Position-by-position breakdown of the Cyclones as they wrap up spring ball and gear toward summer workouts. They look set with a bevy of skill players, but the defensive front-seven remains a major question mark
Where do things stand with Iowa State ending its 2014 spring practice? Catch up below.
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: Campos, Daniel Burton, Farniok, Oni Omoile, Jacob Gannon.
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 then rejoined after spring. He could be the backup to Devlyn Cousin there. Robby Garcia will begin fall camp as the starting defensive tackle. 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.