'09 Wide Receivers

I started a series last March that was interrupted by concerns elsewhere. In it, I was reviewing the players at each position pending Spring ball, the last position to be covered was to be the wide receivers. Well, by request I’ve trotted that installment out and polished it up a bit, and here it is, for your enjoyment.

Here is a fun fact that very few of you are going to want to believe. This Fall, when the Cyclones break the huddle, it will be with not one, but two four star recruits playing receiver. To my knowledge, the like has never happened before. Even the best Cyclone players at the position that I can recall seeing, from Tracy Henderson all the way through to Todd Blythe, were only so-so as recruits—aside from the instate hoopla that Blythe was accorded. Of course, Ike Harris or Luther Blue might have been more highly regarded, but their signings (let alone their ISU careers) were well before my time.

And of that potentially deadly duo of four star recruits it’s hard to say which is the better athlete. Seriously. You pick and choose. Do you prefer great leaping ability, or raw breakaway speed? Fluid grace, or natural instincts? Length, or soft hands? And when you get down to labeling all of the parameters to be considered, then you have to decide which is better in each—and whether there is a significant difference between the two. So I’ll start out with the seniors, but somewhere along the line you’re going to have to decide for yourself who will prove to be the better receiver.

Houston Jones 6’0" 194 Senior
The one way to give this player his due is to say that he’s hard working and dedicated. It took Houston a long time to break through, but last season he finally did so, making a number of big catches at crucial times. It might be apt to say that he’s something of a poor man’s R.J. Sumrall. With a no huddle, spread offense using lots and lots of receivers, I can’t guess what this season will hold for Houston—though some Sumrall-like senior touchdowns would be nice.

Marquis Hamilton 6’3" 224
After a strong sophomore campaign where he made a living as the underneath receiver, catching the ball with soft hands and then bulling his way for extra yardage, the ’08 season had to be a disappointment for Marquis. For years having resisted the switch to tight end, early in the season it looked as if he had added enough weight to make him sluggish in his routes, though later on he worked into better shape.

This time around, I haven’t heard anything in a similar vein, and since Herman’s offense can make a living off of five yard routes, guess who might have a lot of catches in his senior season? Just remember how R.J. blossomed his last time around. Of course, in Marquis’ absence, guess who snagged the slot position last year, and surprised?

Darius Darks 6’1" 180 Soph
As the season wore on, Darius quickly proved to have the best grasp of routes and the offense among the newcomers, finishing with a very nice freshman season. Of course, there were occasional drops, but the biggest flaw in his game was his slender build. Working underneath, as Hamilton had the year before, once Darks had caught the ball as was hit, his 169 pound frame was going nowhere but down. That proved to be key more than once when pushing for an extra yard or two would have made a huge difference.

So it seems that Darius has put on some muscle, but whether it is enough is another matter. Still, any "stronger" is better. Fortunately, he’s still only a soph, so even after this season he’ll have plenty of time to continue building strength. And while a hamstring is currently a concern, knowing that there will be a guy who can run routes and catch the ball is still a relief.

Sedrick Johnson 6’4" 205 Soph
It might not have shown as much , but this one-time prep basketball standout was another who needed to add some strength. I don’t know if he now has "guns", but putting on ten or fifteen pounds is certainly a good start. I’m pretty sure that defenders are going to be chucking him every chance that they get.

At the same time, Sedrick is also the first of our "four star" wideouts to be mentioned, and the reason for that rating was apparent, beginning with a forty-inch vertical leap, tremendous wingspan, and willowy grace. I don’t think that it’s exaggerating to say that Sedrick is a tremendous bundle of pure athleticism. And on the field last Fall, the promise was apparent to me, most especially on his second touchdown of the year when he extended and gently cradled the ball in soft hands, then pulled it in before hitting the turf.

Indeed, if he had drops at times last season, I would say that it was because he was still thinking too much and not reacting, not knowing where he should be and the ball should be arriving. I don’t know whether this is his year to blossom into superstardom or not, but he’s certainly a long way ahead of where he was a year ago. That can only be a good thing for Cyclone football.

Darius "Money" Reynolds 6’2" 201 Junior
And here we have the other four star recruit. As an "Athlete", of course, because Money split his time between quarterback and wide receiver, but that’s another way of showing how athletic he is. Both he and Sedrick will doubtless find the time concentrating on being a wide receiver, rather than a "wide receiver-slash" invaluable.

