Since we are at the halfway point for spring football, lets take a look back at what have been the major storylines on the gridiron.
The most notable change of this spring has obviously been the move of Austin Flynn to wide receiver. Based on the one practice I attended and all the spring reports so far, Flynn has performed better than expected. In nearly every practice report McCarney is raving about Austin's hands and how quickly he is learning the position. Obviously blocking will be the most difficult part of Flynn's transition but if he can become an adequate blocker he will provide a major boost to the wide receiver two deeps. Barring any major injuries, the prospect of throwing to Todd Blythe, Jon Davis, Milan Moses, Austin Flynn, R.J. Sumrall and Ryan Baum should make Bret Meyer a very happy man.
The second most notable change was the recent move of Adam Carper to the SAM linebacker position. The coaches have spoken glowingly of Carper ever since he arrived on campus but the recent move from safety to SAM seems to be a home run. Quite frankly, I was very concerned when Dominique Flower left the program last week because from what I saw of him last spring he would have rounded out a very good set of linebackers this fall. However, the news of Carper's lightning fast rise to first on the SAM depth chart has me breathing a sigh of relief.
Another exciting change to the linebacker position came earlier this week with the news of Tyrone McKenzie deciding to transfer from Michigan State to ISU. McKenzie is 6 feet 2 inches, and 250-pounds out of Florida who played running back for his high school team but most colleges forecast him as a linebacker. Just by looking at his picture you can clearly see he is a physical specimen and should be a nice replacement to Tim Dobbins next year. McKenzie is believed to be appealing a rule that would force him to sit out this season due to transferring so keep your fingers crossed that the NCAA will do ISU a favor and let him play already this fall.
Other notable position changes are Greg Coleman to tailback, Brandon Gunn to nickel back, Matt Scherbring to left guard, Tyler Lorenzen to H-back and Brandon Johnson to defensive lien. Among these changes Lorenzen seems to be getting the most attention. Lorenzen appears to have made a smooth transition from quarterback to H-back and is providing some nice competition for Walter Nickel. With Nickel, Lorenzen, Ben Barkema, and Brandon Tinlin along with all the incoming freshmen tight ends, Cotton should have plenty of options at his disposal to make the tight end a weapon in the passing game once again.
The change that has me the most intrigued is Brandon Johnson to the defensive line and Matt Scherbring to left guard. Scherbring provided serviceable depth on the defensive line last year and with Nick Davidson leaving the program Johnson's ability to make the two deeps on the defensive line is extremely important. Add to that the fact that Jason McGinty has been injured this spring and has been unable to practice, so depth on the defensive line is one of my primary concerns for this fall. Barney Cotton was very high on Johnson when he was a late addition to last year's class so let's hope his athleticism shines on the defensive line.
It should come as no surprise that Meyer and Stevie Hicks have been two of the best and most consistent performers during spring ball. Mac has mentioned both players in nearly every practice report as being the top offensive players during spring ball. Both Bret and Stevie improved dramatically as the season progressed last year and there is no doubt in my mind that they will be two of the major reasons our offense continues to improve this season.
Two other guys that don't get near the recognition but are just as important as their offensive teammates are Nick Leaders and Brent Curvey. These two are rock solid on the defensive line and will help our linebackers shine this fall. As I alluded to before though, the most important factor with these two is keeping them healthy and giving them a breather every so often.
Once again placekicking is one of the most wide-open positions on the team. Tony Yelk being granted a sixth year is a major boost to kickoffs but figuring out who will kick field goals may very well come down to a gameday decision for McCarney again this year. Mixed reports have been the storyline so far this spring. One day the placekicking position looks adequate and then you have a day like Saturday's scrimmage where Cyclone fans have visions of last years early season kicking woes.
One name to add to the list of Culbertson, Yelk and Griebahn is walk-on place-kicker Corey Paetznick. Corey transferred in from Northwest Missouri State and sat out last year, but he has a strong leg and adds one more name to the kicking competition.
Call me crazy but for some reason I just have a feeling that placekicking will end up being just fine this fall and the Ray Finkle nightmares Cyclone fans had every Saturday night last fall will finally be put to bed.
