Williams Blog: The battle to back up A-Rob

By Chris Williams, Publisher

If Iowa State wants to go to another bowl game in 2010, the Cyclones are going to have to heavily rely on senior running back Alexander Robinson. In order for Robinson to stay healthy throughout next season, the guy is going to need a little bit of help.

That’s why finding a legitimate second-string running back has been such a priority for the Iowa State coaching staff during the spring football season.

In an interview yesterday, running backs coach Kenneth Pope told reporters that red-shirt freshman Jeff Woody had taken over the number two spot on Iowa State’s depth chart, ahead of Beau Blankenship and James White.

Of course you have Shontrelle Johnson and Duran Hollis coming in this summer too.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak with all three running backs who are in the mix this spring.

You’ll soon learn that the best thing about this trio is that they all complement each other very well.

Here’s some analysis on the competition so far.

The Candidates

Jeff Woody

This guy is the bruiser of the three. At 5-foot-11 and 234-pounds, Woody, a SE Polk graduate packs a serious punch. He’d be a great changeup to Robinson.

What are Woody’s weaknesses? He talked to me about them yesterday.

“I need to work on having a little bit faster footwork, like going at a full sprint, to a stop and reaccelerating to another full sprint,” Woody said. “When I am blocking at full back, I need to get my pads lower than the guy I am up against. I need to work on keeping my pad level down, which gives you leverage to push the guy back.”

Yesterday, Pope referenced a recent strong scrimmage showing on Woody’s behalf that put him at the number two spot. Even if that is the case, this race is way to close to call at this point in time. Woody hasn’t let his recent success get to his head either.

“There really is no one who has isolated himself as the number two guy because we are all good at different things,” Woody said. “James is really quick. I am more of a power guy. Beau is a good combination of both. It just depends on what they are looking for. It is a toss up. It is a great competition and the good thing is, I’d like to play but if the other two guys get there, they are great guys so it is fine with me.”

James White

If you want the anti-Jeff Woody, you’ll like James White. He’s your speed guy. White is a 5-foot-8, 182-pound slasher, who hails from Dallas. He’s quick, fast, elusive and a potential game breaker for the Iowa State football program.

What he lacks in size, this red-shirt freshman owns in athleticism. White isn’t lacking confidence either.

“Get me out in space and let me make some moves,” White said. “I can run in between the tackles. I can do it all. They just need to get me the ball.”

I love that type of swagger in a running back. The biggest that attracts me to James White is that he gets the important things. He understands that mental mistakes and turning the football over will keep him on the bench this fall.

“I try not to focus on that (the competition),” White said. “I try to play my game that I know I can play. I try to eliminate mental mistakes like fumbling. That will get you off of the field. May the best man win.”

Who is that best man?

White agrees with Woody. It all depends on what you’re looking for at a specific time.

“Jeff Woody is more of a stronger back, like for third and one. I am more of a finesse guy. I can bring the hat at times. Beau Blankenship is a quick and strong back.”

Beau Blankenship (pictured above)

So Jeff Woody is the power guy. James Smith is your speedster. Then there’s Beau Blankenship, your jack-of-all-trades runner.

He’s quick and at 200-pounds, Blankenship can also deliver a blow without a whole ton of effort.

So considering that he is in the middle here, what advantage does Blankenship hold? That is experience. Despite fighting injuries, Blankenship saw some significant playing time on special teams as a freshman last year for Iowa State. Those reps are benefiting Blankenship right now.

“Being out there that first kickoff return, I thought it was really quick,” Blankenship said. “But then I thought about it and realized that it is just football, it is nothing different. People are a little bit more athletic. It will help me in the long run.”

As far as this competition goes, like the others, Blankenship is taking it in stride.

“It is really competitive,” Blankenship said. “We are all out there trying to get better. It is friendly competition. We all want that spot. It is just intense.”

The X-Factor

This is a fun conversation to have but please, do not forget about Shontrelle Johnson, who will be on campus this summer. I cannot put into words how excited the coaches are about this young man’s arrival in Ames.

Take a look at our CF front page poll question. I voted Johnson. Premature? Maybe, but he has the tools and I know how excited the staff is to get him into camp this summer.