We've come to the end of our previews and eight days from now we'll be watching real football unfold in front of our eyes when Iowa State finally takes the field against North Dakota State. Before we can get there though we have to wrap up our previews and we finish with the wide receivers and tight ends.
Coming in to camp a lot of prognosticators would put have put the offensive line as the top unit. Even in my list when I was formulating the idea of these rankings I had the offensive line at the top. Then camp opened up and some great things started to surface. Quenton Bundrage was working on his consistency, Jarvis West was better than he was a year ago, D'Vario Montgomery went from the back up X receiver behind Bundrage to the starter at Z early in camp. Allen Lazard was as good, or better, than advertised. Things were coming together.
There was news that the receivers didn't perform up to snuff in this past Saturday's scrimmage, but in a long fall camp everyone is going to have an off day. In the end it appears that camp is going well for this group and that's a good thing for a unit loaded with weapons that will stretch a defense in ways we haven't seen since Seneca Wallace had the pleasure of handing off to Ennis Haywood and passing to Lance Young, Jamaal Montgomery, Lane Danielson, and Jack Whitver. Then you sit back and look at those four receivers, and look at the Cyclones' top four catchers coming into this season, and realize that these guys are already better than those guys.
So...uh...choo choo goes the hype train.
|DEPTH CHART: WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS|
|1st String||Z||P.J. Harris||RSo||6'2"||164|
|2nd String||Z||Tad Ecby||RJr||6'0"||205|
|3rd String||Z||Dondre Daley||RSo||6'2"||190|
|The Rest: A bunch of guys who will redshirt or hold blocking pads|
E.J. Bibbs, the best tight end on Iowa State's roster since Collin Franklin, is going to be featured significantly in Mark Mangino's offense this fall. Bibbs is on the shorter end for a tight end but is so bulky and explosive that he's a match up nightmare for just about anyone and will command his fair share of brackets and double teams.
Line Bibbs up in a traditional tight end spot and he's going to be too fast for a linebacker to stay with him, and even then just as bulky as any linebacker he'll face. Flex him out wide and he's too big in space for a cornerback to take him down. Keep flexing him out wide and now you have a great blocker coming down hill on a screen. The possibilities are endless, and far from Messy.
The reputation that has followed Mangino his entire career is his ability to cater to his players' strengths and Bibbs is going to be the man that quite literally might do everything in this offense except throw the ball. He'll be in the backfield in an H-back role throwing blocks, then he might line up clear out wide where the X receiver typically would, and then he might put his hand in the dirt in a big set to punch the ball down the middle of the field. Bibbs might as well be a fire breathing monster because that's essentially what this offense, and opposing defenses, will treat him as.
The X Factor
D'Vario Montgomery surprised a lot of people in camp this year by playing well enough to thrust himself into the starting lineup. It's not reflected on the depth chart above, but Montgomery has found a way to occupy the Z receiver role that was sitting in P.J. Harris' lap when camp opened up. The Z receiver is typically paired with the tight end and is off the line of scrimmage to allow the tight end to be eligible. Suddenly you have 6'2" boxy Bibbs and 6'5" rangy Montgomery on the same side of the field. And teams are expected to cover Bundrage on the opposite side of the field and account for Jarvis West somewhere else?
Montgomery gets X factor designation because if teams focus on containing Bibbs he'll have to step up as the threat that makes opposing defenses pay for committing a second defender to a tight end. With his feature off the line of scrimmage he'll be tasked with going deep and running outs in this offense, and his big body is going to allow him to create some space with defenders. If he catches fire then you have an entire side of the field commanding attention with Bundrage sitting on the opposite side licking his chops.
The New Guys
Something something Allen Lazard. This author wasn't not high on Lazard, but wasn't treating him with the lofty expectations others were. Everything out of camp is proving me wrong and Lazard quickly worked his way up to the second string and will make it onto the field next weekend. Lazard's combination of size, body control, and agility will make him a focal point in future years but this year he can spend time helping move the chains a few times a game.
With Justin Coleman gone someone has to take over the role of "white guy receiver" on this year's team, and that guy is Brett Medders. Yes, of that Medders family lineage. Medders is kind of rangy with his 6'3" frame, and has impressed coaches in camp. With West firmly entrenched in the F/Slot role, and Damein Lawry backing him up, it's unlikely for Medders to see the field much this year, but if you see a white guy catching the ball in the middle of the field it's going to be him. Or back up tight ends Ben Boesen and Alex Leslie, but maybe possibly Medders!
The Key to Success
Modestly speaking a successful season for this group would entail multiple 60+ catch seasons for the group, a slew of touchdowns, and a consistent ability to create explosive plays and move the chains on 3rd down. Statistically speaking I want to say a successful season will be blowing up the record books. The single season record for receiving yards is 1,073 by Lane Danielson in 2002, and the touchdown mark is the oft noted nine that Bundrage tied last year after Todd Blythe set it in 2004 and 2005.
1,073 yards and nine touchdowns. Seems pretty pedestrian in the Big XII, and they aren't linked to each other. It's completely conceivable for Bibbs to have 1,100 yards receiving but a big threat like Montgomery become a red zone phenom and break the touchdown record. Yet in reality the ball is going to be spread around so much it's quite possible that the quarterbacking records might be broken, but the receiving records remain intact. To me, that would be quite alright. Todd Bandhauer holds the single season record for touchdown passes with 20 and Sam Richardson could tie that with five to Bibbs, five to Bundrage, five to Montgomery, and five to a combination of the remaining receivers. That doesn't seem so far fetched does it?
And that's the amazing thing about finishing these previews with the offensive units. For the first time in the Paul Rhoads Era the coaching, experience, depth, and skill are all aligning to make the offense in Ames deserving of putting the Big XII logo on their helmets, and that can only be a great thing for the program.