In addition to depth on the defensive line, depth at cornerback is another primary concern going into this fall. By all accounts, DeAndre Jackson and LaMarcus Hicks have performed very well this spring, but their backups Jermaine Hickey and Roger Wright are what have me concerned. Maybe Hickey and Wright will end up surprising us all and provide excellent depth this fall but the fact we have heard nothing about either one of these guys so far this spring has me concerned.
Losing Bobby Chalk and Jerry Gair could come back to haunt us this fall if Wright and Hickey are unable to provide quality depth. Freshmen Chris Singleton, Steve Johnson, Durrell Williams and James Smith could be a huge key for upgrading the paper-thin cornerback position.
Finally, the other thing that concerns me is the fact that Jackson appears to be the leading candidate for kick return duties. As we all know, kick returning is a very dangerous position and we just can't afford to lose Jackson for any time at all.
Last but not least are the hogs in the trenches. We all know that the trenches are where games are won and lost. The good news is our offensive line improved as the year went on. Gone are Luke Vander Sanden and Cale Stubbe but in their place come Scott Stephenson and the Fisher twins.
Unfortunately, Stephenson hasn't been able to get much action this spring due to his recovery from shoulder surgery. The coaches did say, however, many times last fall that if he wouldn't have had to sit out last year he probably would have been a starter already last year. As long as he can stay healthy I'm confident Stephenson will be an anchor in the starting five and will help alleviate the loss of Vander Sanden.
Scott and Paul Fisher were two of the highlights of this last recruiting class. Scott has already started making an impact on the two-deeps this spring, and if Paul is anything like his brother he will be hard to keep off the depth chart let alone the starting line-up this fall.
Another encouraging sign is that Fabian Dodd has held his own this spring. Many in Cyclone Nation, including myself, thought after last year's move to the offensive line that Dodd might not ever see the field on the offensive side of the ball. But it now appears that he will at least contribute as a member of the two-deeps if not challenge for a starting spot come fall.
The bottom line here is Cotton is now in his second year with this offensive line and that alone will be the biggest reason why Stevie Hicks will again run for 1,000 yards barring injury. The biggest accomplishment for Mac this offseason is convincing Barney and other members of the football staff to stay in Ames to help take this program to the next level.
Avoiding the injury bug
Keep your fingers crossed but maybe some of the best news of spring practice is that there have been no significant injuries. For the most part we are a deeper team than any in recent memory (except for the defensive line and cornerback).
On one final note, let's not forget to be thankful that Mac has allowed spring practice to be open again this spring. From what I understand the evil empire to the east has practice shut down pretty tight and will have no spring game so I would like to thank Mac for keeping practice open and allowing us to enjoy following our Cyclones all spring.
Random round ball thoughts
All of us in Cyclone Nation have been concerned with who Wayne Morgan would sign this spring. We have already found out that Jiri Hubalek has accepted an offer from the Clones and there is another rumored big man to be on the way to Ames. If this all comes to pass, the only questions left to be answered are will Aaron Agnew be back next year and will we sign one more player this spring?
I, however, think maybe the biggest issues left to be resolved are who will Morgan hire for the vacant assistant coaching position and will we be able to keep Damon Archibald around for another season? The job our coaching staff did this year is absolutely amazing considering the fact that they were one man down after Bob Sundvold left shortly before practices began last fall.
Wayne, Darryl Sharp and Dave Edwards spent countless nights burning the midnight oil watching film trying to figure out how to turn the season around after a 0-5 start in conference play. Amazingly, they did just that but it goes without saying how important adding a top-notch assistant would be.
Experiencing the NCAA tournament was invaluable experience for our young players and some well deserved icing on the cake for Jared Homan and Damion Staple. The North Carolina game didn't end like we all would have wished but let's not forget how valuable the exposure on the East Coast was for our recruiting efforts.
Speaking of the NCAA tournament, I'm sure many of you shared my mixed feelings about the Hawkeyes getting into the tournament. It is never fun for many of us die-hards to see Hawk fans gloat but on the other hand it turned out just perfect. Alford did just enough to get Hawkeye fans excited about their program again but then pulled the rug out from under them by getting stomped by Cincinnati. The best part is he did just enough to keep his job for at least one more year if not more. As much as some things change, they always seem to stay the same.
Well, I see no better time to end these musings than after taking a shot at the Hawks.
See you all at the spring game.
(COWBOYCLONE has no radio show and no life. He can usually be found spending way too much time on our message boards talking about his favorite subject, the Cyclones.)