It was weather that would've made the Ames' Chamber of Commerce proud.
Mostly sunny skies, little or no humidity to speak of, and a solid breeze to keep the 80-degree temperatures seasonal. That, plus a sense of wonderment about Iowa State's capability to avoid a repeat of 2003's lost season, was enough to bring out more than 5,000 members of Cyclone Nation to ISU's annual spring football game on Saturday. This was the 5th straight springtime scrimmage I have attended, and it was by far the biggest crowd at Jack Trice Stadium for the affair that I've seen during that time span.
So, should Cyclone Nation feel encouraged by what they saw or not? It's always tempting to rush to judgement after a spring game, mainly because it's the only glimpse we get of the squad from the end of last season to the beginning of the next one. However, patience is a virtue in this case. You don't want to be too hyped up about playing yourself, because if there is success in one area of your team it's at the expense of another one. Nonetheless, I do think it's safe to make some individual assessments, and that's what we'll focus on this week.
If you were not there, or maybe you were and would like to compare notes, here's a position-by-position compilation of my observations.
Bret Meyer looked much more impressive in the spring practice I saw two weeks ago than he did on Saturday. At least three times I saw the young phenom lock onto his receiver either right at the snap of the ball, or shortly before. All three times he locked onto fellow redshirt freshman Todd Blythe. One time the result was a nice timing pattern, another one was incomplete, and the third time was an interception by Caleb Berg near the goal line. Meyer was much more effective with his legs than his rather live arm. I also saw offensive coaches Terry Allen and Barney Cotton spend some time encouraging him during the first half. Perhaps he was too nervous for his first formal outing in front of the fans?
Austin Flynn was his normal self, lethal when he gets out of the pocket but just so-so when he's forced to stay there and make a play. He's a good rollout passer and a terrific runner. Yet I'm guessing that his lack of consistency from within the pocket is what keeps him from being the clear number one quarterback because he has all the intangible qualities of leadership and toughness you're looking for in a starter. I also like the way Flynn has handled his demotion thus far. Clearly he learned some maturity during last season's quarterback carousel.
Cris Love is tough to evaluate because I always seem to see him struggle while playing with largely reserves. He makes some good throws, and he makes so not-so-good throws. He's sneakily effective as a runner, despite his lack of overall athleticism. I think he's clearly number three at this point.
The best throw of the afternoon may have come from Kyle Van Winkle, who threw an absolute dart to Andy Kohler that resulted in the game-tying 60-yard touchdown pass.
Stevie Hicks is the man, pure and simple. He opened the contest with scintillating 64-yard touchdown run and finished with 164 yards on 21 carries. As I've said all along, pound-for-pound he's the most impressive physical specimen on the roster and the most impressive-looking skill-position player I've seen in my five years of covering ISU football. If he stays healthy, there's no way that he won't run for 1,000 yards this season. I don't care what shape the offensive line is in. He's that good.
Brian Thompson also ran hard, which isn't a surprise considering the reports we've been getting about his improved play this spring. Thompson knows his career is at a crossroads because of Hicks and the five freshmen that signed on in February. He needed to make a move, and he did. Will it be enough? It's too early to tell right now, but you can never have too many running backs.
Jason Scales earned mixed-reviews, which is pretty good for a young man that should be tuxedo-hunting for his senior prom right now. He failed to score on a fourth-and-goal from the three-yard line, but did finish with a steady 40 yards for the White team. His big mistake was a muffed punt.
Already you can see why there's so much advanced buzz for Blythe. He runs excellent routes and can make the difficult catch. Dan McCarney has said he has the potential to be the best wideout to ever play for him, and I believe it.
Jon Davis and Milan Moses certainly pass the eye test, and both have all the measurables. Yet both also failed to make big plays on balls that hit their hands during the game, and that inconsistency is why they're still playing for the White team.
The aforementioned Kohler caught the only touchdown pass, displaying excellent hands in reeling in the ball and then turning on the jets in the open field. When I look at Kohler, who is coming off a torn ACL, I think of Chris Anthony.
made a big-play after getting away with an obvious push-off, and ran a reverse for a nine-yard gain.
Did my eyes deceive me, or did ISU tight ends catch five – count ‘em, five – passes in the game? That may have been more than they hauled in all of last season. Starter James Wright was shutout, but Kenny Segin was used as a safety valve three times and Ben Barkema caught two passes for 25 yards. I suspect that once autumn arrives we'll see even more out of this position than what we've been shown thus far.
