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Football

NOTEBOOK: Camp update on wide receivers, defensive backs

Our Rob Gray and Jared Stansbury compiled this list of notes from the Iowa State football post-pratice interview sessions on Thursday and Friday.

*** Iowa State wide receivers coach Bryan Gasser listed a couple intriguing newcomers as guys that have stuck out during the first seven practices of fall camp.

Deshaunte Jones has had a really good camp,” Gasser said. “Newcomer Marchie Murdock, really impressive camp.”

Jones, a 5-foot-10-inch, true freshman from Cincinnati, is jockeying for playing time at the M-position in Iowa State’s offense. The former high school quarterback appears to be adjusting well to the college game.

“Deshaunte’s smooth,” Gasser said. “He’s a really smooth customer out there. Finds spaces and voids and the kid’s got fantastic hands, especially for a young man that was a quarterback the last couple years in high school.”

*** Gasser was asked if he thought Allen Lazard could be a 1,000-yard receiver.

“Oh, there’s no doubt about it,” Gasser said. “If he continues to progress, I certainly would imagine that’s going to be an area that he could accomplish.”

*** Gasser further explained how the M-position fits in the Iowa State offense.

“At the end of the day, we’re looking for a guy that can make plays for us,” Gasser said. “For us, that’s a guy that, maybe, he’s catching bubbles, he’s a guy that we’re hitting on a reverse or handing a jet sweep to. Maybe it’s a guy that we want to attack down the field and use to win big on a post or a corner.”

*** Gasser has been pretty impressed by redshirt freshman Hakeem Butler.

“Hakeem’s a young pup but I’ll tell you this, he is a guy that’s got great talent and potential,” Gasser said. “The one thing that I can tell you about Hakeem is that he really, really loves the sport of football. He brings a great energy every single day. He’s a guy that has great physical attributes, he’s long, he’s rangy and he can really cover a lot of ground when he takes off.”

*** Gasser mentioned that redshirt sophomore Darius Lee-Campbell has been one of the guys with the most explosive plays so far during fall camp.

*** Gasser, who doubles as the special teams coach, said that true freshman long snapper Steven Wirtel “is, maybe, as good as anyone in the country.”

Wirtel was the sixth-rated long-snapper prospect in the class of 2016, according to Kohl’s Kicking. Gasser also went on to say:

“If that kid continues to progress,” Gasser said. “He’ll have a chance to play that position for a long time.”

*** Butler’s name (see above) came up again Friday morning when cornerbacks coach D.K. McDonald met with the media. Actually, his full name wasn’t used. McDonald called him “big Hakeem” when asked about the value of having big receivers to go up against in practice.

“The Big 12 has got big wide receivers, too, so it’s been great practice going against Allen Lazard, big Hakeem — it’s been great competing against those guys and just kind of working the different techniques you’re going to have to use when you play on Saturdays and Thursdays out here,” McDonald said. “Those guys are tremendous wide receivers so it’s really just been helping us out and hopefully we’ve been helping them out too.”

*** McDonald lauded JUCO newcomer D’Andre Payne’s still-accelerating maturation process. Our Jared Stansbury included Payne in his fine media day article, which you can find here.

McDonald’s known Payne since he was a freshman in high school. One constant in the former Tennessee Volunteer’s life?

“Even since high school, man, he’s been a hard worker,” McDonald said of Payne. “If you look at his history, even growing up, man, he was one of those Junior Olympic kids who competed. He loves competition and he comes for a great family. His dad really taught him to work hard and it really shows, man. He’s always been a hard worker, as long as I’ve known D’Andre and that hasn’t changed since he’s been here. Like I said, he’s actually taken it to another level, which has been good for the guys around him because now they’re starting to feed off that and show that leadership and having some great competition out there.”

*** Redshirt freshman safety Mike Johnson’s impressed McDonald, as well.

“Mike’s a smart kid.” McDonald said. “He’s super athletic. He’s really done a good job out there of picking it up mentally and communication-wise, but to have a safety with that type of skill is really special and I think that’s really going to help us out this year.”

That’s why he tops the depth chart at the position alongside star Kamari Cotton-Moya, but he’s been pushed by Duke graduate transfer Evrett Edwards and JUCO transfer Mackenro Alexander.

“Competition brings out the best in you,” McDonald said. “And that’s what those guys are really doing. The two guys you named are extremely smart young men. So they’re just working hard trying to get into it a little bit. Watch out — they’re doing some good things out there, too.”

*** How have the defensive backs adapted to the 4-2-5 scheme? With gusto, McDonald said.

“Kids want to play, so you kind of switch things up, they get a chance to play and they’ve really taken to it great,” McDonald said. “They’re starting to take ownership of it, which is what you love as a coach — when it’s them out there taking ownership, it’s their defense, instead of just our defense that we brought in. Now I’m happy that they’re proud to say it’s their defense and they’re taking a lot of pride in what people do, how they perform, how they don’t perform. That’s exciting. It’s been exciting to see that maturation.”

*** Jay Jones has apparently been working especially hard — behind the scenes and in camp — after the switch to cornerback in the spring.

“He had a tremendous summer,” McDonald said of the long (6-3) senior. “Probably the best of anybody out there. He’s really playing with a lot of confidence now and he really looks a lot better from the spring, making that change, to even now, he’s really gotten a lot better. So I hope he’s more than just a red zone guy. I’d be disappointed if that’s all he is for us. Hopefully he can be more than just us.”

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