Monday Musings

In his latest column, Steve Deace looks back on his preconceived notions about Iowa State's spring football practice and compares them to what actually happened on the field.

In the current issue of Cyclone Nation Magazine, which focuses solely on Iowa State's spring football preparations, there is a piece I wrote called "In the Know: 10 Things to Look for this Spring."

This article provides ISU fans with 10 pearls of wisdom and a quick viewer's guide to those attending spring practice and/or the spring game. For this week's Monday Musings column, I thought it might be interesting to go back to that magazine article I wrote in the middle of March and see just how pre-cognitive I was. Or, as the case usually is with me, how much I wasn't.

Please note the items in red are what I predicted before spring practice.

  1. Cris Love will enter and exit spring practice as the No. 1 quarterback.
  2. Cyclone fans seem to have fallen out of love with Love, mainly because he's no longer the next, best thing. Love has been Seneca Wallace's understudy the past two seasons and clearly has the edge in experience over highly touted redshirts Austin Flynn and Waye Terry. The mantra this spring from offensive coordinator Steve Brickey is limiting mistakes, something that cost Iowa State dearly down the stretch in 2002. Love's total package may not be as explosive as what Terry and Flynn potentially bring to the table, but for now he's the safe bet.

    As of now, I seemed pretty accurate here. Love, despite a nondescript showing by all accounts during spring practice, is still atop the depth chart, if only just barely. However, to most observers that have been regulars this spring – including our very own Bill Seals – it's clear that Flynn has made the biggest impression. The redshirt freshman is a gifted scrambler who throws well on the run, but his overall arm strength may be a question. Terry, who has the strongest arm of the three, started slowly this spring but really began to come on in the days before breaking his right wrist. He will be given every opportunity to show his stuff this summer.

  3. Stevie Hicks will be the star of spring ball.
  4. Regardless of what he flashes on the practice field this spring, there's no doubt who the main attraction is in the eyes of the coaches and the fans. Everyone is looking forward to seeing the Omaha battering ram don the cardinal-and-gold for his first meaningful, public action. Even if it is just for some glorified scrimmaging. Last season, ISU tailbacks struggled to break tackles at times, especially after Hiawatha Rutland got hurt. Both on and off the record the ISU coaching staff raved about Hicks' play in practice while he was being redshirted last season. The mantle of Troy Davis, Darren Davis, and Ennis Haywood is already poised to be passed to Hicks. No pressure, kid.

    Hicks may have to wait a little longer before accepting the baton as the next great ISU tailback because Rutland was one of the real standouts this spring. Rutland, motivated by his forgotten status after last season's ankle injury hindered his effectiveness, was perhaps the most praised offensive player this spring by the ISU coaches. Nonetheless, there is an air about Hicks that seems to indicate his ascent to the top of the depth chart is inevitable. He seems to combine the power of Ennis Haywood with the ability to make the quick, shallow cuts like Brian Thompson.

  5. Bigger + stronger = better?
  6. Putting weight on the bulk of the ISU team has been a focal point of the coaching staff since the minute the Humanitarian Bowl ended. All too often in Big 12 play last season, the Cyclones were simply out-sized man-for-man against bigger, and more physical conference teams on both sides of the line of scrimmage. Several players like Seth Zehr and Nick Leaders have made significant gains already, but ISU needs more linemen who are built like road-graters and not power forwards.

    Perhaps more progress was made here than in any one area this spring. Several players have gotten dramatically bigger. Standing on the sidelines on Saturday during the spring game, Cyclone Radio Network sideline reporter John Quinn and I marveled at just how much bigger Nick Leaders looked compared to last season. Players like Casey Shelton and Tyson Smith seem to be better proportioned in their lower body weight as well. Freshman Aaron Brant is already a 300-pounder, which is a large reason – no pun intended – why he's already earned a starting job. Still, there is some progress to be made. With Smith and Cephus Johnson the Cyclones are looking at starting two defensive ends that each weigh less than 250 pounds in the Big 12 Conference. Outside linebacker Nik Moser is just 205 pounds. However, the ISU coaches have to be pleased with the overall improvement made thus far.

