Kinnick Stadium had a voice again on Saturday.
Granted, it wasn’t much of a voice — an estimated 6,500 fans showed up at Iowa’s 69,250-seat football stadium for a morning practice.
But it was still a crowd.
It was better than the cardboard cutouts and the limited number of family and friends that showed up for the 2020 season during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was something coach Kirk Ferentz appreciated.
“Certainly it was great to be back in Kinnick itself — that’s the first time we’ve been there this spring,” Ferentz said. “Even better, to be there with fans. It was great to just have live people in the stands.”
That many fans can still put out decent noise, like when Tyrone Tracy was showing that he was ready to be the primary receiver this season after being not much of a factor last season. It also got loud when Iowa’s wrestling team was honored after the practice for winning the Big Ten and NCAA championships.
Even in non-pandemic times, though, the open spring practices always have a wait-and-see atmosphere. There is a curiosity about what to look forward to in the fall, and there tends to be a bit of a nervousness when things don’t look sharp.
Looking sharp in the spring, though, is something that doesn’t happen unless you have an experienced team, which the Hawkeyes do not.
“Clearly, we have a lot of work to do,” Ferentz said, and he was right.
Ferentz said the Hawkeyes have been in a routine since winter workouts began, and that’s important for a team that has a lot of questions to answer. There was no spring practice last season because of the pandemic, the summer had its own issues, and then the off-then-on fall season was chaotic.
Ferentz said he took a poll of the roster after the first practice this spring, asking returning players who hadn’t been through a spring practice schedule to raise their hands. Sixty-five players said they hadn’t. Add in the newcomers who arrived in the winter, and Ferentz said the number jumped to more than 70.
“There’s nothing magical about it,” Ferentz said. “It’s practice. It’s football practice.”
The idea, Ferentz said, is to develop competition. And one of the competitions Ferentz was asked about several times on Saturday was at quarterback.
Spencer Petras started last season, led the Hawkeyes to a 6-2 record and ranked third in the Big Ten in passing yards, but his inconsistency was an issue, something he acknowledged earlier this spring.
There was no spring competition for the job last season, but there is a chance for backups Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan to show what they can do.
All three had their ups and downs on Saturday — Petras walked off the field limping at one point, Padilla and Hogan showed great mobility — and Ferentz wasn’t about to get into any sort of QB controversy.
“I said it three weeks ago, and I probably feel the same about it right now — Spencer still has a real advantage from experience and he’s done a nice job,” he said. “After that, it’s wide open.”
Pressed on the strengths of each quarterback, Ferentz said, “I’m not good at that game. To start with Spencer, he’s got experience, he’s got leadership capabilities. So it’s only fair to assume he’s a little bit more confident in those leadership qualities than some of the other guys, because he has been out in the field, he has been our quarterback for the year. And I think he’s built on those things.
“I think we already got a good picture of him last year, what kind of quarterback he is. Now to me the challenge is to add that consistency part. I know accuracy’s part of that, and I think he spoke of that when he was interviewed this past week. That, to me, is in that consistency package.”
It’s hard to find consistency anywhere in the spring, which is why it’s hard for anyone who sat in the stands on Saturday to come away feeling certain about what is coming in the fall.
But at least there was a chance to watch. And it was good for a stadium to have a voice again.