Just how good have these two been? The fact head coach Dan McCarney placed Robertson on an even line with returning starter Brandon Brown, and Buchanan alongside veteran senior Tyson Smith in the latest depth chart is evidence enough that these two have turned the corner as Cyclones.
"Matt Robertson at MIKE has really made a lot of strides and is definitely a much better player this spring than he was in the fall," said McCarney in his second spring press conference on Tuesday. "Jamar Buchanan has a real good battle going with Tyson Smith at WILL linebacker. He's had some real big scrimmages and days where he really made big plays, but he's always in the right place. And if he does misread on something, he's going to hustle back with great effort."
Both Buchanan and Robertson were long shots to earn starting jobs this spring. Buchanan moved from SAM linebacker to WILL after he got lost in the shuffle with Erik Anderson and Nik Moser last season. Defensive coaches hoped to get more out of Robertson as a redshirt freshman in 2003, but he still wasn't ready to make
McCarney reiterated that Brown and Smith will likely head into the fall as starters at their respective positions, MIKE and WILL, but that Robertson and Buchanan are on track to play major roles.
"If we started tomorrow Brandon would start, but we wouldn't wait long to get Matt in there," McCarney said. "Jamarr Buchanan is hungry, tough, wants to play and is one of the most enthusiastic players we have on this team. If it was gameday tomorrow we'd start Tyson, but we're not going to wait long to get Jamarr in the game.
"But we feel much better about putting those two guys out on the field than we have backups on the past, which means we're getting more quality depth."
Still searching for leaders
McCarney won't name captains for the upcoming season on Friday night, changing course from previous seasons. While he has an idea of a few candidates on the defensive side, ISU's head coach hasn't seen many step up on offense, particularly up front. He does have a pair of senior offensive linemen in Cale Stubbe and Luke Vander Sanden, but a pair of sophomores and another first-year starter will fill out the rest of the starting lineup.
"There are great kids, but it's too quiet of a group right now," McCarney said. "We're hoping that some leaders will emerge. That's one reason I'm glad I waited on the captain thing. We don't have guys right now on offense that are the slam-dunk leaders of the offense."
"When you are trying to find who your first 11 are and it's taken some time, that's a natural thing. Offensively, we need that time. We don't need 11 guys hollering and screaming, but we don't have enough and need a few. That will come with time, experience and maturation. We're in the developmental stage with our offense."
Part of the leadership void up front may be the recent shuffling of positions. Center Vander Sanden and guard Seth Zehr swapped positions. Kory Pence and Trent Claussen have pushed ahead of Bastian Schober and Johannes Egbers in the race to grab the fifth starting position.
Flynn changing positions?
McCarney wouldn't elaborate much on the prospect of Austin Flynn changing positions, since he's still in a battle with this year's first-teamer Bret Meyer, but the Cyclone head coach said he'd explore the idea if the depth chart doesn't change.
Flynn started a majority of ISU's games as a redshirt freshman in 2003, but he has slipped to backup status this spring with the emergence of Meyer. If nothing changes between now and the fall, the question begs, ‘Could Flynn move to another position on offense or be a factor at defensive back?'
"He's a darn good athlete and we want him on the field," McCarney said. "If this is the way it works out, you'd hate to think of Austin standing around with a clipboard, writing stuff or signaling. We want more out of him.
"If the quarterback race was over, it would be a little easier for me to make that decision right now – can he play something else, can he play wide receiver or defensive back, is he one of our top 22? But he is definitely still in the race at quarterback, so we'll leave him right there."