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Iowa's Ferentz sticking with Vandenberg at QB

Iowa's Ferentz sticking with Vandenberg at QB

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg has had one of the most miserable senior seasons anyone could imagine.

It's not going to cost him his job.

Coach Kirk Ferentz reiterated Tuesday that Vandenberg is his starter for Saturday's game at Northwestern (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten).

Many wondered if Iowa (4-3, 2-1) might go in another direction after Vandenberg and the Hawkeyes were dismantled by Penn State 38-14. But Ferentz was adamant - as he's been all season - that Vandenberg will be his quarterback until his eligibility is up.

``He's our starting quarterback,'' Ferentz said. ``We all believe in James. I think I speak for everybody involved in our program, team and coaches.''

By many measures, Vandenberg has been at the helm of one of the nation's worst passing attacks.

Vandenberg, who threw 25 touchdown passes in 2011, has thrown just three in seven games this season. That's the lowest number for every BCS-affiliated conference team in the country.

The Hawkeyes are averaging just 5.7 yards per attempt, a key tool for measuring the overall success of a passing attack. Only Washington, at 5.6 yards, is lower among major programs; Northwestern, it so happens, averages just 5.7 as well.

Iowa is also 118th out of 124 teams in passer rating and 105th in yards per game. In essence, everything has gone wrong in the passing game - something Vandenberg is well aware of.

``It just all comes down to execution,'' he said. ``Blocking long enough. Running the right routes. Throwing the ball to them. Catching and getting yards after the catch. I think in every one of those phases, we can get better.''

The one moment that perhaps best encapsulates the ineptitude of Iowa's passing game this season came against the Nittany Lions.

Already down 24-0, Vandenberg's first pass of the second half was a bullet - right at linebacker Michael Mauti. Whatever life was left out of a stadium that had already been booing the Hawkeyes was gone after that interception.

Ferentz was quick to take responsibility for the loss and deflect blame from Vandenberg.

``To evaluate what happened Saturday, any one player's performance or job status, that would be tough to do. There wasn't much that went well,'' Ferentz said. ``To try to say that it was one person or one area I think would be missing the boat. It was a thorough beating we experienced, and we played a team that really played well. We didn't come close to matching their tempo or their execution.''

Vandenberg clearly hasn't been the only problem with Iowa's passing game.

For a variety of reasons, things haven't clicked under first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis. Production is down across the board except for running back Mark Weisman, and he's recovering from a sprained ankle.

Iowa is averaging a shade under 21 points per game, 10th in the Big Ten.

Redshirt freshman Jake Rudock has been groomed to replace Vandenberg since the day he arrived on campus. Though Ferentz didn't insert him late in last week's blowout loss, he appears to hold Rudock in the same high regard as Vandenberg.

``I think he's got the potential to be a good quarterback,'' Ferentz said. ``I think he's a good thrower with good command and works extremely hard. He's a lot like James Vandenberg in my mind. He's got all the characteristics that give a guy a chance to be a good player. He's into it, very smart, very competitive.''

But unless Vandenberg gets hurt, Rudock won't get a chance to prove all that on the field until 2013. Ferentz isn't ready to give up on Vandenberg just yet.

``As long as they want me in there, the boos, all the criticism, none of that really bothers me,'' Vandenberg said.

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Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/LukeMeredithAP

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Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

Though not a big man, first round pick Troy Brown fills several needs for Wizards

The Wizards' selection of Troy Brown of the University of Oregon with their first round pick has been met with a strong reaction among fans, many of whom argue he doesn't play a position of need, that it was a luxury pick when other areas could have been addressed, most notably in their frontcourt. Big man Robert Williams of Texas A&M, for example, was still on the board. 

The Wizards, though, did address needs by picking Brown. And really, they arguably filled more pressing needs in the short-term than those at power forward and center.

Though the Wizards clearly need some help at big man in the long-term, as both of their starting bigs are on expiring deals, they need help immediately at both shooting guard and small forward. Brown, though he is only 18 years old and offers no guarantees to contribute right away, can play both of those positions.

Shooting guard is where he can help the most. The Wizards have one backup shooting guard in Jodie Meeks and he is due to miss the first 19 games of the 2018-19 season while serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.

Even when Meeks was available this past season, he only helped so much. He shot just 39.9 percent from the field and 34.3 percent from three. Head coach Scott Brooks often chose to rely more on starter Bradley Beal than go to Meeks as his replacement. As a result, Beal logged the fourth-most minutes of any player in the NBA.

More depth at shooting guard will help relieve Beal of some of that workload. That would be great for keeping him fresh throughout the season and help him be at his best when they need him most in the playoffs.

The Wizards also have some urgency at small forward. It is their strongest position in terms of one-two on the depth chart, but they have no logical third option. That was magnified in the playoffs once Otto Porter got injured. They were left with Kelly Oubre, Jr. and had to trot out Tomas Satoransky, who has limited experience at the position.

Brown can play both shooting guard and small forward, giving them much needed depth. If he can play well enough to earn a rotation spot, the emergency situations the Wizards encountered last season could be avoided in 2018-19.

The Wizards still need to find long-term solutions at power forward and center, but they were going to need to find answers at shooting guard and small forward as well. Both Meeks and Oubre have one year left on their deals. Brown helps solidify the long-term outlook at wing.

Now, there's no denying the Wizards already had considerable talent at both shooting guard and small forward with Beal, Porter and Oubre. That begs the question of how much Brown can offer particularly in the first year of his career. But the Wizards would like to play more positionless basketball and to do that requires depth at wing.

The Boston Celtics have helped make positionless basketball famous and their roster shows that the one player-type you can't have enough of is similar to Brown. Boston has Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Morris. All are around 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8 and offer versatility on both ends of the floor.

The Wizards also now have four players of that size and with positional versatility in Brown, Porter, Oubre and Satoransky. They can roll out different combinations of those guys and possibly have an advantage on defense with the ability to switch seamlessly on screens.

In the age of positionless basketball, players of Brown's ilk have become major assets especially for teams that have many of them. There is such a thing as having too many point guards or centers because they can't coexist on the floor. Versatile wings, in most scenarios, can play together in numbers.

It's different but in a way similar to certain positions in other sports. In baseball, you can have too many catchers but you can't have too many talented pitchers and utility players. In football, you can have too many running backs or tight ends, but you can't have too many defensive linemen. 

Brown gives them options from a roster perspective in the long-term. Oubre has one year left on his contract and if he continues his trejectory with a strong 2018-19 season, he could price himself out of Washington. Brown could move up the depth chart as his replacement one year from now. The Wizards also now have the option to consider trades at the position given their depth.

The problem, one could argue, with drafting Brown over a Williams-type is that it limits their options at center in particular. Drafting Williams would have made it easier to trade Marcin Gortat, for instance, because they would have had depth to deal from. Now, it's more difficult to trade Gortat, whom they have shopped on and off for months, without a plan to replace him. Finding a Gortat substitute in free agency with the limited resource they have would not be easy.

But big man wasn't their only need and in Brown the Wizards may have found a solution at other areas where they clearly needed help.

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball. More will be known about him once he plays for their summer league team in July.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.

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