Of course, guessing which is the better athlete might be quite another matter. We have it that Money has run as fast as a 4.38 forty prior to Iowa State, and I get the impression that his strengths are in his burst and his vision and instincts running in the open field. Fundamentally, a playmaker. Something that Sedrick needs to learn to be. Of course, if anyone ever wanted to arrange a multi-event athletic competition between the two (including basketball?), I might just be tempted to shell out for a ticket.

As far as Money as a receiver, however, everything remains to be seem. Sure, I expect him to be utilized as a returner, and be valuable there, but it’s what he does from scrimmage that could be more important. I have to admit that I find it intriguing that he’s listed in a slot rather than outside. To my admittedly untutored mind, that offers up all sorts of exciting possibilities, such as matchups with safeties rather than corners, or even linebackers. Finding seams in zones. Creating opportunities.

Not only for himself, but opening things up for the other guys. Like, say, for example that other four star recruit.

Fun.

Jason Carlson 6’0" 205 Junior
Talk about a mystery guy. When signed, Jason was hyped because of 4.4 speed and standout punt return ability—neither of which materialized when he didn’t even see the field. And while he is now at least on the fringes of the depth chart, I haven’t even heard him mentioned as being in the mix as a punt returner. So, while it’s easy to imagine that he was slowed by nagging injuries last fall—alternately, he would hardly be the first juco to be slow adapting to a major college—that means that he’s a fresh slate, and whatever we see out of him this Fall will be the first. Me? I really don’t have a clue what to look for.

Lonzie Range 6’2" 200 Redshirt Freshman
More mystery swirls. Lonzie was a high school quarterback who reportedly would have been much more highly recruited in the "Athlete" mold had it not been for a serious knee injury his senior season—much the same scenario as how we snagged Austin Alburtis a couple of years before.

Now, I’m quite willing to say that we have another potentially good wideout on our hands, but I can’t help but note that he isn’t listed on the latest two deeps. Which, in the shadow of Alburtis’ experience, brings up the specter of how long it will take Lonzie to fully recover from his knee injury.

However, I also noticed that Lonzie was listed in the Spring two deeps, so as the season begins, I’m simply going to wait and see. After all, he has four years to make a name for himself. Plus, two of the players who were listed were junior walkons who had just earned schollies. So imaginably Lonzie is just nursing another nagging injury, and the ’09 signing class of Johnson, Darks and Range is going to prove to be a potent trio of wideouts.

Josh Lenz 5’11" 196 Freshman
Definitely the player who has emerged as the true freshman to watch among the ’09 high school signing (rather, reporting) trio, perhaps based on hands and tenacity as Josh is among the mix as a punt returner. Which means, of course, that he may as well see time amongst the swarm of wideouts that a spread offense requires. Or perhaps vice versa. It’s a little early to tell, but I suppose that what I would expect from Josh is something in the general mold of Lane Danielson, though perhaps a bit bigger and faster. We’ll see.

Keith Blanton 6’0" 190
Perhaps not many people noticed this, but early on, at the press conference before two-a-days began, Austen Arnaud mentioned the two newcomers who had impressed the most as Darius Reynolds…and Keith Blanton. I found this fascinating because last Spring at the same point Austen had mentioned a walkon transfer from Fort Dodge as being impressive—and now Jake Williams is on scholarship.

Well, for some reason Lenz has now been the player to emerge, and I can only guess that something has held Blanton back somehow. Perhaps injury, perhaps Lenz is simply the better returner—and that’s where we need help more. I don’t know.

But it’s not as if Blanton weren’t a mystery from the start. A cousin of Devin McDowell and Deandre Jackson, his high school stats were nothing gaudy. At the same time that he committed (out of nowhere), we had been recruiting a couple of speedburners who signed elsewhere (Kansas and Connecticit among them, IIRC). Yet some people raved about him. So I was bemused. Then we got a commitment from his high school quarterback. Then Austen’s endorsement…

Well, all that I can say is that, whenever we do finally see Keith on the field, I’m looking forward to the experience.

Donnie Jennert 6’6" 194 Freshman
In many ways Donnie’s commitment caused the biggest stir around signing day, largely because of his undeniable resemblance to Todd Blythe. Some people were even expecting him to play this Fall, but I can’t help but point out that the similarities go beyond style. After all, Todd redshirted as a true frosh—and Donnie is probably a couple of inches taller, and perhaps even more of a rail. So I’ll happily allow him a redshirt, and wait to see what kind of a weapon he develops into down the line.

Joel Zitek 6’1" 202 Junior
The first of the two junior walkons who got a scholarship, and a currently happily ensconced in the two deep. Saw some spot duty in ’08, should be reliable.

