"They're athletic guys," said McCarney. "We've got good competition going there. I think by August that position should be better than it was at anytime last year. With (Ben) Barkema, (Brandon) Tinlin, Lorenzen, and Nickel in there I'd be real disappointed if we're not better by the first game.
"Nickel is doing so far what we saw on tape – he can catch the ball, is real athletic, but we need to get him bigger and stronger. He needs a lot of days like today. With he and Lorenzen we have two potential really outstanding receiving tight ends. They're the type of athletic tight ends we're looking for."
McCarney also indicated that third-year sophomore Tinlin has made some nice strides in the offseason and is position to contribute this fall.
The four tight ends were not the only players on offense to shine, however. Pretty much the entire Cyclone offense looked good at times. Bret Meyer, Stevie Hicks, and an entire cast of wide receivers made big plays.
That included second-teamer Austin Flynn, who made a spectacular diving 30-yard catch with two defenders draped on him during 6-on-6.
Flynn, who moved from quarterback prior to the spring, looks like a permanent fit at wideout.
"Flynn is really starting to learn the position," McCarney said. "He has had three practices and there hasn't been one that goes by that he doesn't make a play or big play as a receiver. He's got natural hands and doesn't fight it. He's done a nice job catching the ball. He's shown signs that that might be the place he belongs."
The player Flynn swapped positions with, Terrance Highsmith, is showing his mettle as a quarterback.
"Highsmith just needs a thousand reps in practices if he's going to be a Big 12 quarterback," McCarney said. "But he does have an arm and has talent."
On the offensive line, Scott Stephenson continued to sit out the early stages of spring practice. That has afforded senior Fabian Dodd more opportunities as the first-team right guard. Unlike last season when he struggled at a new position, Dodd has started to take to the spot.
"Fabian Dodd should be one of the starting five for us, but it's just the consistency and doing it every play," McCarney said. "He has the athletic ability to be a starting guard for us. We'll see this spring if he has the consistency, toughness, and persistence. Stephenson has been limited after the shoulder surgery, and I'd be real surprised if he's not eventually one of our starting five."
Either way, it looks as if ISU is on its way to developing an eight-man rotation it can fully utilize on game days this fall.
Saturday's practice was the Cyclones' first in pads. They will continue in full gear until the final week of spring ball.
Starting defenders Tim Dobbins (leg) and Nik Moser (shoulder) missed the day after sustaining injuries on Friday. McCarney deemed the injuries to be ‘minor,' but did say it effected the defense's play on Saturday.
"It was the first day in pads, and it's good to get back out there and get the pads crackin' again," ISU's head coach said. "There was pretty good retention of the guys that have played. It was a very competitive practice. But when you pull two of your best players out of your defense, you're not going to look quite the same."
ISU focused on numerous different aspects of its team Saturday, and dedicated long periods of time to short-yardage and red-zone.
"We got a lot of individual work, seven-on-seven, team pass, and a good inside drill for the first time this spring," McCarney said. "We had some real good fundamental work in our kickoff team and PAT/field goal. We're going to continue to evaluate those guys. It's going to take all of spring and two-a-days to finalize our decisions there, because we have a lot of kickers there."
On special teams, DeAndre Jackson is starting to distance himself from the pack on kick returns. McCarney compared Jackson's play to what the team got from Ellis Hobbs last season.
"I like DeAndre Jackson at kick return, and he really stood out yesterday," ISU's head coach said. "He just catches it and explodes. We're not building rockets with our kick return, let's hit it and go. You saw Ellis last year just take it and go. If you have speed and courage you can make things happen on kick returns. DeAndre has a chance to do real well there."
One unfortunate item of news has to do with SAM linebacker Dominique Flower. The former Class of 2003 recruit who had rejoined the team at semester as a walk-on has quit again. Flower left the team after the first day of practice.
"He just quit and gave up the football part of it to concentrate on his academics," McCarney said. "I don't know whether he's going to stay here or not after this semester. It's been a struggle for him. I'm hoping he can make it work with his academics."