Believe it or not, Iowa State’s incredibly young group of wide receivers actually showed quite a bit of promise during what was a disappointing 3-9 campaign last season.
Let’s all be honest: Iowa State’s defense isn’t exactly setting up to be the 2000 Baltimore Ravens next fall. Because of that, a higher-volume of explosive plays on the other side of the ball is a must.
It was encouraging that before spring practice began, Paul Rhoads called his wide receivers, “Probably our deepest and most talented position.”
You have to have playmakers on offense to win in this league.
Luckily for new offensive coordinator Mark Manginio, Iowa State had a legitimate game-changer emerge last season in now-junior Quenton Bundrage. His record-breaking 97-yard touchdown reception vs. Texas was a real eye-opener. Bundrage caught three touchdown passes of 60 yards or more last year in route to a nine-touchdown season that ranked him third in the Big 12.
Heading into 2014, Iowa State has that go-to, play-making guy at the wide receiver position for the first time since Todd Blythe graduated in 2008. That is a major positive with two experienced quarterbacks returning as well.
But for as good as Bundrage was as a sophomore, he has room to grow. A handful of frustrating drops kept a good sophomore season from being great. Those drops and overall consistency are what Iowa State’s new wide receivers coach Tommy Mangino is focusing on with Bundrage this spring.
“He has to be consistent,” Tommy Mangino said. “He is going to be a playmaker and people are going to know about him. People are going to do things to take him away because he has been a playmaker for us. I told him that he has to be consistent and he has to be physical.”
It’s a message that Bundrage, now a junior, has heard loud and clear.
“I need to be more consistent in catching the ball,” Bundrage said. “Last year, I had some uncharacteristic drops. That isn’t a part of my game but I will get that fixed.”
After a three-touchdown reception game in a loss to Iowa, the Floridian began seeing that extra attention from defensive backs. Expect that to happen even more next year, which makes Bundrage’s supporting cast even more important.
Paging Jarvis West.
The small but shifty wide out had an injury plagued and disappointing junior season but he is the lone senior on Iowa State’s wide receiver depth chart this spring. West could be an under-the-radar candidate to have a breakout campaign.
“I feel great,” said the soft-spoken West. “I have never felt better.”
West might be more important to Iowa State on special teams than he is at wide receiver. Remember his 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown (which happened to be Iowa State’s first non-onside return for a touchdown since Troy Davis did it back in 1994) vs. Texas Tech?
“We probably felt Jarvis’ injury as much as anybody’s last season,” Rhoads said. “When we lost him, we really lost a weapon, both as a receiver and a special teams performer.”
What is most exciting about Iowa State’s group of wide receivers are the small flashes of potential that certain youthful individuals showed a year ago. Dondre Daley caught nine of his 13 receptions in the final five games of the season. P.J. Harris and Tad Ecby each showed glimpses of ability during their small amount of playing time.
Iowa State will bring more size to the position in 2014 as well. Of course, South Florida transfer D’Vario Montgomery (6-foot-5, 212). Don’t sleep on the name Bryan Ajumobi either.
“He’s pushing 225 pounds and that presence physically is hard to defend as a defensive back whether it is a corner or safety,” Rhoads said.
Ajumobi, a 6-foot-1 redshirt freshman, was a guy who received a lot of praise on the scout team a season ago.
Of course, the highly-touted Allen Lazard will arrive on campus this summer.
As for the group participating in spring drills, so far, so good.
“I’ve been really impressed, top to bottom with their football intellect and what they know, Tommy Mangino said. “They’ve been coached before. Coach (Todd) Sturdy did a great job with those kids. They are into it and really eager to do well this year and make a statement. I think that for being young guys, they have a lot of experience. For only having one senior, they have really all played quite a bit and I think it is going to help them a lot throughout their latter years here at Iowa State.”