With spring ball having wrapped up, we run down ISU's outlook at each position, and single out a few recruits who could get playing time in 2014 as well as new starters to pay attention to
The following Iowa State spring prospects has been submitted to the College Football Matrix magazine, which prints in the summertime.
QBs: Iowa State's three-man quarterback competition was on display at its Spring Game. The results were rather underwhelming, but it looks like sophomore Grant Rohach has a the firmest grasp on the job heading into the summer and fall camp, trailed closely by junior Sam Richardson (who began 2013 as the starter) and freshman Joel Lanning, whose arm strength impressed last fall while redshirting. Rohach was thrust into action midway through last season as Richardson succumbed to numerous injuries. Rohach, a native of California, saw his confidence rise with each game. In the final two games, wins against Kansas and at West Virginia, he threw for 631 total yards.
RBs: Could blossom into one of the Big 12's strongest units behind senior Aaron Wimberly and junior DeVondrick Nealy, who step into bigger roles this season: Wimberly as the workhorse and Nealy as a full-time rotation member, rather than change-of-pace home-run hitter. ISU will experiment with two-back sets to get them on the field at the same time. After waiting his turn, junior Rob Standard — the all-time St. Louis area rusher in high school — projects as the short-yardage back, replacing Jeff Woody. Speedy redshirt freshman Tyler Brown might see touches. The Cyclones would like to redshirt 2014 signees Michael Warren and Martinez Syria.
OL: A rash of injuries forced 10 linemen into action last season, but in hindsight it served as a blessing, allowing just about everybody to get experience. ISU returns all five starters, led by center Tom Farniok, who has 35 career starts. Left tackle Brock Dagel missed the last week of spring ball with injury, allowing redshirt frosh Jake Campos — a four-star recruit in 2013 — work at the blindside. Campos ought to be the key reserve for the unit, which from left to right will likely start: Dagel, Daniel Burton, Farniok, Oni Omoile, Jacob Gannon.
Update: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly tabbed Campos as the likely starter at left tackle. It has been updated to read: Dagel.
Receivers: The strength of the team, especially if we include tight end E.J. Bibbs, a second-team All-Conference player in 2013. There's Quenton Bundrage (nine touchdown), explosive slot player Jarvis West, big-bodied X-type receivers in Dondre Daley and USF transfer D'Vario Montgomery and the slippery P.J. Harris headlining the corps. Walk-on Brett Medders caught six passes in the spring game, mostly out of the slot, and the team is expecting contributions from Tad Ecby, Damein Lawry and Bryan Ajumobi. Then, of course, there's 2014 signee Allen Lazard, the gem of Paul Rhoads' most recent recruiting class. The Army All-American will face a stiff upgrade in competition from the opponents he dominated at Urbandale (IA) High, but Lazard has the size, the leaping ability and the hands to be a middle-of-the-field and redzone target as a freshman.
DL: D-tackles coach Shane Burnham remarked he was experiencing 'Groundhog Day' this spring, which closely resembled the same period in 2013: ISU was without 6-foot-7 David Irving because of an injury and did not yet have JUCO transfer Rodney Coe on campus. Well, the Cyclones don't have either of those players anymore, Irving being dismissed because of continuing legal issues and Coe because of various violations of team conduct. Starting nose guard Brandon Jensen quit the team, as did No. 2 2013 nose Austin Krick. The Cyclones are asking sophomore Devlyn Cousin to anchor the middle at nose, while inexperienced sophomore Pierre Aka likely becomes the starting three-tech. The outlook is rosier at end, where ISU returns Big 12 honorable mention player Cory Morrissey. The Cyclones signed four JUCO ends in 2014. The headliner is Dale Pierson, who had 11.5 sacks at Pasadena Community College, but the other three — Gabe Luna, Terry Ayeni and Trent Taylor — will play roles of varying importance. Ayeni has the frame to slide inside to tackle.
LBs: Say goodbye to Jeremiah George, whose 11.08 tackles per game were No. 3 nationally in 2013, and hello to his potential replacement at middle linebacker, JUCO transfer Jordan Harris out of Copiah-Lincoln in Mississippi. Harris led the NJCAA in tackles at 13.8 per game and, like George, measures at below 6-feet. Redshirt freshman Alton Meeks has been a nice surprise at middle, the former high school quarterback (and a defensive end last season on the scout team), running with the first-teamers much of spring. On the outside is strongside linebacker Jared Brackens, who struggled in 2013 but looked explosive rushing the passer and more polished in coverage in the spring game, and Drake Ferch, a walk-on surprise who'll provide Brackens relief and get snaps at nickel back. Luke Knott was sidelined midway through a sharp 2013 freshman campaign with a hip injury and spent the spring recovering. He's the presumptive starter at weakside 'backer if healthy.
DBs: At cornerback, Iowa State has a star-in-the-making in sophomore Nigel Tribune to go with a whole 'lotta question marks. Tribune should lock down one side of the field — ISU is doing away with "left" and "right" cornerback and instead experimenting with "field" and boundary," dependent on which hash the ball is on — but there's not a surefire starter to pair alongside him. Junior Sam E. Richardson (not to be confused with the quarterback) is a stout open-field tackler but at 5-foot-7 struggles to play balls in flight. Kenneth Lynn, a junior, started the 2013 finale. There's also senior Matthew Thomas. This is a position that could be up for grabs for one of the three 2014 cornerback signees arriving in Ames this summer — Brian Peavy, De'Monte Ruth and Mike Johnson.
