On Campus: Spring Ball Report Card

With 15 practices and a game in the books, the Cyclone football team ended spring practice with questions answered and tests passed. But what grade did they get? After witnessing the 50 plus hours of work this spring, yours truly, Professor Blum felt comfortable evaluating each position's performance.

Quarterback- A-

 

Junior Bret Meyer looked sharp on every snap this spring. I can count the number of poor throws he had on my two hands. He illustrated in his performance during the game (20-25, 249, 2 TDs) that he is the conductor of this attack. For a young man that will more than likely break any and all Cyclone passing records by the time he's done, Meyer isn't becoming complacent. He told me earlier this spring, "I just know that I've been 7 and 5 as a starter and have a 14 and 10 record. And that's not very good. I don't see myself as a quarterback that has played for a great team yet. I want to be up there in that conversation."

 

5th year senior Kyle Van Winkle proved that he--at the very least-- can hold down the fort. There is no questioning Van Winkle's arm and knowledge of the offense. He went 13-22 for 147, but also threw a few ill-advised passes that resulted in turnovers. As one member of the staff said to me, "Before spring, we weren't comfortable with Van Winkle in control in a Big 12 game, but he showed this spring, he belongs."

 

The rest of the quarterbacks weren't much of a factor. Walk-on freshman Tyson Unkrich threw a few nice balls during the game, but didn't see much time in practice. Brice Beck left the team two weeks into practice. Look for true freshman Austen Arnaud to slide into the #3 spot in the fall. He will more than likely red-shirt, but is an emergency option for the Cyclones.

 

Running Back- B

 

Senior Stevie Hicks and the word health are intertwined more than Paris Hilton and easy. Luckily, Hicks has been on the positive side of the health issue. For the three weeks this spring, Stevie looked like the same player he was as a sophomore when he gained over 1,000 yards. He will never be the electric force the Davis brothers were, but he-- when healthy--is one of the better backs in the conference. Hicks averaged 4.3 YPC during the game and was around that same clip the entire spring.

 

Sophomore Jason Harris moved past the injured sophomore Jason Scales into the #2 spot. He was the quickest back on the roster this spring and also showed some ferocity, running over d-backs. Harris is a humble kid and knows ball control is his biggest weakness. He put a few balls on the turf during the early parts of spring, but by the end of practice he greatly improved. He is the home-run threat that Hicks isn't.

 

Senior Ryan Kock is as sound as they come at fullback. But depth is a large concern. Junior Greg Coleman left the program the first week of practice, and Scales never saw a carry in spring. Look for the influx of freshman recruits to challenge for playing time in the backfield by fall.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends- A

 

The artillery at Barney Cotton's disposal became even more lethal on the perimeter this spring. Playmakers Marquis Hamilton (Fr.) and Euseph Messiah (So.) emerged as a few more weapons on the outside. Hamilton has size not seen at Iowa State. At 6'3 220 he has an NFL body with decent speed. He made a number of plays during practices and also pocketed 3 catches in the game. Messiah is J.J. Moses with a little less wiggle and a little more height. He made several WOW plays during practice and adds another element to this group. Veterans Todd Blythe (Jr.) and Austin Flynn (Sr.) continued to make strides. Jon Davis (Sr.) was playing well until tearing his Achilles. Sophomore R.J. Sumrall had a relatively quiet spring, but spent the off-season working with the track team to improve his speed. Converted quarterback/safety Houston Jones (Fr.) looks very comfortable on the outside and showcased his athleticism with a few great grabs against the #1 defense.

 

The tight ends added a new man into the mix in Derrick Catlett (Fr.) Catlett will aid Ben Barkema (Jr.) and Walter Nickel (Sr.) at tight end. Catlett impressed with his great hands and Big 12 size 6'4 245. Brandon Tinlin (Jr.) also made great improvement during practice. The passing game will be the strength of the offense once again.

