Looking the Part
At Iowa State, size no longer matters. Or at least not as much as it once did.
If I had to pick out one thing from Monday's media day event for the ISU football program that stuck out to me as a reoccurring theme, it would be how fit and trim this team looked almost to a man. In fact, some players, like mammoth offensive lineman Brandon Cook for instance, look like a brand new man.
This eye test score was a far cry from last year's, when the onus was on gaining weight. There were whispers when Barney Cotton appeared on the scene that contrary to preconceived notions about bigger being better at his alma mater Nebraska, ISU's new offensive coordinator declared a battle of the bulge.
No more talk of breakfast clubs and demanding players indulging in a diet even I could endorse in an effort to bulk up. In fact, I would go so far as to say these guys looked more like a collective group of Lance Armstrongs as opposed to Lou Ferrignos. In the five years that I've been doing live radio shows on media day from Ames and Iowa City, this was the most physically fit looking football team I have seen yet.
Now, the question is does leaner equal meaner once the facemasks start flying this fall? We'll find that out on September 4th I suppose. Nonetheless, it does signify to me that at least this offseason summer conditioning was collectively taken seriously. That is certainly good news for the citizenry of Cyclone Nation.
Replacing Jason Berryman
Other than reiterating his original statement about the arrest of last year's team MVP, who still remains locked inside a Story County Jail cell on robbery charges, Dan McCarney didn't have much to say about the incident.
The depth chart released to the media Monday afternoon listed Shawn Moorehead as the heir apparent—for now. Even before Berryman's bullying episode, Moorehead was a player singled out by McCarney for really emerging during spring ball. The Mason City native is over 230 pounds, displays a tireless motor, and as an ISU scholar-athlete award winner he obviously has a good head on his shoulders. Behind Moorehead, for now, are two true freshmen—Collins Eboh and Travis Ferguson.
When I had the chance to speak to defensive coordinator John Skladany during the KXNO broadcast, he acknowledged there are other options if Moorehead isn't prepared to be the next man in. One of those alternatives involves moving Tyson Smith from WILL back to rush end, where he was third team All-Big 12 in 2002. Of course, this was Smith's original position before breaking his leg in the opener against Northern Iowa last year. If that happens, Jamar Buchanan would move atop the depth chart in place of Smith.
The discussion about on exactly what side of the ball junior college transfer Fabian Dodd ends up at also factors in here. At 315 pounds and with Division I-A playing experience, Dodd is a tempting target at defensive tackle. That would allow Brent Curvey to move to rush end. However, for now Dodd will start out challenging for the vacant left guard slot on the offensive line.
So what about Berryman's future with the program? McCarney has rightly refused to further comment on the matter until there's some further resolution. When I asked Mac during Monday's radio show how frustrated he was to have a high-profile player run afoul of the law in the waning days of the offseason, it fired him up. He clearly has lost patience with those taking attention away from the team and instead distracting it with their personal poor judgement.
Is that a sign? I don't know, but if Berryman were found guilty of anything, even a lesser offense in a plea bargain, I wouldn't expect much sympathy from the head coach if I were he.
Redshirt freshman Bret Meyer and redshirt sophomore Austin Flynn open fall practice dead even on the depth chart, and indications Monday were that the competition would continue at least until August 23rd, which is when two-a-days end and formal preparations for the season begin.
I had a chance Monday to interview them both at the same time, and I came away impressed with the way they handled themselves as well as their personal relationship with one another. There was about a 15-minute wait for them to do the interview. During that time, I noticed they sat next to each other and talked amicably. I also didn't notice any negative body language between the two. Once on-air, they both made it clear they get along well off the air as well.
Considering these guys will each be around here the next few years, that's a positive. It's an interesting competition, because in Flynn you have a rare high school All-American to sign with the Cyclones. Meyer is another unheralded in-state product, who didn't draw much notice nationwide despite an impressive prep career. As Flynn noted, last year he was the up-and-comer, now the shoe is on the other foot. Meyer pointed out he should benefit from Flynn's roller coaster ride last fall should he be named the starter.
One of the more interesting things said by anybody Monday came courtesy of interim quarterbacks coach Terry Allen, who is subbing in for Todd Fitch while he recovers from Cancer surgery at the Mayo Clinic. Allen admitted that Flynn had a hard time overcoming the physical and mental beating he took last season, and its effects lingered on into spring practice.
Only in the spring game, when he got a chance to play with the first string, did what Allen described as the "gleam in his eye" return, and he has had it ever since. In the long run, Meyer has all the physical tools to be a great quarterback at ISU. But in the short term, I'd love to see Flynn – a good athlete in his own right – really battle for the job. He worked too hard last year and took too much of a beating to just surrender the future to Meyer.
Telling it like it is
If you don't want to really know what Ellis Hobbs thinks, don't ask him because he has no problem telling you once you do.
Although McCarney won't name captains for at least a couple more weeks, you can bet on Hobbs being one of them. Hobbs is well spoken, direct, and anything but gun-shy in describing what went wrong last season. Hobbs bluntly noted that the injuries, youth, and bad luck that plagued last season were nothing more than excuses, and he wasn't having any of that.
As far as Hobbs is concerned, the time for excuses and alibis ended when the Cyclones walked off the field at Missouri to close out the 2003 schedule. From that point forward, Hobbs has been about total accountability, beginning with himself. Here's hoping the other 104 players on the roster share that mentality.
CycloneNation.com will be expanding its preseason coverage to include preseason practice the next two weeks.
Every practice at Iowa State is open for about the first 20 minutes, and then closed the rest of the way. Our Bill Seals will attend those sessions right up through the start of formal preparations for the season on August 23rd. We're following this course of action for two reasons:
- This is obviously a pivotal year for Iowa State football under McCarney, and with more position battles than normal looming on the horizon, we felt like you deserved the most up-to-date information we could provide you on the team's progress. Even with the limited glimpses of practice we'll have access to.
- Once the season begins, we still have the option of attending each practice under those same time constraints. However, after consulting with Mac, we have come to the conclusion it's best not to wear out our welcome. The season is busy and pressure-packed, unlike the spring. Besides, we're not likely to get vivid information anyway, unless it were harmful to ISU, so there's no reason to write a bunch of fluff stories for the website. And we're not about to tell opposing teams which players were banged up or injured. So what's the use?
Entering our third year, we have a proven track record of breaking more ISU sports and recruiting news than any other outlet in America, regardless of media format. That won't change, whether we choose to pester the coaches and players at practice everyday or not. We're always balancing what's good for business with what's good for ISU. ISU has told us this is what's best for them, and in the long run we feel doing what's best for ISU is what's best for business.
(Steve Deace can be heard on the radio each weekday in Iowa from 3-6 p.m. on 1460-KXNO, the flagship of the Cyclone Radio Network.)