AMES, Iowa -- As Iowa State begins spring practice, it does so with a number of questions to answer in the five weeks and 15 practices the team is afforded in the coming month and a half.
There is no shortage of position changes, depth chart musings and position battles to kick things off, and there is certainly plenty to look for in the weeks ahead as Iowa State’s 2015 roster comes into focus. To get started, there may be no better way to attempt to sort through the news than with some thoughts on the various happenings. Let’s take a look with 10 notes:
Some Position Changes
There are always position changes, and this year there is certainly no shortage as coach Paul Rhoads announced eight of them during his news conference to commence spring practice Monday.
That number could actually be added to if Quan West were put into the mix. Iowa State tried West at tight end last season, but it didn’t work out and West has now been shifted back to receiver. The biggest position changes worth noting are Cole Anderson to tight end and Darius Lee-Campbell moving to receiver.
Spring Practice Non-Participants
There will be nine players on Iowa State's roster who won't participate in spring drills for a variety of reasons.
Among those nine names, the two who stick out are offensive linemen Daniel Burton and Jacob Dunning. Both should factor into Iowa State's offensive line depth next fall, but will sit out the next five weeks of practice while continuing to recover from knee injuries. Burton started all 12 games last season.
Bundrage Ready to Roll
Quenton Bundrage's 2014 season came to an abrupt halt when he suffered a torn ACL on the fourth play of the season-opener. The receiver's recovery is on schedule, and Bundrage will be ready to go from Day 1.
"You’ll see him on the practice field," Rhoads said. "He’ll remain in a blue jersey all spring, but I anticipate him being active all 15 days."
That blue jersey will signify that Bundrage is protected and not able to be hit, but the plan is for the redshirt senior to get plenty of reps and be ready to go immediately in the fall. Bundrage is No. 1 on the depth chart at the F receiver spot.
A Longer Spring Schedule
If it feels like spring practice came too soon this year, it isn't just a feeling. The Cyclones chose to spread spring practices to five weeks this year, which in turn pushed up the start of the spring season by one week.
The decision for the move was to have days off between the full-contact periods this spring. Iowa State will have 15 days on the field in the coming five weeks, practicing on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The team will spend its Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in meetings with coaches.
Eyes on the JUCOs
If Iowa State is going to take the momentous leap forward in 2015 and get back to a bowl game, there's a good chance it'll start with big contributions from its JUCO transfers. The Cyclones have four mid-year players in camp beginning this spring.
Among those JUCO players, just one is listed as a starter on the spring depth chart. At center, Patrick Scoggins claims the starting spot. Elsewhere, Demond Tucker (NG) and Jarnor Jones (Nickel) are listed at No. 2 and will need to earn starting roles in two key defensive position battles. Jomal Wiltz (CB) is No. 3 at the left corner, but is expected to be a key in the return game.
And don't forget Jordan Harris. In some ways, Harris can be looked at as a mid-year transfer after being a JUCO redshirt last season. Harris is No. 2 at the MLB spot, but expect him to push his way forward in that battle.
Ayeni, Luna Feeling Healthy
Even after those four mid-year JUCOs and Jordan Harris, there are yet two more JUCO players who could move into the spotlight this spring and provide key contributions to a defensive unit next season that is looking for big improvement.
Both Gabe Luna and Terry Ayeni were JUCO transfers last season, but injuries kept them from playing. Rhoads said Ayeni, who is No. 3 at defensive tackle, is healthy.
"He’s gone through all the offseason stuff without a brace, without a sleeve," Rhoads said of Ayeni. "I’m proud of him getting that done. He’ll go into spring ball fully healed and free to do everything we go out to do."
Same goes for Luna, who enters the spring listed as Iowa State's No. 2 right defensive end behind Darius White.
"He’s pushed through everything we’ve done and really demonstrated that he’s ready to get out on the field and ready to play," Rhoads said of Luna.
Watching the Offensive Line
If there's one certainty in Iowa State's depth chart, it's that the offensive line is likely to be a bit different when fall camp rolls around.
Currently, Burton and Dunning aren't listed as they'll sit out during the spring with injuries. Burton could eventually start at guard and Dunning will eventually work his way into being a backup tackle. When the fall rolls around, Iowa State will also add JUCO offensive tackle Jaypee Philbert to the mix. So the line is far from settled.
On that note, Brock Dagel has been moved right tackle. Rhoads said it'll help alleviate pain he felt playing on the other side last season and it allows Jake Campos to potentially be a four-year left tackle.
Race in the Backfield
"Tyler Brown will go into spring ball No. 1, and if his offseason is any indication, he’ll be working hard not to give that up," Rhoads said of the running back. "He’s had an exceptional offseason."
If Warren is everything he's said to be, there's a good chance he'll give Brown a good run for his money at running back. Either way, both figure to factor heavily into the 2015 plans. Then there is Martinez Syria. It remains to be seen if Syria is an every down back as he could reach 220 pounds by the season, but he will certainly be the go-to guy on short yardage and third downs.
Who Takes Over at TE?
Iowa State, simply put, won't replace E.J. Bibbs.
"Being realistic, it’s a task that’s insurmountable," Rhoads said. "You’re talking about a guy who is an All-Big 12 player. We don’t have that guy on campus. We don’t have that guy on our roster. We don’t have him coming in. It’s a matter of what we’re doing with that position and utilizing some bodies in that spot."
Nonetheless, Iowa State will need to fill the void. By moving Cole Anderson from offensive line to tight end, it appears the Cyclones could go more to using their tight end for blocking with Anderson and Ben Boesen in that role. Rhoads said D'Vario Montgomery could assume some flexed-out catching duties that Bibbs had last season while a redshirt freshman like Scott Schaffner could catch balls out of the traditional tight end spot.
Limiting the Injuries
It was no secret that Iowa State dealt with more injuries than it could handle in the 2014 season. Now, the Cyclones are searching for ways to limit them.
"One of the things we’re going to test this spring is cleat surface," Rhoads said. "We want them to be a little bit more forgiving than some of the molded, multiple cleat soles are right now. We’re going back to some old-fashioned, screw-in seven cleats on the bottom of your shoe."