Jake Williams 6’1 199 Junior
As mentioned above, Jake is now on scholarship. I'm taking that as another dose of "hard working and reliable".

Wide Receivers
The thing about a spread no huddle is that it uses a lot of wide receivers, even when you’re using tight ends, backs, and even quarterbacks split out wide. The good thing is that we seem to have enough wide receivers—perhaps barely—and more importantly, enough good wide receivers to run the system well. I’m sure that the staff would like to have a few more breakaway threats, but I hardly think that Tom Herman is complaining about the toys that have dropped into his lap. Not at all.
 
 
Tight Ends
Yup, you get some bonus coverage—just for the fun of it.

Derrick Catlett 6’4" 243 Senior
Much like above, the senior gets the love here first. Truth be told, Derrick had never impressed me as more than "solid" throughout his career—but that’s as good or better than Cyclone tight ends have offered for a very long time. Good hands, good blocker, good receiver, no flash, I can live with that. A team can win with that. After all, Derrick clearly didn’t run as well as his primary competition for the position, but he certainly had other strengths.

Then the ’08 season progressed, and much to my surprise, the tight end making a leaping catch well downfield in the seam of the zone was Derrick. Nice hands, buddy, and while you may not be fast, you certainly can get downfield when you want to.

Collin Franklin 6’6" 250 Junior
Many were a little disappointed (including myself) when Collin started off slow last season following a redshirt. Just wait, I cautioned myself, the kid has put on thirty or forty pounds, and as a former more-or-less wideout it’s going to take him a while to adjust to his new body, and realize that he can just run through and over people.

So I sat and waited. Then finally, the light came on. And Collin did indeed begin to stampede.

All right, so those 12 catches weren’t all that impressive—but the 20 ypc was. And consider that those catches essentially represented half a season—and both Mike Banks and Mike Busch, probably the best Cyclone tight ends of the past thirty years, had their best seasons with about 24 catches each. I’d expect Collin to ratchet that up a notch. Or three.

Carter Bykowski 6’7" 250 Sophomore
I must admit that I was surprised to see that Carter was the freshman tight end to play last Fall, I had honestly expected that he was signed to grow to be a tackle. Well, perhaps the coaching staff was surprised as well, because I got the impression that he proved to be a much better receiver than they had anticipated. In any case, Carter was not only playing occasionally, he was playing well. Which says a lot considering the two guys that were ahead of him.

I think that what impressed me the most was the soft hands and agility for a guy who was 6’7" or 6’8", even slightly better in the latter skill than a young Andy Stensrud. And I would guess that he might run about as well as Catlett, so I’m looking forward to seeing what this young man does with the remainder of his career.

Kurt Hammerschmidt 6’6 250 Redshirt Freshman
This guy was another who caused a burt of excitement come signing day, in this case largely over his name—and the anticipated nickname of The Hammer". Beyong that, this St. Louisan was largely a mystery, another for whom to adopt a "wait and see" attitude.

Well, I remember watching a video on CloneZone late last Fall. In it, the coach was talking about some of the redshirts that we hadn’t seen all season, and Kurt was among those mentioned. "Kurt Hammerschmidt is a lot like Collin Franklin," the now departed coach commented. "Except that…"

I have to admit that my mind leapt ahead of the soft spoken coach a bit here, and filled in "…that he’s a better blocker." After all, Collin was essentially a former wideout, and Kurt was, well, The Hammer. A Hammer has to be a monster blocker, right?

Except that as I watched, that wasn’t what the coach said. In his Southern drawl, I listened, and would replay the seemingly ludicrous statement in my head again and again. "Kurt Hammershmidt is a lot like Collin Franklin, except he runs better."

Oh-kay.

That’s kinda like saying that someone is a lot like Albert Pujols, except he hits better. After all, Collin’s ability to get downfield is decidedly his strength. And Kurt runs better? Well, I guess we’ll see.

Tight Ends
I can’t really see this position as anything but a strength, regardless of how many players actually end up playing this season—and I think it will be all of them. Which should give some defensive coordinators—and safeties—night mares. Of course, I’m not sure that they are as talented as Oklahoma’s bunch, but that’s hardly a black mark in anybody’s book.

Oh yeah. And despite the fact that Derrick Catlett graduates, and Ricky Howard is committed, we’re still recruiting tight ends. I’m not complaining. A juco, Howard seems very much a receiving tight end—and I still don’t mind chasing Chase either.