By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
Iowa State’s group of wide receivers is one of the top storylines during 2010’s edition of spring football. There appears to be plenty of depth at a position that struggled with injuries a season ago.
To update you on how this unit has looked so far during spring football, CycloneFanatic.com and a group of reporters caught up with wide receivers coach Luke Wells on Thursday after practice. Here is the complete Q&A.
How has the spring gone so far?
LW: It has gone really well. I think the biggest thing we have noticed is that the players who we counted on last year, who spent the most of the time with us practicing now understand it. Some of the newer guys are still learning how to practice. The sense of urgency there in practice, playing physical, finishing guys, the returners are showing that at practice and it is nice because you can teach off of that to the younger guys.
What can you do with those returning guys now that they are a step ahead?
LW: The first thing is, we’ve got to establish some leaders in this offense. There are some guys last year who hadn’t played the previous year, they were new starters. Now, they are the guy now for us and they step up and lead and teach that young group. We talk all of the time about the culture of our program, playing hard, playing smart and playing physical and being able to show those younger guys how we do that.
How do you develop playmaking ability and teaching how to turn a short catch into a large gain?
LW: That is the first thing that I am trying to work on right now. One of the goals that we had as a wide receiver group was to try to get more yards after the catch. I thought that we did a decent job of catching the football last year but we had so many 10, 15 and 16 play drives that a lot of that was because we weren’t getting anything after the catch. The first thing that they have to learn is how to get directly up the field, as quickly as they get it. Not turning sideways, not dancing, not doing those types of things, but getting vertical and then working on the next defender and sticking their foot in the ground and one cutting. We are doing some drills to address that issue and try to get that a lot better for us.
Who is strong in that area?
LW: I wouldn’t say that anybody is really strong in that area yet or proven. One of the guys who I think of real quick who has got some of that suddenness is Keith Blanton (pictured above). He’s going with that second group. He can make you miss. Darius Darks already looks better doing it. Darius Reynolds already looks better doing it. They aren’t’ dancing. They are putting their foot in the ground and getting vertical. They are playing with their pads low and trying to throw their body in a crease instead of dancing and running sideways.
Darius Darks ended last year on a solid note. Did he pick up on that?
LW: I think so. Darius is a young man who I think really responded to adversity well. He started off slow. He pulled his hamstring and missed a lot of fall camp. Darius Reynolds emerged and he got hurt. Josh Lenz played that position. Josh Lenz took over starting. Darks was kind of at a crossroads where he could either get his job back or not. He got it back. He competed and he learned from it. The last five games of the year, he played as good as anybody on our team.
How much was the injury responsible for Sedrick Johnson’s disappointing season?
LW: I think that had a lot to do with it. That was the first part of it. Sed had to continue to work hard and improve. It set him back. By the time that he got to where he could go, Jake Williams was emerging in that same position. We got to where when Sed could run full speed and Sed could get to where he could come out of his cuts with that ankle that was hampering him, we got to where he would play more but he didn’t get his job back from Jake. Jake was consistent. Jake made all of the catches. He was the guy who would be in the right spot and make plays that you saw last year.
How has Sedrick looked this spring?
LW: A lot better. Sedrick has been not a surprise, because we expected it. But Sed has done nothing but improve. He is playing faster. The biggest difference with Sedrick Johnson is that he’s coming out of cuts better. He works tirelessly on it. He is one of the hardest workers on this team. We expect him to keep improving this spring and have a great year.
What else does he have to work on?
LW: Just being consistent and catching every ball. He’s continuing to get better getting off press. That was something that wasn’t a strong point for him when we first got here. Like I mentioned earlier, coming out of square cuts and hard angle cuts are something that he’s getting a lot better at. He works on them after practice. If you hang around after practice and see him catching balls, you see him working on coming out of his breaks. You see him to continue to develop his ball skills.
I know that Darius Reynolds got moved to the outside for this spring. How is he adjusting being out of the slot?
LW: Good because that is what he is used to playing. He played slot last year but you know, Darius is an ex-quarterback. He played quarterback in high school. He really understands the concept of what we are trying to get done on offense. He is a guy that we even talked about the other day, he told me that he could play the Z-position if we wanted him to. He understands the whole offense. We could move him wherever we wanted him to. We moved him outside early just to see what he could do. When you’re playing outside, you’ve got to be able to get off press. That is something that we haven’t seen him do. We want to see if he can do it. We want to see what kind of routes he can run out there. There are different route concepts and you are going to get a different type of leverage outside than you would inside.
So he’s doing well out there?
LW: He’s doing well and with Josh Lenz getting a little dinged up, we moved him back inside and gave Donnie Jennert a chance to see what he can do outside.
What happened to Josh?
LW: He just got hit hard a few weeks ago. He’s got some shoulder stuff that he is working through. Nothing major at all with him. He’ll be fine.
How good can this group be if they can stay healthy for a full season?
LW: I think that we can be good. I think we definitely need to improve from last year. We have got to be more consistent and like I said earlier, we have to get better at getting yards after the catch. We have to make every catch. I thought that we blocked well last year, but we need to play more physical.