Rainy Start to Spring Football

Spring football kicked off in Ames Wednesday afternoon, and Iowa State hit the practice field in shorts for the first of two non-padded practices to open the 15-day session. Despite the rain and cool temperatures that made it tough for some of the offensive skill players, Cyclone head coach Dan McCarney said it was a productive day for his team.

"I'm ecstatic about (the start)," he said. "The good news is it hasn't been a very long break, as it has the past few bowl seasons. But it's been a real productive eight weeks. We put a lot of pressure on these kids to improve physically and get bigger. We did some things we've always done and some things we haven't done before. This is the best physically-looking team I've had since I've been here.

"Today and Friday are both shorts with no pads, but it's still teaching, installation, assignments, responsibilities and fundamentals. It's no hitting and you're limited in your evaluation, but if some kid out here has a lot of mental errors they're not going to stay number one or number two."

The ISU fans that braved the conditions got their first glimpse of spring newcomers like quarterbacks Austin Flynn and Waye Terry, tailback Stevie Hicks, tight end James Wright and offensive lineman Aaron Brant.

Flynn and Terry showed nice tough on their passes, but were mostly asked to throw intermediate routes or screen passes during the first day. Both quarterbacks split time on the second team, with Terry coming out for the first seven-on-seven series of the day. The battle has just begun, however, so expect the first few days in pads to be vital.

Cris Love was his usual steady self as the first-team quarterback, but saw plenty of his passes dropped by receivers. Lane Danielsen didn't get off to a good start, dropping four passes in seven-on-seven drills. The adverse conditions also affected Jamaul Montgomery.

The offensive depth chart was pretty much as expected, with a few different players splitting time with the ones. That included Wright, the team's lone JUCO transfer, who shared reps as the first-team tight end. Brett Kellogg came in with the threes.

Luke Vander Sanden looks to be back in playing shape after his injury problems of a season ago. He joined Bob Montgomery, Casey Shelton, Cale Stubbe and the right guard tandem of Aaron Brant and Seth Zehr on the first team.

On a side note, Zehr worked out with some of the quarterbacks on the side, so he's still being considered a reserve center.

Hicks got off to a nice start, but it's becoming more evident that his hands will be full with Hiawatha Rutland's clean bill of health. Rutland arrived late for drills because of a class conflict, but did make an appearance for seven-on-seven drills. Hicks, Michael Wagner and Brian Thompson all had their opportunities with the first team.

Still, it's hard not to notice Hicks' skills and stature out on the practice field.

"He doesn't have the grasp of the offense those other three kids have that were on the varsity," McCarney said. "The key will be how fast he can learn our offense, but he sure has ability. It's going to be fun for our fans to watch our running backs this spring. Don't count Hiawatha Rutland out quite yet, he's healthy now. His ankle was really bothering him late in the season. He's 210 pounds and ran well for the NFL scouts yesterday. He's not giving up anything easy."

In the defensive secondary, ISU lined up with cornerbacks Ellis Hobbs and Anthony Forrest throughout a majority of drills. Johnny Smith, however, managed to hit the field for a few reps with the first team. JaMaine Billups and Stevie Paris were the two first-team safeties. At linebacker, as expected, the Cyclones opened with Brandon Brown, Joe Woodley and Anderson.

Injury bug strikes again

Defensively, Cyclone coaches were dealt a blow with a spring-ending injury to Chris Whitaker. The oft-injured senior linebacker was slated to be a first-team SAM linebacker, but tore a pectoral muscle in his left arm and will now endure another spring full of rehab.

"Chris Whitaker tore a pectoral muscle in our bench test at the end of winter workouts," McCarney said. "He had some weight on it while he was benching, tore it and they've done surgery on it. He'll be out for the spring."

Whitaker's loss means that Erik Anderson will get more reps with the ones this spring, and converted safety Nik Moser will learn his new position on the fly. It's also a possibility that Korey Smith could be moved from end back to SAM linebacker.

Moser's move had already been discussed, but Whitaker's injury made the decision a no-brainer.

"We're moving Nik Moser out to SAM, and were thinking about that real strongly before losing Chris for the spring," McCarney said. "Moser is one of the fastest kids on this team and is 200 pounds. Then I've got to believe we're going to end up leaving Chris back inside when we come back for the fall.

"With what we do with our defense and what a lot of people are doing with those outside linebackers. They're involved on the air and in coverage. You've got to have a real good athlete. If you have a stiff out there, they're going to burn you and get after you. But this is going to be a real important spring for Nik to learn the position. He and Erik Anderson can both run."

Whitaker wasn't the only player stricken with an injury. Defensive lineman Landon Schrage left practice with what looked to be a knee injury. He was unable to put any weight on his right knee and had to be helped off by trainers.

McCarney did express hope that injured offensive linemen Kory Pence could return by the middle of spring ball. The redshirt freshman broke his foot in off-season workouts and was on the sidelines doing light workouts Wednesday.

Physical improvements obvious

It looks like the challenge McCarney made to his team after the Humanitarian Bowl has been taken to heart. The Cyclone team that took to the field for the start of spring looked more physically than the one that left Boise.

Among the players who made significant gains are safety Marc Timmons, who gained 17 pounds in the off-season. Wide receiver Lance Young also hit double digits, by gaining upwards of 10 pounds.

"A good Boise wind would have blown (Timmons) away out there," McCarney said. "He looked like a ninth grader running around, weight-wise. You'll see it when you look at some of our offensive and defensive linemen out here. We didn't want to get them super-sized, they just needed to get up to the point where they could be more competitive in the Big 12."

Cris Love warms up prior to the start of Iowa State's 2003 spring workouts. He's trying to stave off the charge of a pair of redshirt quarterbacks, Austin Flynn and Waye Terry.

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