Questions surrounding the quarterback and running back positions piqued everyone's interest Wednesday. Austin Flynn and Waye Terry opened camp even on the depth chart, as veteran junior Cris Love found himself buried in the depth chart. Hicks is now the clear number one with Hiawatha Rutland's demotion and suspension for the Aug. 30 opener against Northern Iowa.
ISU is also seeking to name a starting right guard and tight end by preseason's end. Aaron Brant and Seth Zehr, a pair of freshmen with bright futures, will duke it out for the offensive line spot. The trio of Brett Kellogg, Kenny Segin and James Wright figure prominently at tight end, with Kellogg opening camp as the first-teamer.
"Some of the best battles on this football team, on offense, are at quarterback, running back, right guard and tight end where we've got three guys that are close from an ability and productivity standpoint," McCarney said. "We have 24 days until kickoff and need to make as many fair and accurate evaluations as we can. This isn't spring football and we don't have five or six months until we line up and play. We need to be very accurate."
Flynn took the first quarterback snap Wednesday morning by default since Terry's spring was cut short due to a broken right hand. But the Cyclone coach made it clear both will split time initially, and hopefully one will separate himself from the other by the conclusion of two-a-days.
"We'd love to have it done before game week, if it takes up until that time," McCarney said. "I sure don't want to go into Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday of UNI saying we're finally going to name a starter. Hopefully somebody has emerged. We've got five scholarship players in camp, but I really think it's a two-man race going into that first game. It's Waye Terry and Austin Flynn. They're real good athletes and good football players, but have just not played. We've got to do all we can to get them into situations in practice and get them ready for a game.
"They really looked good out there this morning. We didn't have pants on and didn't blitz, it's not full speed, but the retention was excellent. For missing the last 10 days of spring ball, Waye was real sharp. But they've got a lot to learn. Whoever steps on the field, we expect them to play winning football for us, lead and do a great job stepping in that huddle."
Hicks opens as the clear starter at tailback, but McCarney had some positive things to say about the role Michael Wagner could play on this team, from a number of perspectives.
"We'll split time, but Stevie Hick will definitely be number one and Michael Wagner will be two and Brian Thompson three," McCarney said. "We'll roll those guys through. Hiawatha Rutland will be taking snaps with the threes, along with Brian Thompson, so he stays on top of the system.
"It's nice to have a security blanket like Michael Wagner who doesn't want to sit around and watch Stevie Hicks and he's unselfish enough to help him. When he makes a mistake, he helps coach him but at the same time is trying to get his job back and be the starter here."
The defense should be an overall strength for McCarney and coordinator John Skladany, as veteran starters Jordan Carstens, Tyson Smith, Brandon Brown and a balanced secondary return. Still, the two are faced with a few decisions in the next few weeks.
Cephus Johnson is expected to start at defensive end, but the progress Beau Klaffke made before his injury this spring has coaches raving. At cornerback, Anthony Forrest and Harold Clewis are nearly even on the depth chart.
"Hopefully we'll be better than we've been," McCarney said, referring to his defense. "We have clearly improved and finished in the top half of the league last year in total defense, pass defense and turnovers forced. I'm expecting marked improvement. We have a lot of room to improve from a rush defense standpoint, even though we improved again last year with that. We definitely have to get better in short-yardage and goal-line, because most of the time we were below average and poor.
"Cephus Johnson has the edge right now at defensive end, but Beau Klaffke is 275 pounds. I expect a great battle there. At left corner with Anthony Forrest and Harold Clewis, it should be a tremendous battle."