Archive for August, 2009

Practice makes perfect…hopefully

August 31, 2009

The Iowa State Cyclones are ready for some football.

At least their coach thinks so. Sort of.

The team went through a mock game last Thursday night under the lights at Jack Trice Stadium, exactly a week ahead of this Thursday’s season opener against North Dakota State.

Paul Rhoads put his team through nearly three hours of work. Routine — and some not so routine — situations they would face this week when the bullets start flying. Punt team, field goals, change of possession… any and every kind of game preparation that involves substituting on the go in a live situation.

“I wanted to go from A to Z on exacty what is going to take place,” Rhoads said. “I don’t like surprises when you can avoid them and we can avoid them.”

He was happy with the results. Unfortunately, the best laid plans don’t always go the way we hope.

“We’ve got it covered, but 18-, 19-, 20-year-old kids forget. They don’t always have the ability to focus all the way through,” he said. “Somebody that night is going to do this wrong or that wrong. That’s part of. That’s why you’ve got to repeat, repeat, repeat everything you are doing from a coaching standpoint.”

He’s got a few more days to drill his messages into players’ heads.

******

Captains for the season, which were decided by player voting, are as follows:

Offense – OL Reggie Stephens, QB Austen Arnaud

Defense – FS James Smith, DT Nate Frere

Special teams – LB Derec Schmidgall (kick coverage, holder)

All but Arnaud are seniors and will play an integral role in the fortunes of this year’s team.

Cyclones’ depth chart for season opener is out

August 27, 2009

Here’s how Iowa State’s offense will look — barring injury or other depth chart movement — for next Thursday night’s season opener with North Dakota State at Jack Trice Stadium:

TE-Collin Franklin, LT — Kelechi Osemele, LG — Alex Alvarez, C — Reggie Stephens, RG — Ben Lamaak, RT — Scott Haughton, QB — Austen Arnaud, RB — Alexander Robinson, WR — Marquis Hamilton, WR — Sedrick Johnson, WR — Darius Reynolds.

Breakdown: No real surprises here. Reynolds had a great camp and may have overtaken Darius Darks even if Darks wasn’t hobbled by a hamstring injury. Lots of receivers will get playing time, incluidng a couple of guys we haven’t seen much of to date in Jake Williams and Joel Zitek.  Josh Lenz’ stock is soaring right now while that of RB Bo Williams and WR Houston Jones seem to be falling. Both are listed as third-stringers, according to Coach Paul Rhoads’ latest depth chart released Thursday.

Here’s a look at the defense, assuming the Cyclones come out in a traditional 4-3-4 alignment. Coaches have said they will play a lot of nickel this year, based on that week’s opponent.

DE — Rashawn Parker, DT — Austin Alburtis, NG — Nate Frere, DE — Chris Lyle, LB — Josh Raven, MLB — Jesse Smith, LB — Fred Garrin, CB — Leonard Johnson, CB — Kennard Banks, SS — David Sims, FS — James Smith.

Breakdown: Nothing much different than what we thought before training camp began. There will be a lot of rotating at the tackle spots to keep players fresh without a dominant force in the middle. Backups at corner — Devin McDowell and Ter’ran Benton — will come in as the fifth defensive back in passing situations. Freshmen linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott appear on the depth chart, but are most likely to see time on special teams. Another first-year guy, Jeremy Reeves, is listed at corner.

Specialists: K — Grant Mahoney, P Mike Brandtner

KOR/PR — The names are the same from the pre-camp tw0-deep, but Rhoads has said Reynolds and Lenz will be involved in the return game. Lenz is apparently the No. 1 guy on punts, while my guess is that Reynolds and Leonard Johnson will team up on kickoffs. Could be a pretty exciting group.

Cyclones’ wrestling schedule is no walk in the park

August 26, 2009

There will be no easing into things this season for Iowa State and new head coach Kevin Jackson.

The Cyclones have a very challenging schedule, facing five of the top eight finishers from last season’s NCAA Championships, headlined by the Dec. 6 meeting at Hilton Coliseum with two-time defending champion Iowa.

