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Harty: Rudock seems to be QB heir apparent

[ 5 ] October 23, 2011 |

As a true freshman on the Iowa football team, quarterback Jake Rudock is basically under lockdown.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz prohibits his true freshman from speaking to the media. And the plan is to redshirt Rudock this season, so we don’t get to see him play in games, either.

But we hear things about Rudock, good things about him being the future behind center for Iowa, which defeated Indiana 45-24 this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium to improve to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Legends Division of the Big Ten.

A skeptic might dismiss that as typical hype for a backup quarterback because Rudock hasn’t done anything at the collegiate level except practice and help signal plays in from the sideline during games.

But how does a skeptic explain A.J. Derby abruptly moving from quarterback, where he had climbed to No. 2 on the depth chart, to linebacker last week?

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz asked Derby to make the switch Tuesday to help a linebacker crew that’s been decimated by injuries.

After talking to his parents, Derby agreed and then made his debut on special teams against Indiana.

Derby said Saturday that the move was permanent.

That means Rudock and junior starter James Vandenberg and junior backup John Wienke are the only quarterbacks Iowa has on scholarship heading into Saturday’s game against Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Common sense says that Ferentz wouldn’t have asked the 6-foot-4, 232-pound Derby to switch positions, even with the lack of depth at linebacker, and Derby wouldn’t have agreed to switch if there were any doubts about Rudock’s ability.

Derby graduated from City High a semester early so he could enroll at Iowa for the 2010 spring semester er to get a head start at playing quarterback at the Big Ten level.

He was still new to the position after playing quarterback only as a junior and senior in high school, but he seemed determined to see it through despite rumors and speculation that a position switch was inevitable.

It just doesn’t make sense that Derby would throw it all away unless he saw the handwriting on the wall, which in this case is a future depth chart with Rudock’s name listed above his.

The fact that Derby was just coming off a two-game suspension after being charged with public intoxication and fourth-degree criminal mischief on Oct. 1 might have factored into the timing of the switch.

But it seems pretty risky to give up on your backup quarterback as a redshirt freshman because of one incident unless you feel comfortable about the position without him and convinced that Derby could be a force at linebacker.

And with Vandenberg and Wienke both being juniors, they’ll be gone after next season, leaving Rudock as the heir apparent unless the Iowa coaches find another quarterback better than him.

Iowa has yet to land a quarterback in its 2012 recruiting class, but now you figure the search will intensify with Derby no longer in the mix.

“I know we need to get at least one, a real good one, and then we’ll go from there,” Ferentz said.

This seems more like a situation where Derby was given a chance to meet his goal of playing quarterback at Iowa until it became apparent that the 6-3, 185-pound Rudock had more upside and that the team would be better off with Derby playing linebacker.

I’ve thought since Rudock signed with Iowa last February after having an illustrious career at perennial power St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that he and Derby wouldn’t stay at Iowa if they both stayed at quarterback.

Al Golden, after being hired as the new coach at Miami (Fla.) last December, tried to convince Rudock to change his mind about signing with Iowa.

Rudock didn’t turn down the school for which he grew up cheering and several other scholarship offers to be a backup quarterback at Iowa for three seasons.

And Derby wasn’t going to be satisfied playing behind Rudock for his junior and senior seasons, especially when Derby knew he was talented enough to play another position.

So something had to give.

Derby made his debut on special teams against Indiana on Saturday and he did OK for himself, albeit his tackling technique was a little rusty.

The one time I zeroed in on him on a kickoff he flew downfield, fought off a block and helped make the tackle.

There were no hints of him being a quarterback, but there were hints of Derby’s father with the way he pursued the football Saturday.

A.J. Derby is the son of former Iowa all-Big Ten linebacker John Derby and the younger brother of Iowa junior tight end Zach Derby.

“He’s excited,” A.J. Derby said about his father, who played at Iowa from 1988-91. “He told me he’s going to start critiquing me.”

Derby was a force at quarterback in high school, but he looked even better playing defense. He rattled bones with vicious hits that were hardly representative of a quarterback.

If he is bummed about switching from quarterback, Derby should take into account how many other players have benefitted from changing positions under Ferentz.

Derby is a special talent and Ferentz has shown an uncanny ability to put the right players at the right positions, the latest example being record-breaking receiver Marvin McNutt.

“That was part of the conversation,” Ferentz said. “Not so much Marvin, but we’ve had a lot of other guys that played on the defensive line or at the linebacker positions that would be in that mix.”

Vandenberg, meanwhile, has proven so far to be durable, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens if he is out for an extended time.

Wienke is No. 2 on the depth chart, but only with Derby now out of the race and with Rudock being withheld from competition.

Signs suggest that Rudock’s time behind center will come. And with Derby now playing linebacker, it could come sooner than later.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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