By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com PublisherFollow Chris on Twitter @ChrisMWilliams
During a media session last week when Courtney Messingham was introduced as Iowa State’s new offensive coordinator, Paul Rhoads said that in 2012, his program would boast its "best offensive personnel" since he took the job in Ames before the 2009 season.
Iowa State’s recruiting class of 2011 has a lot to do with that. As it has been every year since Rhoads took over, creating more "explosive plays" will be one of the offenses top goals when spring football rolls around in late March.
"We have guys coming off of redshirt seasons that I expect all to be on the playing field at running back, tight end and at wide receiver," said Rhoads. "It should make us more productive in that fact alone.”
With Darius Reynolds and Darius Darks no longer in the equation, look for three freshmen wide receivers – Ja’Quarius Daniels, Quenton Bundrage and Tad Ecby – to make an immediate impact.
How good are these guys? That’s still unknown. But Rhoads and Iowa State’s offensive coaching staff actually pondered playing Daniels and Bundrage as true freshmen during the 2011 campaign. The fact that the pair was able to take a developmental redshirt year is a sign of progress within Iowa State’s program.
Rhoads compared the situation to one that his roster faced three seasons ago at linebacker.
"Jake Knott and A.J. Klein needed to play because we had no depth. We had no depth at linebacker. They were in the two-deep and we needed them playing. They started on I think about three special teams units," explained Rhoads. "The decision not to play Quenton and ‘JQ’ was because we had seven receivers. We had some guys back from missing games. We had some guys back because of injury. We were going to waste their year. The opportunity to develop them and not use up that year and have them available in 2012 with four seasons of eligibility was the right direction that we needed to go with them."
Daniels, Bundrage and Ecby all come in as total package type wide outs that have been scarce during the Rhoads era in Ames. The plan is for all three rookies to bring size, speed and the ability to create separation to Iowa State’s offense next season.
“We’ve had Marquis Hamilton as a big receiver since I got here, but not overly athletic," said Rhoads. "We’ve had Darius Reynolds as a big athletic receiver, but oft-inured in the process. Hopefully we keep these guys healthy. They have more athleticism than Marquis had."
All three freshmen receivers are 6-foot-1 or taller. Daniels is the largest of the three, at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds. Rhoads said that the trio can catch it and run with it.
"That’s why we’re so excited about these guys becoming eligible," said Rhoads. “We’re six, seven, eight receivers and not going ‘well this guys got to play this spot.’ We can move them around. We can have the right mix of quickness and agility. Size and strength. Speed and so forth."
EXTRA POINT — Courtney Messingham on Iowa State’s three freshmen WR’s…
"The one thing that they are going to bring is size. All of them are over 6-foot tall. Bundrage maybe isn’t quite over 200 pounds yet but tad and ‘JQ’ are both over 200 pounds, can threaten down the field because of their speed but also, I think they will create some matchup problems just with their size. Their ability to create their own space with not only quickness and speed but also that size factor when they are going up against cornerbacks and those types of things."
=== SAM RICHARDSON’S PROGRESS ===
When Rhoads decided to promote Messingham from wide receiver’s coach to offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, quarterback development within the program was at the top of his mind.
“Maybe as important to us in this hire as anything else," said Rhoads. "Our quarterback play has to elevate."
Messingham, a former college quarterback, will now have the opportunity to work with not only Jared Barnett and Steele Jantz, but Sam Richardson, a heady signal caller out of Florida who redshirted the 2011 season.
“Sam is a very talented football player," said Rhoads. "It’s a completely different life operating off of cards as a scout team player than having to go out there and make all of the decisions and have the broad base understanding of the offense running a scout team. We’ll see how far along Sam Richardson is this spring. But he’s certainly going to get his opportunities to show it.”
Richardson’s brain is what makes him a special player.
In an interview before the 2011 season, then offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Tom Herman beamed when discussing Richardson’s natural skill of being a quick learner. Messingham hasn’t had the opportunity to do any hands on work with Richardson yet but the rookie did make a lasting impression on his new position coach during developmental work in the fall.
"One of the things that Sam did quickly was learn the offense," said Messingham. "His ability to know who to throw it to and where people are going and make them transition into already trying to read defenses happened very quickly for him, which to me puts him one up. If you already understand the offense that you are running, it allows you to truly start learning the defenses and understand why they are playing what they are playing."