten quarterback in practice. We do competitive stuff against each other. All of us were pleased with what we saw, the growth he’s demonstrating. He seems to have all the right attributes. It’s a matter of getting himself ready and going out and competing.”
But the playing field will be the ultimate test. And the challenge facing Petras is now even more demanding because there was no spring practice.
Gone were valuable reps for Petras, and a chance to learn the offense on the field to go with what he’s studied in the film room.
“Quarterbacks need that spring more than any other position,” said Long, now the CEO/Executive Director of the Iowa Sports Foundation. “There are some positions you can get away without a spring. Maybe a running back, where you’ve got it or you don’t. You can miss a hole but still make yards if you’re good enough. But you need the spring at quarterback. There are all the little nuances you have to learn, and the chance to take the playbook into practice. Reps are everything for a quarterback.”
Petras does have some advantanges. He enrolled at Iowa for the spring semester of 2018, meaning he’s got two spring practices under his belt, as well as two fall camps.
Long expects Petras to get plenty of snaps this fall heading into a regular season that will include only Big Ten opponents.
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“I don’t know if they can catch him all the way up, but they can if they give him a lion’s share of the reps,” Long said. “Maybe 90 percent. Do that in the fall and you’ve got a chance to eliminate (what he missed in) the spring. All those reps count. Everything counts.”
But Ferentz and quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe also need to develop a backup to Petras, so having the starter dominate the reps could be tricky. Redshirt freshman Alex Padilla and true freshman Deuce Hogan are behind Petras. Peyton Mansell, the backup to Stanley in 2018 before Petras replaced him last season, has transferred to Abilene Christian.
What advice would Long give Petras?
“He has to immerse himself in film study, which I’m sure he has,” Long said. “The one thing Spencer has over me and a lot of guys is at least he comes out of a throwing environment. He was ahead of the game coming out of high school. That’s going to help him. And he’s coming into an offense that isn’t relying on him. They’re not going to come out, spread it out and shotgun every game. They’re going to strive for balance in the system.”
Long said that Petras will have to adjust to the speed of the game, which will now be played at a faster pace than his pre-college days. And film study is valuable, but only a sample sip of the drink awaiting him.
“It’s a little different watching film shot from high in the end zone as opposed to being right behind an offensive line,” Long said. “It’s a whole different world down there. In the spring he missed out on those valuable scrimmage reps, where guys are flying around faster.”
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College debuts can be tricky, as Long’s career reminds us. After completing one pass for 14 yards as a true freshman, Long won the starting job with an impressive spring camp.
Iowa Coach Hayden Fry named Long his starter heading into 1982, and uttered these now famous words at media day that August.
“He’s quite a guy for not having played,” Fry said. “And I just believe that he’s one of those unusual people who’s going to be destined for greatness.”
When Long heard that praise from his coach, he was surprised.
“I thought Hayden was crazy,” Long said. “Hayden was always good about seeing something other people couldn’t see, and I trusted him on that and worked towards that.”
Long’s first career start was humbling. He completed five of seven passes for 31 yards and an interception in a 42-7 loss at Nebraska.
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“They were just so good, and I wasn’t ready for that,” Long said.
Chuck lost his starting job to Tom Grogan the following week against Iowa State.
“If I can beat him out, that must mean I’m destined for greatness, too,” said Grogan, a member of Iowa’s 1980 Final Four basketball team.
After a 19-7 loss to the Cyclones, Fry went back to Long as his starter for the next game at Arizona. Long completed 18 of 27 passes for 187 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions in Iowa’s 17-14 upset victory.
“Things snapped back a lot quicker for me because of the reps I had that spring,” Long said.
He remained the starting quarterback through the 1985 season. Long won the Maxwell Trophy his final season and became the first quarterback in NCAA history to pass for more than 10,000 career yards. He was a three-time first-team all-Big Ten quarterback and the league MVP as a senior. He was also a consensus all-American.
Stanley also got off to a shaky start in his debut as the starting quarterback in 2017. He didn’t complete a pass in the first quarter of the season opener against Wyoming. He threw four incompletions and an interception.
But he went on to start 39 consecutive games the last three seasons, with a 27-12 record including three straight bowl victories. Stanley ranks second to Long in career passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and attempts.
Petras is the next man in, and he has one advantage Stanley didn’t. Iowa’s wide receivers are more experienced and talented than the group Stanley started out with in 2017. Petras has playmakers like receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith and running back Tyler Goodson, another effective pass catcher.
“The biggest thing for Spencer will be building chemistry with his receivers,” Long said.