After losing starters Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield, ISU decided to go the JUCO route at safety, signing Devron Moore and Qujuan Floyd. Moore enrolled early and then … poof. He didn't play in the Spring Game or participate in the final few weeks of practice because he, well, wasn't in Ames. Rhoads cited Moore's absence as "homesickness," and at time of press it's uncertain if he'll return. That leaves redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya as the starter at free safety. Had he not torn his achilles in fall camp of 2013, Cotton-Moya would've joined Tribune as one of two true freshmen to play. He's athletic but needs to bulk up some. At strong safety, it'll be between Floyd and sophomore T.J. Mutcherson, who ended a solid spring with a sprained MCL that'll keep him out of action until June — an injury that's perhaps a microcosm of Iowa State's defensive luck this spring.
STs: Cole Netten returns after a 13-for-18 mark on field goals as a freshman (13-for-14 on tries 41 yards or shorter). He's looking to add some leg and hit a 56-yard field goal in the spring game. Acclaimed punter Kirby Van Der Kamp departs; 2014 signee Colin Downing of Whitefish Bay (WI) will likely follow Van Der Kamp's steps and be ISU's next four-year starter at punter. Spencer Thornton will enter his third season as ISU's long snapper. A crew of players will contend to return punts and kicks. Jarvis West and DeVondrick Nealy are perhaps the most dangerous options but the Cyclones could opt to hold them off special teams to keep them healthy and fresh for larger roles on offense.
It was an offseason of tumult for Rhoads, who fired offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham and running backs coach Ken Pope, replacing them with former Kansas coach Mark Mangino and Toledo's Louis Ayeni, respectively. Offensive line coach Chris Klenakis left for Louisville after Mangino's hiring and defensive backs coach Troy Douglas headed to Pittsburgh a few days after Signing Day. Tight ends coach Bill Bleil joined the Rhode Island staff as offensive coordinator. Tragically, 43-year-old defensive ends coach Curtis Bray died due to a pulmonary embolism on the morning of Jan. 15. ISU will honor Bray this season with "CB" helmet decals and Morrissey will wear Bray's No. 58. Rhoads tabbed veteran coach Stan Eggen, most recently at Louisiana Tech, to replace Bray. Former wide receivers coach Todd Sturdy will coach quarterbacks, Tommy Mangino — son of Mark — was hired to coach the wideouts and Brandon Blaney, who served on Mangino's staff at KU, will coach the offensive line. Buffalo's Maurice Linguist replaces Douglas in the secondary. Mark Mangino will tend to the tight ends. Wally Burnham (linebackers, defensive coordinator) and Shane Burnham (defensive tackles) are the only true holdovers at their unit. … Rhoads is entering his sixth fall at the helm of the Cyclones, having guided the team to three bowl appearances, but the most recent campaign (2013) was his worst yet in Ames, hence the offseason exodus and signing of seven junior college players (six defenders and an offensive guard, Wendell Taiese) who'll be expected to contribute early. … Four starting defensive players from 2013 are gone before their eligibility expired: NG Jensen (quit), DTs Irving and Coe (dismissed) and nickelback Charlie Rogers, who transferred in the offseason to Iowa Western JUCO.
Iowa State has a front-loaded schedule, opening the season home against FCS champion North Dakota State (the Cyclones lost to FCS Northern Iowa in 2013) and Kansas State, then a game at in-state rival Iowa. Baylor, at Oklahoma State, Toledo, at Texas and Oklahoma (Nov. 1) are next.
Recruits to watch:
ISU redshirted all its freshmen in 2012 then only played Nigel Tribune in 2013. This season could deviate, if ever so slightly, from Rhoads' standard. Colin Downing is the favorite to take over as punter, while Allen Lazard will be difficult to keep off the field — he's too talented and the fans would riot. A cornerback could play, perhaps Brian Peavy, while running back Michael Warren might get snaps, in case of emergency. ISU is thin at nickelback, a position at which the Cyclones like to use a hybrid strongside 'backer and strong safety, and Reggan Northrup was signed in 2014 to specifically play such a role.
New starters to watch:
1. Strong safety T.J. Mutcherson has all the physical tools to add an element of intimidation to the middle of ISU's defense, which sorely needed enforcement in 2013. The redshirt sophomore will be cleared of a sprained MCL injury, suffered during the Spring Game, by June. "Excellent ball skills and brings toughness to the position," Rhoads says.
2. Someone will emerge at MIKE 'backer — money here is on Jordan Harris over Alton Meeks, because of his JUCO experience and instincts — and lead the team in tackles. "Harris brings a physical tenacity that we certainly desire at the position," Rhoads says.
3. Poor Devlyn Cousin will face double- and triple- teams as the nose guard on a team without an established defensive tackle, but he'll have to hold up. ISU's defense won't operate smoothly without an anchor along the middle of the defensive line. Expectations will rightly be tempered.