ISU also has home dual meets with Big 12 Conference foes Nebraska and Missouri, which finished fourth and seventh, respectively, at the NCAAs.

Illinois, which took 8th, comes to Ames on Jan. 16 in the teams’ first meeting since the 1963-64 season. 

The road schedule is a difficult one, with trips to Cornell, Minnesota, Arizona State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Northern Iowa. Cornell took fifth at the national tournament and beat ISU 22-15 at last season’s National Duals.

Jackson’s squad also will compete at the Midlands tournament in Evanston, Ill., and the National Duals, which will be in Cedar Falls for the second straight year.

ISU opens the season Nov. 12 at home against South Dakota State.

All-Americans Jake Varner, Dave Zabriskie, Nick Gallick, Jon Reader, Nick Fanthorpe return. Jackson is putting his guys to the test, which will only make them stronger come March.

A tale of two Dariuses

August 25, 2009

As one Darius goes down, another Darius is stepping up for the Iowa State football team.

With receiver Darius Darks nursing a hamstring injury, Reedley (Calif.) Community College transfer Darius Reynolds is quickly proving he will play a big part in the Cyclones’ new spread offense as well as returning kicks.           

The 6-2, 201-pound junior has impressed during training camp.  

“He’s a strong receiver and is exciting with the ball in his hands,” head coach Paul Rhoads said.

Reynolds played quarterback and receiver in junior college. Rhoads said he wasn’t proven at either spot but continued recruiting him because “there were obvious physical abilities that we felt would be a benefit to our football team and he’s proven that and then some in this camp.”

Reynolds had a solid first year at Reedley, totaling 2,501 yards total offense and 24 touchdowns, then was kicked off the team last season for a violation of team rules.

The four-star recruit was on the radar of ISU’s previous coaching staff under Gene Chizik and that continued when Rhoads was hired in mid-December.

Rhoads did his homework on Reynolds and ultimately was confident in offering him a scholarship.

By all accounts, Reynolds was a good guy who made some mistakes.

“Everywhere we turned the story was the same,” Rhoads said. “We didn’t even see it as much of a risk. He’s been fantastic not only in his paying ability but how he’s conducted himself and worked.”

Darks has missed a good chunk of training camp because of the injury, which also limited him in the spring.

The sophomore is the team’s leading returning pass catcher and is expected to be a big piece of the offensive puzzle. He’s got some catching up to do.

“He’s been down long enough that his timing is going to be off and he’s going to be rusty,” Rhoads said. “The positive of it is he’ll have fresh legs when it comes time to go.”

Cyclone hoops recruit is one smart cookie

August 24, 2009

AMES – Melvin Ejim is choosing basketball over benjamins.

Iowa State’s newest men’s basketball commitment had his pick of Ivy League schools, places like Harvard, Brown and Columbia. Basketball powers they are not, but institutions of higher learning that give degree-holders a leg up in their field.

The 6-6, 210-pound Ejim, an aspiring doctor or biochemist, wants to make the grade on the hardwood, too, and will get that chance playing in the Big 12 Conference.

Medical school can wait.

Ejim plans on signing a letter of intent in November and will join ISU’s team for the 2010-11 season. He plays now at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, N.H., the same school that Cyclones’ star forward Craig Brackins attended.

“I wanted to play for the next four years of my life and hopefully more,” Ejim said Monday. “Iowa State has always been recruiting me the hardest and the longest.”

Cyclone coaches got a double dose of good news last weekend with the commitments of Ejim and Elgin Cook, a 6-6, 190-pound forward from Milwaukee, Wis.

Cook, who also had interest from schools like Florida State, Marquette and Colorado, is two years away from joining the team.

In Ejim, ISU gets a strong, athletic wing player who can defend both guards and forwards.

He averaged 12.3 points and 4.6 rebounds a game last season. Ball-handling will be a point of emphasis in improving his skills.

“My offensive game is something I need to work on,” Ejim said. “You have to play defense. That’s what wins games. I don’t love defense, but I’ll do it to win.”

