By Kirk Haaland of enCYCLONEpedia.com (a special to Cyclone Fanatic)
I don’t want to bore you, the avid Cyclone fan with the same old player by player profile that you have read everywhere else and already know (no promises that I don’t bore you anyway). Instead, let’s just look at the overall available talent and depth by groupings for our analysis. I’ll compare to the 2010 roster for a baseline with either an improvement or regression. That alone doesn’t mean those position groups or the team as a whole will be more or less successful, but it will give us a baseline with a reasonable idea of what to hope for in 2011.
Offensive Line – Everything starts up front, even my analysis of the position groups. Kelechi Osemele’s stock is on the rise but is that more due to verbal hype or performance on the field? KO had some issues last year with the speed guys and seems to project to a guard in the NFL, is he ready for a dominant year at left tackle? Other returning starters are right tackle Brayden Burris and right guard Hayworth Hicks. Both have been solid over the past two seasons on the right side. Lost from last year is center Ben LaMaak and left guard Alex Alvarez. Lamaak saw it all in his time in Ames and Alvarez was the guy that was always recruited over and never replaced.
Stepping in is a talented class of redshirt freshmen that the coaching staff has spoken highly of. Guys like Shaban Dika, Jacob Gannon, Ben Loth, and Bob Graham could see some time as reserves but Tom Farniok has solidified himself as the center of the future. Sliding into the left guard spot is redshirt sophomore Ethan Tuftee who appeared in five games in 2010.
If Farniok can step in and handle his duties at center the line should be about as solid as the previous season. Anchored by Osemele at left tackle and the experience on the right side and aided with depth across the board.
Quarterback – I don’t think I can say much about this race that hasn’t already been said. We’re all just going to have to wait and see how good Steele Jantz is when the lights come on. At this point, we have to believe that he won’t come in and be as productive as Austen Arnaud was during his final season in 2010. But there are different ways to go about productivity and ways for the coaches to tailor the offense to the gunslinger.
At first glance though, quarterback is at best a push with last year, especially early on.
Running Back – One of the most versatile and productive running backs in recent Cyclone history is gone—Alexander Robinson—and replacing him won’t be as easy as has been thought all spring and summer. Since 2000, A-Rob has three of the seven best yard per rush performances in a season amongst running backs (5.15-2009, 4.68-2010, and 4.59-2008) and since 2000, Robinson has four of the top five seasons for total receiving yards amongst running backs (261-2009, 201-2010, 167-2007, and 160-2008).
The good news is that there is a plethora of perceived depth entering the season including two guys that saw plenty of action in 2010; Jeff Woody and Shontrelle Johnson. In 2010, Woody had 47 carries for 191 yards for an average yards per carry of 4.06 while scoring just one touchdown and Johnson amassed 218 yards on 35 attempts with an average carry of 6.23 yards and two total touchdowns. Johnson had the highest yard per carry of any running back with more than 25 carries since 2000 last year. However, if you remove his 61 yard touchdown run against Texas Tech his average yardage per carry drops to 4.62 (offered up solely as an FYI since he notched so few carries on the season). That is still a very strong number.
Behind Woody and Johnson on the depth chart is the pesky veteran that continues to impress but is still looking for more in game opportunities—James White—and redshirt freshman Duran Hollis that showed promise last summer and fall.
The top line production will drop this year with Alexander Robinson gone and in the Vikings camp, but the running back by committee modus operandi should be sufficient, and capable of being a push with the production from 2010.
Wide Receiver/Tight End – Gone are the sure hands of Jake Williams and Collin Franklin, entering are the hyped “waterbugs” of redshirt sophomore Albert Gary, redshirt freshman Jarvis West, and JUCO transfer and junior Aaron Horne. Those three will join an experienced crew of seniors Darius Reynolds and Darius Darks and junior Josh Lenz.
Two newcomer wide receivers that are making plenty of noise are Quenton Bundrage and newly converted JaQuarius Daniels. After having a solid fall camp they appear poised for action in 2011.
The void at tight end widened after Ricky Howard went down in fall camp with a torn ACL. Now the staff will largely lean on JUCO transfer Ernst Brun, Kurt Hammershmidt and Reid Bradenhorst—a walk-on senior that just earned a scholarship.
There will be a noticeable drop in production with the tight ends but the receivers could be, and maybe even should be, improved. There is an added stable of depth of playmakers and talk of more looks downfield on long passing plays. With the Iowa State receiving corps, though, you always have to wait and see before buying into the hype. If Jantz can be accurate and make good decisions, the receivers should be able to do some damage.
