Spring Issue Sneak Peek (Part Two)

The next issue of our popular magazine will be our spring football preview. The Cyclones are hoping to rebound from a devastating 2-10 season in 2003, and are doing so behind a revamped offense. Learn more about that, and more, in the second part of our exclusive pre-spring Q&A with Coach Dan McCarney.

CN: Sometimes fans take for granted that the leadership is there, the chemistry is there and there's always camaraderie. Is this the first spring practice in maybe the last few years that you have to coach that again after the kind of season you had last year?

McCarney: I think that's real accurate. We're not taking anything for granted and are going back through every phase of the program right now. When you go places we've never gone with this school against the toughest schedules, I know we're doing some good things. I'm not going to desert those things. But we're always looking for some new ideas, new approaches and a new way to get an edge on opponents.

We need to get this team as close as we possibly can, and the chemistry as good as it can possibly be. Whether it's senior leadership or redshirt freshman leadership, I don't care. I want genuine leaders. There was a little bit of selfishness that crept in on that football team last year when we started struggling. That's a head coach's responsibility, assistant coach responsibilities, leaders, seniors and everybody to make sure that doesn't happen. It starts with me. One of the many trademarks of this program has been unselfishness, and I'm going to make sure it never happens again.

CN: Who are some returning players that, for various reasons, face pivotal springs?

McCarney: You're always hoping for the best from your redshirt kids. All of those kids that we held have had more time to learn the system, and now we've got a different system offensively and some of it will be new. They've had time to physically mature, mentally mature and make the transition. There are a number of them on offense that we're looking for to step it up.

We really have high hopes for Jon Davis. He's big, tall and athletic. Five senior receivers are gone. It's his time, let's go. He's at the head of the class. I have extremely high hopes for Milan Moses and Todd Blythe. Those guys are two of the better ones we've recruited, but they don't have any experience. Mike Grant has his work cut out for him this spring.

Kory Pence has been a very unselfish team guy, but he needs to step it up and help this offensive line. I'm really excited about those young offensive linemen.

We were below average at best at tight end, as blockers and receivers. That whole unit needs to improve. We have three seniors and two redshirt freshmen, and we need to play a lot better. There might not be a Mike Banks in the bunch that's going to the NFL, but as a unit we need to perform better. I was very disappointed with our performance last year.

I'm really excited about Ryan Kock at fullback. He's had a real good winter. He now has a lot of experience under his belt. Stevie Hicks showed flashes last year and looks real good right now. We're going to try to keep him around 215 pounds to keep the footspeed he needs. I had a conversation with Brian Thompson for a week in my office. There is major competition coming in at running back, some of it has already arrived. He needs to be more than a punt return guy for us.

Defensively, Cephus Johnson did some good things at times last year. He's a defensive end now and we're going to leave him alone. That's his spot. Brent Curvey, Jason Berryman and Nick Leaders all have a lot of playing time and starts under their belt. We like Curvey inside now. He's 290 pounds and has good feet. Our fans should really appreciate what he did in there starting as a true freshman. I really like Tim Tebrink's improvement right now. He's been a journeyman on this team that's been unselfish and a team guy. He needs to give us more game snaps.

I'll be disappointed if Brandon Brown doesn't challenge for honors in this league. We've got Erik Anderson and Dominique Flower at SAM. Kurtis Taylor got here at 220 pounds in January, and we really like him a lot. We're real thin in the secondary this spring, with seven DBs coming in this fall. Those guys that are there, Moser, Paris, Hobbs, Deandre Jackson and their backups have to step it up.

I really think Tony Yelk has the potential to play at the next level, and I'm looking for him to be a consistent guy. That's on kickoffs, field goals, PATs and punting.

CN: Outline some challenges facing the defense this spring.

McCarney: You've got to enter in a lot of things when you look back at last season. When he had problems, was it a call, mismatch personnel-wise, adjustment, or being on the field 110 snaps and worn out. There were some good things to draw from, some real bright spots. But in the end, you look at it statistically, and that's not what we want.

We were down in forced fumbles, interceptions, and you know how important that is to our defensive approach. Rush defense is still not where we want it to be from a consistency standpoint. We're going to put a lot of time into red-zone, short-yardage and goal-line on both sides of the ball. When you go through a tough year like that, you're usually losing a lot of those matchups and situations rather than winning them.

We don't have the depth we're going to have this fall (in the secondary), with seven new scholarship guys coming in and three junior-college DBs. There is going to be some instant depth getting here, not just bodies but players. But Hobbs, Paris, Moser and Jackson have the best chance to be our starters (this spring), then Henry Poullard and some walk-on kids have to provide the depth until we get the new guys in here.

CN: You already spoke on some of the challenges facing the offense this spring. What are some other areas of much-needed improvement?

McCarney: We want to get back to where we're dangerous offensively, meaning that you really have to defend the field on us. We may not drop back in the pocket and throw 40 or 50 times, but we're going to challenge you all over the field with our offense. We're going to try to exploit your weaknesses, and a lot of that starts with a quarterback that can do some things other than just in the pocket. Those are things that we really want to do.

CN: What are some of your thoughts regarding the special teams?

McCarney: I'm going to be very involved, but I have been. The bottom line is it sure hasn't looked like it because of our inconsistency. We had some phases that have been real good at times. But god bless it, let's make a difference with your special teams. Give yourself an edge each week, and put yourself in a position. We're going to be facing teams that are loaded with NFL talent so many weeks of the Big 12 season. Let's make a difference with special teams. It needs to turn into a strength for us instead of a weakness.

We were eighth in the league in field goals, but we were 67 percent efficiency, which isn't bad. That gives you an idea of the kickers we had in our league. We were second in the league in PATs. We know what we're doing, protection-wise. But we'll be starting with a new snapper and potentially a new short to medium-range field goal guy. Eric Schmitz is gone as a long snapper.

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