Ejim would love Brackins to stay at ISU for his final two seasons.

The junior forward considering turning pro after last year, but decided he would wait at least one more season before entering the NBA Draft.

“I’m not expecting him to (stay),” Ejim said of Brackins. “He’s a really good player and he should do what’s best for him. It’s not up to me. It’s up to him.”

Ejim, who hails from Brampton, Ontario, also had offers from Boston College, Providence, UNLV and Butler.

Cyclone fb practice heating up

August 10, 2009

It finally felt like summer to Wally Burnham.

Temperatures in the 90s. Sweat pouring down his forehead. Now this, is football weather.

The Alabama native and longtime defensive coach of such warm-weather schools as Florida State, South Carolina and South Florida was perfectly comfortable Saturday afternoon on the most sweltering day this state has seen in a long time.

“Feels great,” said Burnham, Iowa State’s defensive coordinator. “It’s a typical day down there all through August practices and September. I think it was great for our kids to go through it. Hopefully we’ll have two or three weeks of it.”

His, and head coach Paul Rhoads’ plan, is to get Cyclone players used to the heat they’ll likely be playing in over the first month of the season. 

Saturday was the team’s first in shoulder pads. Full gear will come later this week.

“We just try to push them a little bit harder, see how far they’ll go,” Burnham said. “When the mind gets tired, their body will follow. We were trying to make them line up as fast as they could and run the next play, run the next play, not do a lot of coaching in between.”

Like a real game.

“We are going to have to play in the heat at some point, and we need to be ready for it,” said nose tackle Nate Frere.

At 67 years old, Burnham has seen and heard it all. He’s got a great sense of humor, just not when the whistle is around his neck.

“On the field he’s business. He can be tough,” Frere said. “Off the field or in between drills is when his character comes out.”

ISU freshman Klein has a good first day

August 7, 2009

It didn’t take long for Iowa State freshman A.J. Klein to make an impression on his new coaches.

The 6-1, 234-pound linebacker from Kimberly, Wis., had a big first day Thursday as the Cyclones’ opened preseason camp with an afternoon practice.

“He stuck out to me,” Coach Paul Rhoads said. “I went over to (defensive coordinator) Wally (Burnham) with about 10 minutes left to go in practice and said, ‘If there’s any guy on defense I’ve noticed today it was A.J. Klein.”

Linebacker is an area where Rhoads said he’ll be giving some younger players a chance to prove themselves.

Klein worked with the second-string defense during team and passing drills.

He even made an interception and returned it for a score.

“I could have made that interception,” he said. “It’s nice to get one thrown in between your numbers every now and again. But he caught it and finished it.

“He made a lot of plays. He got off blocks, he tackled with great angles, he played with his knees bent and didn’t appear fatigued once.”

That wasn’t the case with the rest of the team.

Rhoads said it was a typical opening day of practice.

“It’s been a long time since they played football,” he said. “We were extremely rusty. The legs got tired as practice went along. They are in great condition and in poor football shape.”

Rhoads had defensive backs Ter’ran Benton and Devin McDowell playing in the linebacker spot for much of the day.

With the spread ‘em out philosophy of offenses in the Big 12 Conference, defenders have to be able to cover a lot of ground. Rhoads hinted that we might see ISU play a lot of 4-2-5 defense, utilizing the nickel packages.

“We’ve evolved to where defenses need two types of depth charts,” he said. “As the season goes on you could see equal snaps of nickel compared to three LB packages that we put on the field.”

Also of note, junior college transfer linebacker Matt Taufoou strained his hamstring and missed much of Thursday’s practice.

Rhoads said the injury was minor and Taufoou should be back quickly.

Iowa State football media day tidbits

August 6, 2009

Don’t be shocked to see Iowa State redshirt freshman quarterback Jerome Tiller play some this season.

Austen Arnaud is No. 1 on the depth chart and the expected opening-night starter — as he should be — but Tiller is a great athlete with a big arm and quick legs. Coach Paul Rhoads surely would like to find some way to use him.

Rhoads said the 6-4, 200-pound Tiller was one of the team’s most improved players during spring practice, and it showed during an impressive spring game performance.