 

Offensive Line – B-

 

All conference center Scott Stephenson (Sr.) didn't participate in contact drills this spring after recovering from off-season shoulder surgery. Seth Zehr (Sr.) and Scott Fisher (Sr.) also missed some time. Paul Fisher (Sr.) and Aaron Brant (Sr.) were solid all spring. They both man-handled the smallish defensive ends. Reggie Stephens (Fr.) and Tom Schmeling (So.) improved greatly throughout the three weeks and pleased the coaches with their development. Landon Streit (Fr.) also looked like a Big 12 caliber lineman. The large junior class was a bit of a disappointment again, as none of them made strides to cement themselves in the 2-deep. JUCO transfers Lee Tibbs and Ahtyba Rubin will battle for PT in the fall.  

 

Defensive Line- C+

 

With two spots up for grabs on the defensive line, no single player grabbed hold of the opportunity. Kurtis Taylor (Jr.) eventually grew into the spot at RUSH end after as many as five others spent time with the starters. He proved he can fit in and be serviceable. At the NG spot, Stephon Dale (Fr.) and Bryce Braaksma (Jr.) each showed flashes of capability. But both are very undersized at 255 and 260 pounds, respectively. Brent Curvey dominated and was unblockable at times. Shawn Moorehead is a rock at the END spot. Depth is a huge concern. NG Jason McGinty (So.) left the program this spring, Travis Ferguson (So.) can't seem to turn the corner and everyone else is either a walk-on or a converted linebacker. Look for help from incoming freshman Rashawn Parker, Bailey Johnson and JUCO Collins Eboh. All are relentless guys with quick motors.

 

Linebacker- A-

 

Tyrone McKenzie (So.) and Alvin Bowen (Jr.) were the stand-outs on defense during practice. Each had a relatively uneventful game, but they will be terrors during the fall. Adam Carper (So.) made up for the "absence" of Matt Robertson with his opportunistic play and two picks. These three will be more than capable at linebacker and with two years remaining with this group intact, they could be downright historic by the time all is said and done. Josh Raven (Fr.) and Jesse Smith (Fr.) flew to the ball all spring and would fit in without a problem. Raven is undersized at 205, but isn't afraid of contact. Smith is another in the long line of walk-ons that will contribute to the team. He has great speed and size (230 pounds.)

 

Secondary- B

 

Deandre Jackson (Sr.) is a stud. Coach McCarney said he made more plays than Ellis Hobbs did when he was a junior. Any time a ball was thrown in his area (which wasn't often) he had a hand on the ball, or a fist full of receiver in no time. If he can improve on some of the mental errors he had as a junior, he will follow Hobbs into the NFL. The other corner was solidified by Chris Singleton (So.). Singleton proved he can cover some of the best receivers in the game. He's a quiet kid, who lets his play do the talking. At safety James Smith (Fr.) emerged as a big time hitter. He's built like Bob Sanders and was a state track star in high school. He took over the #1 spot at strong safety. Jon Banks (Jr.) has great size and above average quicks at free safety. At 6'3 217 he's an NFL prototype, but doesn't use all of his tools to his advantage. If he can become more ferocious with a nose-for-the-ball, the secondary should be in good shape. Brandon Hunley (So.) is a ball-hawk at the nickel back spot. The depth here is of great concern. Caleb Berg (Jr.) is the back-up at both safety spots. Steve Johnson played well backing up Singleton during the spring, but the rest of the cornerbacks are very green. The incoming class will be of big assistance. There could be as many as 8 recruits challenging for PT in the fall.

 

Special Teams – B-

 

The kickers were perfect in the game, but only attempted PAT's. Bret Culbertson (Jr.) was very consistent in practice. He had one day where he struggled, but I don't remember more than 3 or 4 kicks that were errant in three weeks. Punter Michael Brandtner (Fr.) had a great spring game with some help from the wind, averaging 46.5 yards a kick. He was great at times and average at others in practice.

 

Ryan Baum (Sr.) is almost 100 percent and will be the deep man on punts this fall.  

 

 Overall Grade- B+

  

Injuries slowed some progress, but in areas with the most question marks going into spring, several players stepped up to answer them. The defense is very young but is as athletic as it has been in McCarney's tenure. The D-line needs the most work, but a lot of that improvement can come with time spent at the training table and Hickory Park. With an influx of more athletes coming in, the fall can't come soon enough. Bring on Toledo!             


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