It's tough to make individual assessments here, although the right side of the line with Seth Zehr and Aaron Brant seemed to have a good day run-blocking. However, note that last spring the offensive line seemed to have a good day run-blocking as well, and obviously that was an aberration.
I do think the unit is improved (heck, there was only one way to go right?) yet Cotton didn't seem too enamored with their as a whole, and let them know a couple of times on the sidelines. At what point he wondered aloud how come they couldn't seem to sustain their blocks since they've "been blocking these guys all spring."
It's difficult to contain your excitement about this unit. Heck, you could make the argument that three of the best prospects in the program can be found here. The starting defensive front was disruptive throughout the afternoon.
Jason Berryman looks even quicker than he did a year ago when he was team MVP as a freshman. His quick first step is daunting if you're the left tackle assigned to block him. He had two sacks on Saturday.
How in the world did so many programs miss out on Brent Curvey? Remember when he was recruited two years ago? ISU was his only offer as I recall, yet now he looks like another James Reed in the making.
Nick Leaders was in the backfield a couple of times, which was a sight for sore eyes to those of us that wondered where he was last season.
Cephus Johnson looks like he walked out of a NFL films documentary when he's in the huddle, Unfortunately, despite that fantastic frame, I don't recall seeing him in on too many plays.
One young man I really like, and someone to keep your eye on for the future, is Nick Davidson. He's big, he's quick, and he's nasty. He also doesn't mind letting you know verbally that he got over on you. I like that in my defensive linemen.
This is the most improved unit of the spring, mainly because of the emergence of three young players vying for playing time.
Matt Robertson only had two tackles, but he is poised for a big fall and will push Brandon Brown, who had a game-high eight tackles. Dominique Flower led the White squad with six passes and two pass break-ups. He will be very hard to keep off the field once the season starts. Jamarr Buchanan had just two tackles, while Tyson Smith – the man he's challenging at WILL – had a good effort with six tackles and two pass breakups.
A promising player for down the road is Ron Prelow. He flashed during preseason practice as a true freshman last summer, and joined Tim TeBrink as the only two players on the White team to record a tackle-for-loss on Saturday.
The pleasant surprise of the spring game was a defensive backfield that is sure to see some personnel shifting with the arrival of three highly-touted JUCOs this summer.
Ellis Hobbs had a near interception, but got away with one in the first quarter when Davis burned him downfield but dropped the pass. Hobbs sure likes to talk, and I like that in my cornerbacks. The man hoping to start opposite Hobbs at the other corner slot is Henry Poullard, and he played well with four tackles and two pass breakups.
Stevie Paris led all the defensive backs in tackles with six, including one for loss. Caleb Berg had the lone interception of the afternoon. Nik Moser chipped in four stops. Those three leaders for playing time at safety will be challenged in fall practice by the newcomers.
Place-kicking was another story.
Yelk missed the lone field-goal attempt of the game, a 50-yarder right before halftime. Granted, that's not your average kick, but Yelk had more than enough leg but not enough accuracy. Sound familiar? Yelk also missed a PAT. Sound familiar?
Jared Homan's Judgement
It didn't take long for the offseason police blotter to get activated, did it?
ISU center Jared Homan was one of the 38 people arrested in the wee hours Sunday morning as a by-product of the Veishea riots this weekend. Homan was charged with interference with official acts, which could mean anything. At least he wasn't charged with another public intoxication.
This is the fourth time the native of Remsen has run afoul of Ames police, and that's the most disappointing thing. I have no idea if Homan is guilty, innocent, or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. I do know that Homan is a dedicated member of the men's basketball program, a nice and articulate young man, and one heck of a player.
I wonder why Homan would not be more careful with his circumstances given his previous record? Why even put yourself in a position to be implicated? I'm sure Jared was just doing what a vast majority of his fellow students were doing that night. However, the vast majority of his fellow student-athletes don't have as much to lose as he does. The vast majority of his fellow student-athletes aren't frequently mentioned on television and given front-page coverage in the newspaper.
When you're a high-profile athlete at a high-profile school, you just have to know better. There's simply too much at stake. At times it may not seem fair that you just can't be a normal student. Yet you're not a normal student. In fact, you've got a free ride. To whom much is given, much is expected.
Hopefully Homan, whose not a bad guy, has finally learned that lesson.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio in Iowa each weekday from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network)