Defensive Line – A quiet optimism seems to be blooming in Ames regarding the defensive front. A solid cog in the middle, Bailey Johnson, is gone as well as Rashawn Parker at one DE spot. Both were solid over the years but never spectacular. Emerging senior Stephen Ruempolhamer returns at NG alongside DT Jake McDonough. Both blossomed as the season went along in 2010 and are poised to be difference makers in 2011. There is also some decent depth in the middle to help the cause with Walter Woods, Brandon Jensen, and Cleyon Laing.
On the edges Jacob Lattimer will be looking to lead the charge in pressuring the quarterback after he broke out in the Texas game and second half of the 2010 season. On the opposite side starting will more than likely be Roosevelt Maggitt and he will be backed up by Patrick Neal. Behind Lattimer will be Willie Scott and Rony Nelson, the JUCO that was forced to redshirt in 2010. Also watch out for true freshman David Irving, who may make an impact at DE with his 6’7” and 261 pound frame.
The individual talent is still not at world beating levels but it is improved overall from 2010 and the depth is even more sufficient. Having six to eight capable players to rotate in and out should help to keep the level of play as a unit even higher late into games.
Overall the defensive line should be improved from last year.
Linebacker – The boys are back…and by boys I mean our two studs that most any BCS school would love to have, juniors Jake Knott and A.J. Klein. The exact scenarios will probably be constantly in flux but in run stopping situations I’d expect Matt Tau’fo’ou in the middle of the 4-3. In passing situations or 3 or 4 wide sets from the offense we will probably see more C.J. Morgan at SLB and Klein in the middle. True sophomore Jeremiah George is going to see plenty of snaps in his own right when at MLB. The situation will likely dictate who is playing where but rest assured that Knott and Klein will be in the game in nearly all instances.
Other guys that should see some time are walk on junior Matt Morton who has a motor but was a walk on for a reason, true freshman Jevohn Miller who came in for spring practices and has greatly impressed the coaching staff, and redshirt freshman Floyd Mattison.
With all of the key players back it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to assume the linebackers should at least be equal to 2010. If the defensive line truly is improved that will help that much more.
Secondary – Led by seniors Leonard Johnson and Ter’Ran Benton, the secondary is thought to be as strong as it has been in the past few years. Benton has shuffled from corner back/nickel back to strong safety while Johnson and junior Jeremy Reeves will man the corner back slots.
With David Sims, Michael O’Connell, and Zac Sandvig vacating their spots at safety Benton will have big time shoes to fill along with newly appointed starting free safety, Jacques Washington. Beyond Washington and Benton at both safety spots there isn’t a lot of experience amongst the seldom used players of redshirt sophomore Deon Broomfield, redshirt junior Durrell Givens, and redshirt Jansen Watson. We may also see some early contributions from true freshman Jared Brackens at strong safety. Also, redshirt senior Earl Brooks is out for the season with an ACL injury to his left knee.
With three very solid performers in Johnson, Benton, and Reeves the secondary has some key pieces to being a decent unit for the Cyclones. The question comes into play with which is the preferred base defense for the coaches; the nickel that has been stronger the past two seasons or the 4-3?
The secondary certainly has some tools, experience, and options to play with to be strong enough to support the Cyclone defense.
Perhaps the biggest question for the ISU defense is figuring out the best lineup to utilize as many of the best players as possible. The coaches will always go with four down linemen, Knott and Klein will be on the field for almost every snap, and so will Leonard Johnson, Jeremy Reeves, and Ter’Ran Benton. That leaves two spots open. Does one go to a linebacker? Is it Morgan, George, or Tau’of’ou? Or does Benton move to the nickel back role while his backup plays strong safety next to Jacques Washington (more than likely) at free safety?
Time will tell, and the coaching staff ironing out all of those combinations will be the key to finding the best overall defensive unit for Iowa State. No matter the exact lineup, the defense appears to be at worst, just as good as last year unit by unit.
Cumulatively the Cyclone football team seems improved on paper for 2011…in August. Some positions have more doubt than others, namely quarterback. While that is the case, the schemes implemented by the coaching staff can be tailored around that. But will they be executed to prove out that the talent on hand is enough to lead the Cyclones back to a bowl game in 2011?
As Paul Rhoads said on Tuesday at the annual “Meet the Coaches Night”, “I don’t know what will happen when our football team collides with that difficult schedule but I can tell you one thing, I WOULDN’T MISS IT!”