  7. Young offensive linemen will emerge.
  8. An offensive line in transition was considered one of ISU's soft spots last fall, and fans should look for three players who barely factored in at all in 2002 to challenge for playing time this spring. Luke Vander Sanden, who is recovering from two serious injuries a year ago, is the only one of the trio to have seen live action. Vander Sanden looks to inherit departed captain Zach Butler's center position. Zehr has bulked up considerably since arriving on campus as an undersized, 246-pound tackle out of high school. ISU Coach Dan McCarney has already served notice it will be difficult to keep him out of the lineup. Ditto for true freshman Aaron Brant, the jewel of the incoming class. Brant is already up to 300 pounds and is already on campus taking classes. He will challenge for playing time at both guard and tackle.

    A healthy Vander Sanden has settled into the center position. The aforementioned Brant, considered the jewel of the incoming recruiting class, is already a starter at right guard with Zehr serving as his backup. However, I do have questions about the depth here. The White team was completely overmatched on Saturday by the Cardinal defense, a sure sign that there is more of a drop-off than should be expected between the starters along the offensive line and the reserves.

  9. A return to the run.
  10. The previous three items on this list will have a major say in just how successful the Cyclones are in achieving this goal. However, running the football requires more then just behemoths leading the way for quick and slippery tailbacks, although that certainly helps. It also requires an attitude, something ISU offensive lines with less athletic talent have been able to attain during the McCarney era. There's a certain nasty stubbornness an offense needs in order to exert its will over the line of scrimmage and developing that mindset begins in spring practice.

    No doubt about it, this was one of the focal points of spring football practice. Mac and the coaches weren't going to be satisfied with the inconsistency running the football last season regardless, but when you add to the equation the prospect of starting a quarterback with zero Division I-A experience it becomes even more important. As a side note, it was hard not to come away impressed with redshirt freshman fullback Ryan Kock. I saw him blow a couple of guys up on blocks on Saturday, and he demonstrated some nice running ability as well. The future looks bright in the offensive backfield with Kock, Flynn, and Hicks each having four years of eligibility.

  11. Competition at linebacker.
  12. The graduations of Jeremy Loyd and Matt Word leave a void. The one returning constant is Brandon "Bam Bam" Brown, who will make the move to middle linebacker this spring. Brown is a superior athlete, and should excel patrolling sideline-to-sideline. The two other linebacker spots are up for grabs. Returning captain Chris Whitaker has the edge in experience, but he has battled multiple injuries throughout his career. Joe Woodley is a favorite for one of the open slots and indications are he will shelve his part-time fullback duties and concentrate solely on playing defense this spring. Promising youngsters like Jimmy Morris and Kyle Smith will get a long look as well.

    Brown did not disappoint in the middle, and I look for him to be one of the top players in the Big 12 at that position this season. Whitaker's move to the outside never materialized because he got hurt, again. Woodley was impressive throughout the spring. He may not boast the greatest measurables in the world, but he is one heck of a football player, period. Moser really benefited from the move from safety and has already nailed down a starting spot. One surprise this spring is that we didn't hear more from redshirt freshmen linebackers Morris and Smith. Matt Robertson, another redshirt freshman, displayed some rugged potential and several people I talked to expressed how impressed they were with him.

  13. Jordan Carstens will lead.
  14. Some wondered if leadership was a problem for the Cyclones last season with such a small senior class. In terms of character and numbers that won't be a problem this season, and McCarney says his rising junior class was ready, willing, and eager to assume its leadership role soon after the bowl game. At the head of the class is Carstens, who has gone from a former walk-on to a guy that will be playing on Sundays in 2004. No player more embodies what McCarney's program is about than Carstens, and he can lead vocally as well as by example because he's the team's best player.

    Carstens was unblockable all spring, and was in the White team's backfield so often on Saturday you almost wonder if he knew the plays in advance. To absolutely no one's surprise, Carstens was elected one of ISU's seven – count ‘em – seven captains for 2003. The other six are Whitaker, Rutland, Woodley, Lane Danielsen, Bob Montgomery, and Shelton. Some observers questioned the leadership on last season's squad, especially in the second half of the season. Thus, it should be noted that the seven captains for this year are one less than the total number of scholarship seniors that exhausted their eligibility after the 2002 season.