“If he continues to do that there may be a selective role (for Tiller), but I don’t know what that is at this point,” Rhoads said Wednesday duirng the team’s media day.

Remember, Arnaud played a series or two as a redshirt freshman in 2007 when Bret Meyer was a senior, helping prep him for the following year when the starting job was open.

I don’t forsee that same scenario playing out, but you never know.

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West Virginia coach Bill Stewart expressed his extreme disappointment (UH, NOT) with Wally Burnham’s re-location to the Big 12 as ISU’s defensive coordinator.

Burnham’s South Florida teams neutralized the Mountaineers’ spread offense, something Rhoads hopes carries over to his time in Ames. WVU averaged just 12.7 points and 153 yards rushing against the Bulls the last three seasons compared with 36 and 284 against everyone else during that time.

“Wally’s been a great friend, I’m a big admirer of him,” Stewart told the Tampa Tribune. “But I’m glad he’s out west.”

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Rhoads said preseason practice would be “extremely physical” despite what he said would be a lack of full-out contact and tackling.

The Cyclones begin drills Thursday and have their first padded practice Saturday. The first scrimmage is Aug. 15

The two-deep lineup he has drawn up right now is etched in pencil. There will be a lot of movement between now and the week of the season opener on Sept. 3. 

“The depth chart will fluctuate day to day,” he said.

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No one can accuse Arnaud of shying away from the pressure of being the face of the program.

A lot is expected from the hometown kid who is one of the team’s leaders as a junior. 

“I love it. That’s why you play quarterback,” he said. “When we lose it’s my fault, when we win I get the glory. That’s just how it is.”

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Players I’m excited to see in action, and you should be too:

-Bo Williams. This guy looks like Ricky Williams reincarnated. Hopefully he plays even a little bit like him.

-Leonard Johnson. Keep that same relentless, bad-ass attitude,  just not when the ballcarrier is six yards deep in the end zone.

-Marquis Hamilton. It’s time for “big body” to do work. Or at least more work than he’s did last year.

-Matt Taufoou. He’s short and stocky and says he’s pretty comfortable in pass coverage.  Let’s hope so. 

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One more difference between Rhoads and predecessor Gene Chizik — Rhoads is making himself available for interviews following each day of preseason practice.

Chizik would talk with reporters after scrimmages and maybe one other day a week while making his assistant coaches available on a rotating basis.

The access to coaches and players — with Rhoads or Chizik — still tops Iowa’s, which makes coach Kirk Ferentz and selected players available only a few times before the opener and once a week during the season.

Dissecting the depth chart way, way too early

August 1, 2009

Taking a glance at Iowa State’s depth chart heading into preseason practice — camp begins Aug. 6 — here are a few of the highlights:

— Scott Haughton is the starter at right tackle. Haughton, who is 6-3, 338 pounds, played as a true freshman last year but did not participate this spring while sorting through some academic issues.

— Cedar Rapids Kennedy alum Ben Lamaak is listed as the starting right guard. Don’t count on him staying there. He’ll start…it’s just a matter of where.

— Florida Gators transfer Bo Williams is the backup tailback behind Alexander Robinson. Redshirt freshman Jeremiah Schwartz is No. 3.

— Senior receiver Houston Jones strangely is nowhere to be found. Jones had a breakout year last fall as the team’s third-leading pass catcher. Apparently he’s got some work to do to crack the rotation.

— At defensive back, the starters at corner are Leonard Johnson and Kennard Banks. Junior Devin McDowell and sophomore Ter’ran Benton are next in line. It didn’t take long for David Sims to lock down the strong safety spot.  He’s far and away the best the Cyclones have at the position.

— Much-anticipated junior college transfer Matt Taufoou is the backup to middle linebacker Jesse Smith. Will he stay there or move outside with impact players at that position lacking? Or could Smith shift out of the middle?

The Cyclones’ media day is next Wednesday. Coach Paul Rhoads and players will talk about these position battles and a whole more.

Finally, football season is upon us.  Almost.