Fall camp officially started yesterday with the first set of team meetings, but things begin in earnest today with the first practice. It all culminates with the first game of the season against North Dakota State at 11 AM on August 30th.
Before the Cyclones take the field on the last Saturday in August there are questions abound that need to be answered that will determine the fate of this year's team. Here are the top five questions that need to be answered before the sweet, sweet taste of football can grace our lips.
Who's The Quarterback?
As we wrote last week, there's one man for the job. In past five years under Rhoads there have been at least two quarterbacks to take snaps behind center each year. For the team to have sustained success in the offense heavy Big XII a leader has to emerge among Grant Rohach, Sam Richardson, and Joel Lanning.
Not only are the reps with the first team valuable, but the quarterback is the leader of the offense and this is something that Iowa State has lacked ever since Austen Arnaud hung up the cleats after the 2010 season. We thought that Richardson was that guy last year, and he may have been, but we'll never know due to the rash of injuries he sustained beginning in week one. Rohach looked capable late in the season, but how much of that was progression versus overmatched defenses may never be known.
What is certain is Rhoads and offensive coordinator Mark Mangino want to have a starting quarterback after the second scrimmage to give that man a chance to lead the offense out of fall camp and into the season.
Can We Get a System, Please?
Gone are the days of Courtney Messingham and his pared down offense that vaguely resembled something Tom Herman came up with after a bender in Tijuana. The days of the Mangenius are upon us, and with it are the expectations of rhyme, reason, and building towards something great.
Are we asking too much? Maybe. Should there be questions about Mangino's ability to slide back into the coordinator's booth? Absolutely. However, if a coach with only a few year's worth of coordinating experience can slide into the booth the last two years and make the offense look functional at best and a tire fire at worst, then why can't one of the most decorated coaches in Big XII history do something more?
At the end of the day here's what matters: Can the offense move the ball and can they put up points? If so, Mangino is the savior of Paul Rhoads' career and Iowa State football. If not, well, welcome to a long fifteen weeks.
Can the Defensive Line Fill a Gap?
Cory Morrissey and Brandon Jensen are the guys we know about, and that's it. The dismissals of tackles David Irving and Rodney Coe have created a hole in the middle that will need to be filled by guys like Pierra Aka, Gabe Luna, and Devlyn Cousin. Juco transfer Terry Ayeni was expected to fill a large role in the middle until his knee injury, and now the defensive line is looking at a situation where guys not ready for prime time will be front and center on gameday.
If it sounds familiar it's because the offensive line went through a similar situation last year with their rash of injuries. The depth was suspect and guys that shouldn't have seen the field for at least another year were pressed into action. Expect more of the same this year, and it won't be pretty.
That's not to say there isn't talent on the defensive line. Aka has prototypical size, but needs more weight, and Cousin is a bit on the short end but can use his weight to suck up space in the middle. The defensive ends have the potential to be solid if they're fast (looking at your Darius White), but are short on experience. It's just in Iowa State's position you would prefer these guys wait another year before seeing the field.
Can the Linebackers.... Lineback?
This problem may not be as pressing as whether or not safeties T.J. Mutcherson and Kamari Cotton-Moya can replace the production of their predecessors Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield, but those spots are seemingly settled and we're going to get what we get on August 30th.
However, the situation at linebacker seems to be a bit in flux. On the plus side it appears that Wally Burnham has more to work with than most might think, but the depth could be an issue with a few bad breaks.
The SAM position should be won by Jared Brackens but given his up and down status with the team it's not inconceivable for Drake Ferch to remain atop the depth chart. Brackens is regarded as being one of the fastest guys on the team, and no matter how hard Ferch works, it will be a downgrade for anyone other than Brackens to fill that spot.
Juco leading tackler Jordan Harris was brought in to win the MIKE job, but is currently third on the depth chart behind Alton Meeks and Kane Seely. Now I think that Meeks could on day be better than former linebacker A.J. Klein, but to see a Juco brought in to contribute immediately being beaten out currently by a freshman and a sophomore is eye opening. Hopefully this is a product of Meeks' growth and not any issues with Harris adjusting to a DI program.
Our favorite WILL linebacker Jevohn Miller sits atop the depth chart with both Luke Knott and Levi Peters. It would not shock me to see a situational rotation of these guys with the bigger bodied Miller on the field on run downs and Knott filling the position on obvious passing downs. Peters might have a role to play here but is going to have to play bigger than his size to truly make an impact in this race.
Can the Receivers Separate?
Not only from the men across the line of scrimmage from them, but also from their peers. Quenton Bundrage and Jarvis West are going to hold down two of the starting spots, and E.J. BIbbs is obviously a factor, but after that who are the receivers that make up the much needed two deep for a hurry up, no huddle offense?
P.J. Harris is currently beating out both Tad Ecby and Dondre Daley at the Z position, and that's saying something given the experience that Ecby and Daley earned in games last season. It's key here to develop some depth behind the starters, and I expect the Z position to be a rotation of the three above. However, if one can separate and become a solid threat across from Bundrage then the offense will really open up.
Speaking of Bundrage, he's looking for a back up at the X spot and it's currently held down by transfer D'Vario Montgomery. Unfortunately for Allen Lazard fans this is where I see him slotting in the offense. It's possible that his talent is so great compared to the rest of the team that he can't stay off the field, but if I had to wager I think he ends up as the back up to Bundrage and Montgomery. The only way he sees the field this season will be if his talent pushes him past Montgomery, which is entirely possible.
West picking up a back up at the F position will be interesting as it's easy to slide a tight end in there to create match up problems, but follow it up with jitterbug players like West and Damien Lawry. Given the nature of Bibbs' position it won't be as much of a focal point to develop a back up to West here.
There you have it, WRNL's quick hitting thoughts on the top five things that need to be answered in training camp. With any luck all of these questions will be answered in the next three weeks and the Cyclones come out blazing hot four Saturdays from now.
Now it's your turn. Who wins the QB battle? Does Lazard get playing time? Is Jevohn Miller really that improved? Take a shot at those questions in the comments below.