We all know that there’s more than one way to skin a duck. Or is that, to pluck a cat? Well, it all comes down to the fact that Gene Chizik knows that he must upgrade certain areas of his team’s athleticism—and there’s more than one way to go about that process. One way is to recruit athletic players at one position, and build them into athletes at a “larger” position—for example, turning linebackers into defensive tackles. Bo Schembechler at Michigan tried this with limited success in the early Eighties, Iowa currently has a pair of overstuffed defensive ends playing tackle. James Reed would be Iowa State’s most prominent example. Such a transformation is much easier to make with tight ends, turning them into offensive linemen, and the examples there abound.
However, as Michigan eventually discovered, it is much easier to recruit talented natural defensive tackles, and let them become bigger defensive tackles. The raw athleticism is there, without having to put additional strain on a player’s system. So yes, the second avenue to improving your team’s athleticism is simply to recruit better athletes in the first place.
Right now, Gene Chizik, still bearing the fresh patina of a “new coach”, can rest on those laurels to attract those talented athletes. Yet such an aura quickly fades, and would be much more effective augmented by Showing Progress. All right, so I don’t expect the Cyclones to suddenly jump to a mid-range Bowl game in the second year of building—but it would be nice. And would certainly open recruits’ eyes.
Let’s look at how things are going thus far. In most eyes Chizik’s top recruit in the ’08 class was Sedrick Johnson (and we’ll get back to him in a moment), but if you consider sheer athleticism and potential, ignoring recruiting hype and “stars”, then Adrin Haughton arguably is right there with him. Indeed, the only reason that Haughton wasn’t rated much higher is that the big programs didn’t expect him to qualify. Another example of that phenomena? A kid named Troy Davis.
But Haughton is big, powerful, athletic, agile, sculpted, and most impressively, fit. At perhaps 6-3 310 (I’m being conservative), he has a body many pros would envy. All the more important when you consider the state of our offensive line in recent years, where the adjectives most often applied might well have been “glacial”, “stiff” and “tub o’ goo”. The problem began when Seneca Wallace started being massacred, and continued through Brett Meyer’s tenure. Why anyone blames Meyer for the offense’s shortcomings is beyond me.
Yet it’s blatantly obvious that the most crucial area of the team whose athleticism needed upgrading was the offensive line. If an average line’s athleticism rated a ‘50’ on a scale of 1 to 100, some of these guys were a minus twenty-five. And I say that as a guy who not only watched Keith Sims play, but knew him in passing. Now there was an athlete.
So what did Chizik do in his first class, but go out and sign Trey Baysinger, Keleche Osemele and James Carpenter. All of them were under the radar foir one reason or another, indeed, Carpenter didn’t manage to qualify—though he’ll be a December Juco grad. Baysinger didn’t emerge until his senior season at powerhouse Dallas Carter, and we still might not have gotten him had Kansas had another scholly. Osemele reported last fall with a slight problem with adipose tissue—in other words, too much of it.
But while these guys are all good athletes, Haughton takes that term to another level. I can’t guess where he might play, assuming that he does qualify—where does the proverbial 500 lb gorilla sit? Wherever he wants to. Call it center, call it left guard, Haughton could even be an upgrade in strength and athleticism at left tackle. Perhaps splitting time with a scrappy senior Doug Dedrick. His natural position might be left guard, but Ben Lamaak seems to be solid there.
And it is certainly a process, for Baysinger, Osemele, and Haughton hardly make a starting five, let alone a two deep. All right, so Brayden Burris, Carter Bykowski or Kyle Lichtenberg might eventually play at a similar level—but it won’t be any time soon. And even if each of these three pans out, it still isn’t a two deep…let alone the three deep that most teams assemble through four or five years, including redshirting. However, they are a starting point.
In a similar manner, Sed Johnson, Jason Carlson and Lonzie Range represent a similar revolution at wideout. We won’t even start on Collin Franklin and Chase Harper at tight end. Think of all the physical attributes that Todd Blythe represented. Tall, good speed, excellent leaping ability, able to take it to the house. Johnson has all of those same attributes—in spades. Whatever vertical leap Todd had, Sedrick’s is better. And on and on. Marquis Hamilton and R.J. Sumrall are good athletes, Carlson and Range are better. Not to mention faster—a key ingredient in any football stew. And you know very well that Chizik won’t sit on a pat hand, he’ll be bringing in more wide receivers next February.
About the only position that didn’t need an upgrade in athleticism was cornerback—and I very carefully did not say defensive back—and that position most decidedly needed depth. Chris Singleton, Devin McDowell and the departed Drenard Williams decidedly had athleticism, they just needed company. So Allen Bell was a start, and Ter’ran Benton, Leonard Johnson and Judah Linder, let alone Kennard Banks, are a big infusion of talent. I’d expect a similar revolution at safety this signing period, since graduation will sweep away half the depth chart.
Quarterback? Austen Arnaud throws a gorgeous ball with a quick release, and has a cannon arm. Phillip Bates is an exceptional athlete. If Jerome Tiller—and those who come after him—are as good as those two, this team will be in good hands for a very long time.
Of course, these aren’t the only positions where we’ve seen an influx of athleticism, and some upgrades seem yet to happen (kaffmiddlelinebackerkaff). However, I have faith that those upgrades in talent and depth will come, that Gene Chizik and his staff have a plan, and that it is working effectively.
Cameron Bell, Chris Lyle, Bo Williams, Jerrod Black…