Back-Up Boys: Manson, Christensen

Much has been made about Iowa's reserve quarterbacks Jason Manson and Jake Christensen this offseason. Fans weighed in how much they should play behind starter Drew Tate and who would take the reigns if Tate went down. HN.com Senior Writer Rob Howe caught up with the back-ups on Tuesday to see where they were at and what they were thinking. Read all about it in this premium feature.

Jason Manson and Jake Christensen stood about 10 feet apart as they took questions from the media on Tuesday. Iowa's back-up quarterbacks have been close since the end of last season.

With Drew Tate solidly holding the No. 1 spot, any controversy surrounding the position has focused on the reserves. Who's No.2? Who goes in if Drew goes down? How many meaningful snaps will either guy see, especially Christensen, who appears to be Tate's successor?

Well, both guys are saying the right things in preparation for Saturday's first road game at Syracuse (ABC, 2:30). And fans should find comfort in knowing they each appear to be in the right frame of mind for the respective stages of their careers.

Manson, a fifth-year senior, just wants a shot to play before riding into the sunset. The redshirt freshman, Christensen, desires game experience for his future.

Neither guy is worrying about who is No. 2 on the depth chart.

"It's irrelevant," Christensen said. "The coaches make that decision. For a player to worry about that is a waste of time. It's up to the coaches. All the player can do is just prepare and focus and try to get better every week."

The two work well with each other, by all accounts. They exchange information on the sidelines with each other and with Tate when he comes off the field.

"We give each other signals and talk about when to check; when not to check; where you go with the ball," Christensen said. "Drew comes to the sideline and gives feedback and asks us for feedback. It's a good communication system."

Said Manson of his association with Christensen: "We've got a pretty good relationship. I try to help him out as much as I can. He's always asking me questions to make himself better. We have a real good relationship. We're real close. We all want to be out there, but there can only be one quarterback. Everybody is just waiting their turn."

Manson has been here before. He lost the quarterback competition to Tate back in 2004. Now, he's fighting just to remain No. 2.

He thought about leaving the program in the past, but chose to stick it out, saying that he likes the coaches and program too much to go.

"I thought about it a little bit," Manson said. "But there was a bigger risk with me leaving. I'm still in a good position to play. I'm not far from getting in. If I would have gone somewhere else, there were no guarantees that I would be starting either."

Manson worked out as a scout team quarterback and wide receiver as a true freshman in 2002. This spring, he took reps at both positions and played both in a 41-7 win against Montana last Saturday.

"I like it," Manson said. "Being at receiver has helped me at quarterback just in terms of knowing what the defense is going to do out there to try to confuse me as a quarterback."

Coach Kirk Ferentz gushed over Manson on Tuesday, saying how much he's meant to the program. The staff allowed Manson to play both positions in hopes of carving out a role for him to get on the field. After getting most of his reps at WR in the spring and summer camps, Manson showed a knack for retaining his quarterback skills in recent weeks.

"I've been playing quarterback most of my life," Manson said. "So, I guess it's just natural for me. When I get back under there, it's just not that foreign to me. It's like riding a bike."

Manson arrived at Iowa as a decorated prep recruit. He was regarded as one of the top three players in Connecticut after being named all-state for two years. Bloomfield won three state championships during his four years at the school, and his career totals include over 7,200 passing yards, 89 passing touchdowns and just five career.

"I thought that I would be starting for three years," Manson said. "That's when I made my decision to come here. Things don't always work out the way that you plan. You've just got to go with it, go with the flow."

Fans have been wondering all offseason if Manson was a wide receiver or a quarterback. Would it be him or Christensen replacing Tate if he were hurt the game decided?

Well, Manson entered the game first against Montana and completed 2 of 4 passes for eight yards. Later, he caught a pass from Christensen, who was 3 for 3 for 19 yards.

"They're pretty similar performance wise," Iowa Receiver Herb Grigsby said. "We know that they're capable of getting the job done. That's the thing. You want to have a back-up come in and get the job done. If anything happened to Drew, which we hope doesn't, they could come in and we could still be a pretty good team."

Christensen also landed in Iowa City with impressive high school credentials. The lefty earned all-American recognition from USA Today, SuperPrep, and Parade Magazine. He finished his career with 6,555 yards and 69 touchdowns and led his team to two state titles.

Christensen feels prepared to go into the game if called upon.

"Yeah, most of the back-ups feel like they're ready," he said. "Coaches do a good job of preparing us and getting us ready for a game. That showed. The two and the threes and all the guys that got in there played pretty well this weekend."

While Manson's time is running out, Christensen will retain three years of eligibility after this season. Most fans and media types tab him as Tate's replacement. He's not even thinking about it.

"I'm not even worrying about next year," Christensen said. "I'm worried about this season and Syracuse. When next season comes, that will be something to worry about. But for right now, we have a season in front of us that we have to worry about."

Getting on the field against Montana served as a first step for Christensen, who saw his first game action since high school.

"It helps just to get it out of the way, just not having to worry about it anymore," he said. "We know what to expect. We know what it's like playing in front of this many fans and that atmosphere."

Some postgame talk called into question Iowa's decision to let Christensen and the back-ups go in for a touchdown against Montana with :06 on the clock and the game decided.

"I don't know how important it was to score the touchdown," Christensen said. "It was important to get snaps and treat it like a regular game. It was in no way to rub it in Montana's face or anything like that. It was just trying to get some guys some reps. (The coaches) don't want to bring us in there with three tight ends, two running backs and run it off tackle every play. They want give us plays that would occur in a real game. They were just trying to give us experience."

Christensen is absorbing as much knowledge as he can from Tate and made it known that he's seeking reps for this season.

"I'd like to maybe get in there and go through a couple of situations and get some experience," he said. "You're not really getting much game experience (in practice). It's mostly scout team. The scout team is not bad, but it's obviously nothing compared to the speed of the game and the defenses you're actually going to face. It all changes when you get on the field and how you see it out there. It's easier in practice, obviously."

Only the coaches know how much Christensen and Manson will play or who plays first after Tate. And even they can't predict how games will go.

Both guys just prepare and wait. For now, that's all the fans can do, too.


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