ISU Ready to Grind it Out

<b>Kansas City, MO --</b> Iowa State has yet to name a starting quarterback in its season opener against Northern Iowa, but a big topic of discussion during the Cyclones' Wednesday stop for Big 12 media days was a renewed focus on establishing the ground game.

"We didn't want to get away from it," said McCarney, who escorted ISU players Stevie Hicks, Aaron Brant, and Ellis Hobbs to Kansas City. "We were physically mauled at the line of scrimmage a lot of times last year. We were physically beaten in the trenches. We all didn't do a good enough job. We were not a very physical offense. No matter the skill of the guys you have you'd better have the physical guys up front."

A big part of that turnaround could be the hiring of Barney Cotton. McCarney brought in the former Nebraska and New Mexico State coordinator and line coach this offseason. Just how good has Cotton been thus far?

"He's one of the top offensive line coaches in the country," McCarney said. "I really started watching his career when he was at New Mexico and I've been around a lot of them as a coach. Barney Cotton is right up there with any of them.

"You've got to have knowledge, intensity, the skill to teach, build relationships, and chemistry. Barney brings all of those things. He seems to be real appreciative of the opportunity he has at Iowa State. I'm thrilled to have him. Barney Cotton is special."

But some continuity with the offensive line has also helped matters.

The starting five of Brant, Cale Stubbe, Luke Vander Sanden, Seth Zehr, and Kory Pence has been together since spring ball, and will likely open the season together. That, along experience gained in 2003, has helped the unit improve under Cotton.

"It was kind of tough last year because of injuries and not playing next to the same guy each week," said Brant. "It was hard to get comfortable with the guys around you. But now we've been playing with each other since the spring and we're a lot more comfortable and confident."

QB battle a positive or negative?

For the second consecutive training camp, ISU will enter two-a-days without a starting quarterback. Bret Meyer and Austin Flynn will vie for the top spot after closing out the spring on the same line.

How much of a worry is the quarterback situation heading into the fall? Not as much as some would think, says McCarney.

"I don't look at it as a controversy; I look at it as a good situation," ISU's head coach said. "It's real wide open in this stage between them. It's actually good news for the future of our program. We have to make a decision during camp. I really like both of those kids – their presence, ability and athleticism. Our players have a lot of trust in both of those kids.

"Flynn did some real good things last year. The supporting cast wasn't as good as it needed to be, but neither was he. Meyer's confidence level is high, but he hasn't played one down of college football. He'll learn a lot of lessons this year whether he's the starter or not. We expect some real big things out of them in the future."

While McCarney would like to name a starter in camp, he says that's not necessarily a requirement. No matter if one or two quarterbacks factor into the equation come Sept. 4th, McCarney does know one thing for sure.

"Regardless of what happens, the quarterback position at the start of the season will be a lot better than it was last season," he said. "We'll do whatever it takes for us to be a lot better than we were last year on offense. If it's both of them that's what we'll do. If one of them wins the job, then that's what we'll do. Hopefully a lot of that will be cleared up by the end of training camp."

‘It's a chemistry thing'

Hobbs had some choice words when it came to the leaders of last season.

"Everybody on this team will agree that last year was not as much a team effort as it was an individual thing," he said. "We didn't go into it with the mindset of winning as a team. It was more about individual accomplishment and how players could establish themselves. We know our backs are against the wall and we've got to earn our respect."

The senior cornerback also knows what it will take for ISU to reverse its morale problems of 2003.

"It's a team thing, a developmental thing, and a chemistry thing," Hobbs said. "That chemistry will only go so far, though. When we step on the field we have to step it up. But I also believe that if we don't have that chemistry we have no chance this season. Another season of no chemistry will get us another 2-10 season."

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