Spring Practice Report Three

It should not have surprised the fans in attendance that a pair of returning sophomore starters stood out in Iowa State's first day in pads Saturday, but a redshirt freshman that spent all of the 2003 season performing on the scout team continues to shine.

The Cyclones concluded their third workout of the spring Saturday morning, and it should come as no surprise that returning defensive MVP Jason Berryman, a rush end, and tailback Stevie Hicks stood out in seven-on-seven and team drills.

"You see Berryman all over the place, and the flashes like you saw last year," said ISU head coach Dan McCarney. "He had a real good first day in pads. Stevie Hicks also caught my eye, but he has been all winter long. He's lost a little weight and is quicker and faster."

After an early-season battle with turf toe sidelined Hicks early in 2003, he showed flashes of returning to form in November. But Hicks has taken it to another level this spring after a full offseason to get healthy. The sophomore made defenders miss with ease and showed great quickness in some solid runs Saturday.

"He's healthy and is back to 100 percent," said running backs coach Tony Alford. "It looks like he had some decent runs, and he was very assignment-sound. He's bigger in the right places and had a good offseason with (Matt McGettigan).

"A lot of it was just the urgency. He's got a little more than he did in the past now that those seniors are gone. It's his time to shine and show that he belongs. He's worked hard at it and studied the game a little better. You can tell it's important to him."

McCarney also had some good things to say about the three quarterbacks vying for the starting job. Bret Meyer demonstrated his great arm strength and pinpoint accuracy on sideline throws. Austin Flynn also had a good day overall, with the exception of an interception he threw into double coverage.

"All of the quarterbacks did some good things at times," ISU's head coach said.

Cyclone fans should have started getting used to seeing a Meyer-to-Todd Blythe completion. The quarterback and receiver are growing comfortable with each other and have hooked up frequently. Blythe has been the most impressive redshirt freshman this spring and drew praise from McCarney afterwards.

"Every time he hits the field he catches your eye," McCarney said. "He's big, strong, physical, tough, and is a competitor. When the ball is in the air he thinks it's his. That's the way he plays every drill. He's going to be a sensational player.

"In my mind, from what I've seen so far from a guy that's never played one snap of college football, he looks like he could be one of the better players we've ever had here. Is it early in the season, midseason or sophomore year? I don't know, but he looks like one of the most impressive redshirt freshmen we've had."

Offensive coordinator Barney Cotton predicted that his system would utilize the tight end more than in past ISU offenses. That became clear on Saturday when Cyclone quarterbacks hooked up with tight ends on numerous occasions. Returning starter James Wright continues to run with the ones. Spring newcomer Ben Barkema has also looked good. Fellow redshirt freshman Brandon Tinlin is still a step slow after a knee injury ended his 2003 season.

Any thoughts of a redshirt for freshman tailback Jason Scales could be tempered because of his emergence on special teams. In addition to his move to second-team offense for parts of Saturday's practice, Scales has gotten reps on punt and kickoff returns.

The fact he's already on campus should help his chances, too.

"He's shown great desire and wants to do well," Alford said. "He's like a sponge and wants to know all he can. The kid comes in to watch tape and ask questions in his spare time. He's not resting on any of his accolades in high school, because he knows that doesn't matter anymore. It's a faster game for him. The game moves at a quicker rate than he's been accustomed to. Having him in early is fantastic, just for the learning aspects of it."

Offensive coaches have praised their unit's work in picking up Barney Cotton's system.

"There is a lot of new terminology, so everything is new in that regard," Alford said. "It might be an old play that they've done before, but it's called something different so there's some more thinking involved. Then there is some new stuff we're doing. We've thrown a lot at them in the first three days, but the kids are picking it up well."

On the special teams front, ISU's kickers have had an up and down spring thus far. Tony Yelk has proven to be the better of two place-kickers competing for the starting job, while redshirt freshman Josh Griebahn has struggled with inconsistency. Griebahn's biggest problems have been with getting his kicks up high enough, as several have been blocked since practice opened Wednesday.

Spring practice continues Monday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., with the Cyclones preparing for their first partial scrimmage of the year on Wednesday.

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