AMES, IOWA — Iowa State held its annual football media day on the eve of fall camp Thursday, and as the day often does, it brought with it optimism and hope for an improved 2015 season.
Despite the fact that Iowa State has won a combined five games in the last two seasons, players and coaches talked of hope that weapons on offense and a new-look defense could help this team turn the corner in Year 7 under the direction of coach Paul Rhoads.
Here are 10 takeaways from media day to get started.
1. Jhaustin Thomas Is Officially a Cyclone
The big news of the day, both literally and figuratively, was the addition of JUCO defensive end Jhaustin Thomas, who until recently had gone under the radar.
The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Thomas is every bit of his listed weight and height, and despite arriving at Iowa State back in June, he had gone unnoticed until earlier this week. The reason was that Thomas needed to first finish Iowa State classes during the summer term before officially becoming a member of the team. That happened and coach Paul Rhoads made the announcement.
Thomas, who spent three years at Trinity Valley C.C. in Texas (the last playing basketball), was twice a commit to South Carolina before Iowa State landed him. What he will provide as a redshirt junior remains uncertain, but defensive coordinator Wally Burnham hopes he can make a big impact on the edge.
2. Some House Cleaning
The start of fall camp always brings some housecleaning along with it, and that was no different at media day Thursday as Rhoads announced that out of the 109 players on roster, four won't participate.
That list includes: defensive lineman Mitchell Meyers, who after recently completing chemotherapy, is back home in Houston awaiting radiation; offensive lineman Ryan Glenn, who had offseason back surgery and will miss the 2015 season; receiver Justin Webster, who tore his ACL in the spring and could rejoin the team around October; and running back Sheldon Croney, who suffered a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his hand in May, recently had a second surgery and will redshirt his freshman season in 2015.
3. The True Freshmen
Speaking of true freshmen, Rhoads was asked Thursday what true freshmen might see the field in 2015. His answer? One.
As has been widely expected, Rhoads said true freshman running back Joshua Thomas, "will be on the field" in 2015, but he's likely the lone candidate. Rhoads, in anticipation of the question on media day, recently looked over the roster and didn't spot any other true freshmen with a strong chance to play.
4. Who are the Ball Carriers?
It's no secret that Iowa State will enter fall camp Friday with little experience at the running back position. After averaging 3.7 yards per carry last season, if Iowa State is to take a leap forward in 2015 it will have to come from a youngster.
Iowa State's listed starter entering fall camp is redshirt sophomore Tyler Brown, who had all of 24 carries in 2014. After him is redshirt freshman Michael Warren and the likely No. 3 guy is true freshman Joshua Thomas.
"It concerns me because Tyler Brown is the veteran and he's got 24 carries on his career as a redshirt sophomore," Rhoads said. "It's thin, it's inexperienced, but they're capable and they're talented."
5. Can the JUCOs Transform the D?
With the addition of JUCO defensive end Jhaustin Thomas, Iowa State now has a total of eight JUCO players on the defensive side of the ball entering fall camp who haven't seen a snap of Big 12 football.
That isn't by accident. Iowa State, Wally Burnham said Thursday, set out to recruit JUCO players who could make an immediate impact. Three are from the 2014 class and redshirted last season while five are 2015 signees.
Iowa State hopes the group can transform a defense that allowed 38 points per game last season.
"There will be a lot of new faces on the field in 2015, and we've seen enough of a group of them already that we feel without a doubt, yeah, we'll be better," Rhoads said of the defense. "How competitive they get and how far along we'll come depends on the confidence level that grows."
6. No Quarterback Battle, But...
One name that didn't come up often during the 30 minutes that Rhoads spoke with the media Thursday was that of quarterback Sam Richardson.
That's a good thing.
Iowa State enters fall camp without a quarterback battle, so the few questions that did arise were more focused on Richardson taking the next step as a redshirt senior. The Cyclones enter the fall with Grant Rohach at No. 2 on the depth chart and Joel Lanning at No. 3.
"But all three quarterbacks are going to get their snaps in camp," Rhoads said. "There is, and we acknowledge, a skillset that Joel has that the other two [don't] because of his physical size and nature. You might see something come out of Joel in that regard."
In other words, Lanning could get some action in the offense even with Richardson behind center.
7. Returners are Still TBA
For now, the spot on the depth chart is empty.
"It's such a big pool [it's] too early to call. It's an open race when we start," Rhoads said. "First it's a catch elimination. They get fired quickly if they don't have the composure to just catch the ball."
8. Too Much WR Hype?
Early on during his news conference, Rhoads said the receiving unit is one that maybe has received too much hype ahead of fall camp.
What do they need to do to deserve it all?"Consistent production," Rhoads replied. "Let's just start with our veteran Quenton Bundrage. 2013 was filled with a lot of big plays, a lot of explosive plays and touchdowns. But there were also a lot of drops that I remember more than you do. We've got to catch it consistently and then we've got to be productive with the ball in our hands."
"Brandon Harris...." Rhoads said. "He's our seventh or eighth receiver and there's no doubt in my mind he could go into a game at a certain point and get you one or two receptions if you needed him to."
9. New Look at the TE PositionWithout tight end E.J. Bibbs, who was one of Iowa State's primary receivers in 2014, the tight end position will have a much different look in 2015. Mark Mangino wouldn't go as far to say it would be used instead to block, but did say the unit is better blocking at today than it was one year ago.
Rhoads said the Cyclones would use their four tight ends — Cole Anderson, Scotty Schaffner, Justin Chandler and Ben Boesen —adding that all bring different things to the table. For now, what fans might see from the position remains to be seen.
10. Lazard 2.0: He's Faster
What's the biggest difference in Allen Lazard from Year 1 to Year 2?
"Speed would be the thing that I noticed," Rhoads said.