  15. The deepest, most talented wide receiving corps in school history.
  16. Lance Young flirted briefly with declaring early for the NFL draft, and his return bolsters a receiving corps replete with depth and experience. Young, Jamaul Montgomery, Lane Danielsen, and Jack Whitver give the Cyclones a foursome that rivals any returning in the Big 12. Also waiting in the wings are David Banks-Bursey and redshirt freshman Jon Davis, who each excelled last spring but might find playing time difficult to come by this fall. This group of receivers should make the transition smoother for whoever wins the starting quarterback job.

    The Cyclones are hoping this group turns out to be all it's hyped up to be, because whomever wins the starting quarterback job will need all the help they can get. Danielsen – gasp! – actually dropped a couple of passes this spring. He also reportedly ran the fastest 40-time at ISU's pro day last month with a legitimate sub-4.4. Davis caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Love on Saturday for the White team's only touchdown.

  17. Newcomer James Wright will get a very long look at tight end.
  18. Wright is the only junior college transfer in the incoming recruiting class, and according to TheInsiders.com he is one of the highest-regarded newcomers for the class of 2003. Wright has NFL bloodlines in his family, and is an excellent athlete. However, he played in a two-tight end scheme at his JUCO and he was the blocking tight end. ISU coaches are hoping his hands equal his measurables.

    Brett Kellogg has actually been the surprise here, going from third on the depth chart to the starter coming out of spring ball. Wright still possesses the most potent package at the position from an athletic standpoint, but he still hasn't picked up the nuisances of the passing game after serving as strictly a blocking tight end in junior college. He's also suffered through some drops as well. Look for him to make a big improvement by the time two-a-days in August are completed.

  19. The search for another defensive end.

Senior Tyson Smith is entrenched at the rush end position, but the graduation of Beau Coleman – who was known more for his effort than his athleticism – leaves a hole at the other defensive end slot. That means it's time for players like Cephus Johnson and Shaheed Richardson to step up. Johnson and Richardson should anticipate receiving a lot of "attention" by ISU coaches who expect to see the physically gifted duo finally play up to their potential.

The search is over after the outstanding spring turned in by Johnson, who is now firmly ensconced as the starter opposite Smith. Dan McCarney personally challenged Johnson both privately as well as in the media, saying it was time for him to become a contributor to the program. Apparently Johnson got the message loud and clear. Unfortunately, Richardson has missed lots of time this spring after the tragic shooting death of his brother.

Odds & Ends

  • With spring football completed and the school year winding down, this weekly column will become a biweekly one until August.
  • It's almost time for the Cyclone Club circuit again. Those of you out there who are interested in promoting your events, or in having we here at CN assist you in some way, please feel free to e-mail us at CycloneNation@aol.com.
  • According to CLONED, power forward Reggie George, a prep school teammate of ISU fall signee Will Blalock, has signed a letter-of-intent to play basketball for Larry Eustachy. George, you might remember, committed to Eustachy last fall before changing his mind in December. That leaves the Cyclones with one more scholarship to give. Will Arizona transfer Dennis Latimore be the one to fill it? Stay tuned.
  • Speaking of men's basketball, look for Iowa State to have a beefed up non-conference schedule as soon as next season. Word is both BYU and Arizona State could be hopping on the schedule according to a source inside the athletic department.
  • Seneca Wallace is the only Cyclone assured of being drafted in this weekend's NFL draft. He's rated as mid-round pick according to most scouting services. Linebacker Matt Word had an impressive workout at ISU's pro day last month, but lacks the size to play the position in the NFL according to scouts. Nonetheless, his overall athleticism may get his name called on the second day. If not, both he and fellow linebacker Jeremy Loyd will get looks as undrafted free agents.
  • According to Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes will play two night games this fall. Speculation in Iowa City centers on one of those dates being the Iowa-Iowa State game in Ames on September 13th with coverage provided either by Fox Sports Net or TBS. I have not heard any of the same speculation from anyone inside ISU.
  • Hopefully you enjoyed one last look at Iowa State's football uniforms. Although no one is saying anything officially yet, I have it on good authority that Nike will redesign ISU's uniforms for 2003. No specific look has been finalized, but there's a strong sense the new fashion statement will have a definite Kansas City Chiefs feel to it.

(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in central Iowa each weekday from 4-7 p.m. on 1460 KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)

 

 

 

 


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