2013 will bring a lot of unknowns for the Cyclone football team and the offense is going to be looked at to carry more of the load than it ever has in Paul Rhoads' four years in Ames. The Cyclones return eight starters to the fold but have young depth behind them. Here is our ranking of each position on offense from where we feel the most confident to the least.
1. Tight End – Yes, tight end. Ernst Brun is coming off a satisfactory performance in his first season where he caught 26 balls for 330 yards and six touchdowns. He looked average while blocking this season but hopefully experience and extra coaching in the off season will turn a weakness into a dependable trait. Brun presents matchup problems when flexed out wide and his big body can be used to open up the field more.
Add in JUCO transfer Emmanuel Bibbs and you have a solid one two punch at the tight end spot in 2013. Bibbs is more like Brun than he is like Kurt Hammerschmidt so blocking from this position is going to have to be developed and coached all offseason. Like Brun though, Bibbs should present unique challenges for defenses on the outside.
2. Running Back – The deepest position on the offense took a hit when Shontrelle Johnson went down with a knee injury during bowl practices in December. Class spacing is important at this position and unless Johnson’s ACL is in tip top shape come August the preference should be to redshirt him in 2013. That would give the Cyclones a backfield of James White, Jeff Woody, DeVondrick Nealy, and JUCO transfer Aaron Wimberly this fall.
We all know White and Woody are capable of carrying the load in the running game, and have seen flashes of brilliance from Nealy in limited duty. The wild car will be Wimberly and if he can bring the kind of slashing that Johnson brings to the lineup. Wimberly had a hell of an offer list that included Boise State, Iowa, Penn State, and TCU. Coaches see a lot of talent in this kid and if he can become the 1b to James White’s 1a then the running back position remains in good hands.
If Shontrelle does in fact redshirt that would give you a 2014 lineup of Shontrelle, Wimberly, Nealy, and Rob Standard. That is hardly anything to sneeze at.
3. Quarterback – No Jantz, No Barnett, no problem. Sam Richardson looked utterly human in the bowl game against Tulsa but he was also battling a sudden case of the flu and really only came crashing to Earth after a 40-yard run followed by a long scramble that ended up with him taking a brutal knockdown. Richardson is not without his faults but his accuracy and ability to step up in the pocket while under pressure are two things this offense has lacked in Rhoads’ tenure.
That’s not to say that backup Grant Rohach is out of the discussion either. Rohach by all accounts throws a great ball with arguably more strength than Richardson and has had his redshirt year to grasp the offense. The battle will be strong in the spring and fall and I have a very good feeling both of these men will be the best quarterbacks at Iowa State in at least a decade.
The only area for concern here is who the third string quarterback will be. Is it Ankeny quarterback Joel Lanning or Perris, California quarterback Trevor Hodge? Either way it’s very possible that the third string quarterback is a true freshman that Rhoads will have to desperately try to keep a redshirt on.
4. Wide Receiver – This position is simultaneously exciting and puzzling. Quenton Bundrage came on late in the season as a reliable threat but all but disappeared in the bowl game. Jarvis West has shown us he’s quick and elusive, but lacks the top end speed to break away from defenders. Albert Gary made one of the most famous catches in Iowa State history against Oklahoma State in 2011 but had a pedestrian 2012 (18 receptions, 170 yards, two touchdowns). After that there are a whole bunch of unknowns.
Gone are Josh Lenz, Chris Young, and Aaron Horne and in their place step in untested receivers Quan West, Tad Ecby, and Dondre Daley. West had a strong chance of earning playing time in 2012 as a true freshman until he tore his ACL in fall camp. Whether he recovers completely is still unknown and despite everyone being high on this new talent I remain skeptical until we see production on the field.
5. Offensive Line – Another group that has been hyped for the past few seasons about having an influx of young talent, and the main reason I remain skeptical about both this group and the wide receivers heading into 2013. Offensive line coach Bill Bleil had to replace 2nd round NFL draft pick Kelechi Osemele and NFL free agent Hayworth Hicks this season and the running game suffered immensely.
First things first, with any luck Bleil is slid to the tight end coaching spot and a veteran offensive line coach with a wealth of experience is brought in. Think Wally Burnham but on the offensive line.
Second, the running game has to get going again and there’s no excuse with four starters returning and an average height of 6’5" and weight of 298 pounds. Further, the returning two deep averages 6’5.5" in height and 285 pounds. They’re light, but they’re young and can easily pack on the necessary 15-20 pounds to get through the Big XII grind.
Third, pass protection was an issue at times in 2012 and more often than not it was scheme over athletic ability. The line is long and they get their hands on opposing defenders early, but you cannot block six or seven rushers with only five guys. There are times the offensive line looked dominant stopping the pass rush (Iowa, Kansas State, Kansas) and where they looked lost and confused when anyone but the front four would rush (Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Tulsa Pt. II). It’s hard to say if this is talent, coaching, scheme, or all three but something has to be fixed to change the course of the offense.
As they have said for years, it all starts up front.
Projected 2013 Offensive Starters
QB: Sam Richardson
HB: James White OR Aaron Wimberley
WR: Quenton Bundrage, Jarvis West, Albert Gary
TE: Ernst Brun
LT: Jacob Gannon
LG: Ethan Tuftee
C: Tom Farniok
RG: Kyle Lichtenberg
RT: Brock Dagel
Richardson will be locked in a tight battle with Rohach throughout the spring and fall but should get the edge on his experience. White and Wimberley will split carries in this system and I expect Shontrelle to redshirt. Bundrage, West, and Gary get nods due to their experience but guys like West and Daley should get significant snaps as well. Brun is a shoe-in but Bibbs will be right behind him looking for playing time.
The middle of the offensive line remains unchanged with Tuftee, Franiok, and Lichtenberg. The only change here is sliding Gannon from RT to LT based on his experience and length and sliding Dagel to RT. Dagel was Carter Bykowski's backup on the left side this year but Gannon played a significant amount of snaps in 2011 and 2012 and that is valuable when protecting the quarterback's blind side.
One thing is for certain: this team is young after the starters and there is potential for some explosiveness if this youth movement garners significant snaps.