Barney Cotton Spring Q&A

Iowa State returned a number of skill players on the offensive side of the ball, but still had some questions that needed answering. As spring practice neared an end, second-year offensive coordinator Barney Cotton gave a progress report on the offense in a question-and-answer session.

CN: How has the offensive unit progressed since the beginning of the spring?

Cotton: Monday I finally thought we were headed in the right direction. It seemed like we were kind of bogged down a little bit, trying different personnel and figure out who the right guys were. Guys had to start working together more up front. We have taken a step forward.

We've got some combinations of players that seem like they'll work better for us. It seems like we can hang our hat on both throwing and running the football.

CN: Did you ever imagine Austin Flynn would make this quick of an impact on the offense at receiver?

Cotton: To be honest with you, I'm not surprised. He's got a great work ethic and some mental toughness about him. I knew that playing was really important to him. We always knew he was athletic and could make plays. I think we've found a spot for him where him where he's going to have a chance to make plays with the ball in hands and as a tough guy blocking. When you put all those things together, he's got a chance to be a playmaker for us.

CN: Has the improvement of the offensive line mirrored that of the offense overall?

Cotton: We've been playing a little bit better. Actually, we're still kind of experimenting with who will go where. We got Scott Stephenson cleared for inside run, but he's still not for the passing stuff with his shoulder. He seems like he can be a real help to us. We're trying him at center right now, and it seems like he's got some aptitude at that spot.

That means we're experimenting with Zehr at center, as well as at left tackle. Johannes Egbers is a real nice surprise there, and has been a very consistent guy throughout spring ball. I don't really know what the combination is going to be up front. But getting Scott back healthy really helps us inside. And even though Fabian Dodd is not all the way there yet, he shows at times he's got a chance to be a nice offensive lineman. We're just looking for more consistent play out of him.

I might add that Aaron Brant is showing that he's got a chance to really have a good junior year for us. Moving him to tackle from guard last year, he struggled at times but finished the year pretty well. He's definitely improved his level of play from where he was at the end of last fall. We're seeing where he's trying to assume some leadership of the offense. We're still very young as a group, and leadership is something we're really looking for.

CN: A lot of fans thought JUCO transfer Scott Fisher would have beaten out Egbers for a starting position by now. Is it more a case of Egbers just playing better or of Fisher being somewhat of a disappointment?

Cotton: Egbers really pushed himself hard during winter conditioning and played like his back was against the wall. That's kind of the way he's been out there, playing with the fear of somebody taking his job away from him.

With any junior college guy, you'd always like to have it happen faster than slower. But it's hard for a guy to really excel until all of the mental pieces are in place for him. That's not the case yet. It's great that he was here in spring and we still expect big things out of him. But it hasn't happened as quick as some of us would have hoped, but we're by no means down on him. It's hard to be a great motor guy and tenacious blocker when you're not sure of who to block sometimes.

CN: Are there some other technical things that he's struggled with?

Cotton: We're working on technique issues, but for a guy to really turn it loose and play hard you've got to be sure of yourself on what your assignment is. That's what we have to get down first, because no matter how much technique we do, it's not going to transfer over to playing during a scrimmage until he's really sure of where he's at mentally.

CN: You had a lot of skill players returning at various positions. Have players like Bret Meyer, Stevie Hicks, and Jon Davis taken their games to another level this spring?

Cotton: I think Bret has grown as a quarterback. The more he grows, his plate will become fuller and fuller. It will become a harder spot for him to play. His is a continual growth process to being a complete quarterback. He seems well on his way to being a very good player. He's by no means there yet, because he's becoming a sophomore.

Hicks has had a good spring. He's been hampered some by a turf toe. We've got to make sure we have limited his carries to a certain extent. We have a decent I-Back there in him, but want to develop some depth behind him. He probably hasn't gotten as many carries as last year, but he's had a productive spring. We asked him to become a bigger part of the offense.

Early in the spring, we were looking for more improvement out of Davis. But just recently he has stepped up his game and tried to become more physical in the run game. We want him to become a complete wide receiver, and that's what this spring has been all about with him.

CN: Following up on your comments about Hicks, has the junior's turf toe allowed Jason Scales more opportunities to prove himself recently?

Cotton: Jason has gotten some time with the ones. He has been a very pleasant surprise. We've got to hope he'll continue that rise. He's a much better player now than he was last year, and a much better player now than the first week of spring ball. The key is he's playing the game at a faster clip. He's been here a year-and-a-half now, so it's time for those things to start happening for him and they are.

CN: What's your spring evaluation of mid-year JUCO transfer Walter Nickel?

Cotton: We're very pleased to have been able to recruit a player of his quality. Walter has done a good job this spring. He has a plate that's very full right now, so we're struggling a little bit with the mental aspect. But you do that with any junior college player. Assignments are always going to be an issue early on in their careers. It's a brand new offense.

He's not only lining up at tight end, but also as a stand-up guy. He's really had to learn two spots. He's got to be an on the line of scrimmage blocker, an off the line of scrimmage blocker, a guy that releases from the line of the scrimmage to catch balls, and a guy that has to release from a stand-up position to catch balls. Walter has done a good job so far. He's got a ways to go with the mental aspect of the game, but we're pleased with his progress so far.

CN: Have you gotten comfortable enough with backup quarterbacks Kyle Van Winkle and Terrance Highsmith to say that Flynn will remain at wide receiver?

Cotton: That's going to be an ongoing process. We'll get 29 more practices in the fall before we play, so we want to feel more comfortable about that spot. Early on it looked like Highsmith had the upper hand, but then within the last week Van Winkle clawed himself back and dedicated himself.

Kyle looks more comfortable mentally with the offense. He has the strongest arm of any quarterback we have here. He's made some tight throws where he's drilled the ball into some zones. He's probably had the most productive drives and kept his unit on the field longer than any of our other quarterbacks. We've seen a definite rise in his stock this last week.


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