AMES — Last spring, an ankle injury hindered Dondre Daley’s progress as a pass catcher at Iowa State. This spring, a torn rotator cuff put the speedy junior from Tarpon Springs (Fla.) High School on the shelf for about six months.
Stinks, right? “Bad,” Daley said.
But the swift 6-2, 191-pounder soldiered on without a hint of self-pity — and has performed at such a lofty level this fall that he’s expected to be much more than a depth provider at ISU’s most stacked position.
“Big camp,” Cyclones offensive coordinator Mark Mangino said Tuesday after practice. “He’s had a huge camp. He is in there in the mix. He’s going to play a ton of snaps. He’ll start games. He’ll rotate — it just depends on where we’re at with health and even formations. But Dondre Daley’s had a huge camp. I’m pretty excited about him.”
Daley’s listed as Allen Lazard’s backup at “X” receiver in advance of Saturday’s 7 p.m. season opener against Northern Iowa. He noted that sitting out as long as he did earlier this year helped light a long-burning fire that only flickered in the past.
“Watching them through spring ball, I wanted to be out there helping my team out,” Daley said.
Adding him as a weapon makes a potentially dangerous offense even more problematic for opposing defensive coordinators. The big three at receiver — Lazard, Quenton Bundrage and D’Vario Montgomery — are the clear stars at the position, but Daley and a handful of others, including true freshman Carson Epps and redshirt freshman Orion Salters are ready to shine, as well.
“Dondre can scoot,” said Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads, who detected a greater sense of maturity in Daley throughout fall camp. “But he’s doing more things underneath and coming across the field better than he has in the past.”
The key for Daley and all the receivers: Consistency. It’s the foundation necessary to turn potential into actual production. It’s also the one area in which Daley’s improved the most, hence his “huge camp.”
“Now when they get the ball lot me I focus more on catching it,” he said while describing his sharper mental approach to the game. “Last year, that’s what I lacked. Catch it and just run, instead of looking over here. (Mangino) and coach Rhoads harp on me about that: focus and catch the ball.”
So far, so good. Daley doesn’t avoid making plays over the middle. He doesn’t try to run before he fully executes the catch.
“He wouldn’t do it in traffic all the time before, so quarterbacks start to, ‘Well, this pass, that’s not where I’m going with it,’” Rhoads said. “And you can’t do that. You can’t do that in this offense. It doesn’t matter who’s on the field when it’s called — progression one, two, three, it doesn’t matter who’s in those spots. If they’re open when you get to them you’ve got to let it fly and he’s proved reliable throughout camp in all those situations.”
Daley aims to remain that way.
“Just have to prove my point that I can help the team out, too,” he said.
Message received. So, again, the team’s deepest position continues to add layers of possible production and that’s never a bad thing — however the reps, targets and opportunities shake out.
“Dondre’s made a lot of greats plays this camp and even this week working towards practice,” Montgomery said. “He’s one of those guys that, he makes a lot of plays. He’s like the quiet assassin.”
Mangino’s one-game experiment calling plays from the press box last season won’t be repeated. Probably ever.
Mangino said he felt “kind of handcuffed” by being up in the box for the 34-14 season-opening loss to North Dakota State. He’s a hands-on coach and being an eye in the sky didn’t sit well with him at all.
“I could see after we ran into some adversity in that game that we had lost a couple guys that were veterans and at least guys who had played a lot,” Mangino said. “And I could see from the box that there was a loss of energy. There wasn’t enough adrenaline for them to pick themselves up and overcome any adversity. And I thought — I don’t know if I’m the difference down there. I’m not telling you that I am. Obviously we won two ball games so I don’t know what kind of difference I make on the field, but I felt that I could help them gather up mentally, emotionally and overcome the adversity.”
ULTERIOR WEIGHT LOSS MOTIVE
Montgomery made waves by slimming down in the offseason. How much? He dropped 30 pounds and now weighs in at a svelte 215 pounds.
“He looks good,” Mangino said.
“I found out about three or four days ago he lost all that weight because he knew we needed some help at tight end and he thought we were going to move him to tight end,” Mangino said. “So he went on a diet. That’s his logic. … He didn’t want to be moved to tight end, so he’s smart.”
Guilty as charged, Montgomery said with a smile.
“I didn’t want any part of that,” he said. “So I decided to lose weight for speed issues and just because of the fact that I knew what I wanted to play.”
REALISM WITH THE JUCOS ON D
Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham was asked what could realistically be expected of the new junior college players peppering his unit in the season opener. The veteran coach’s response?
“If they can play 10 plays and be productive, that would be realistic,” Burnham said. “You’re always hoping for the moon, but these guys, they’re not ready. They’re not ready to go out there and give us 40 snaps and they might not be ready until after the open week to get where we need to get them. But they’re working hard and we’re giving them as many reps as we can.”
Nickel Jay Jones is an outlier among the JUCOs. So is nose guard Demond Tucker, to a smaller degree.
“We expect if Jay Jones had to go out there and play 70 plays, he can play 70,” Burnham said. “Tucker, if he can play 20 plays at a time — I doubt if he could reach that, but that would be his max.”