I love spring practice and spring games. It is a taste of football before the season, and before opponent previews start surfacing in June and July (something we will endeavor to provide here at WRNL). I also love the optimism it brings for a fan base hungry for improvement or continued dominance.
The part I hate is the scant information provided. Closed practices and close to the vest interviews provide little real insight. The exception is with position changes, and we Cyclones have been treated to a remarkable storyline in that regard.
As a follower of college football in general, there is one consistent message. Outside of a glaring injury (see Iowa’s safety position), everyone is working hard, improving everyday, and a few key characters are taking steps forward.
That holds true at Iowa State. Joel Lanning is starting at linebacker, the offensive line is getting deeper, the skill positions have talent, and some youthful defenders are taking steps forward.
To be completely honest, I am jacked up. I love the hype and anticipation for an upcoming season. My lips are permanently stained red from the flavored water. I look like Bugs Bunny dressed like a girl to deceive Elmer Fudd.
Mike Warren is back. There is a leader on defense — and he is a linebacker. QB1 is a former Elite 11 talent who may be playing like the pirate he is. The offensive line is more talented and developing. We might have a TE. And, there are still some talented freshman that will enter the fray in the fall.
More than that, the machine that is “The Process” seems to be moving and Matt Campbell’s vision of year-round dedication has come to life. If only I could write the case for 13-0.
Can Everything Be Great?
With the spring promotional pieces, the coach speak, and the lack of observation, a perception of every team is created. Reality is possibly somewhere below the hype. Mostly because we are competing against ourselves and not against other teams’ spring squads.
Don’t take this as negative. It isn’t. I just had a thought that there is a difference between the spring hype and reality. My fandom leads me to jump ahead and project Cyclone improvement versus the improvement of our opponents. This gives me a sense of calm at night or prepares me for future failure.
Inevitably, everything isn’t great. But, some things are. Just because something is hyped doesn’t mean it can’t become reality. Just because something sits in the garbage bin doesn’t mean it can’t be polished up and become valuable.
In the context of Cyclone football, this equates to whether or not the team is at a point that it is better than the 3-9 team from 2016. Additionally, is it better than the 2-2 team we saw in the last quarter of the season?
Hype or Real?
Below, I list some topics that caught my eye through the spring through media reports and interviews. Some may be tinged with my own bias and it isn’t comprehensive. Feel free to add some more in the comments.
The Wide Receivers are Deep and Talented.
Lazard and Jones are fine. Trever Ryen is probably fine too. We heard a lot of hype about Marchie Murdock, and Hakeem Butler was seeking consistency. Matt Eaton is a hard worker and talented. Epps, Martin, and even Denver Johnson could be in the mix as well. I know we are talking about a 3rd and 4th wide out, but they have to take coverage pressure off of Lazard and Jones.
With no one stepping forward and seizing a spot I classify this as HYPE.
Joel Lanning is the Starting MLB - and He is Good.
The most publicized and fascinating story of the spring has shined a spotlight on the Cyclones’ most popular player. Homegrown athlete makes switch and makes a difference. Simply the progress to be named a starter after 15 practices is remarkable. No one believes he is a finished product, but the possibilities are tasty.
Even if Lanning makes mistakes, I am confident he will make them with force and vigor. That is a step up from last year’s linebacker play. Couple that with the leadership this provides the defense and I classify this as REAL.
Mike Warren is Back.
Indeed. Mr. Warren has shown excellent character and by the look we had in the spring game and the reports we have heard, this appears accurate. David Montgomery and Warren at full capacity is a handful for any defense. The threat for big plays in the running game just got real.
I think Warren has shown toughness and maturity and is a major bonus for the offense. 2015 Warren with 2016 Montgomery makes 2017 a year of running game competency. If ISU can run the ball like it did in the last quarter of last year, and maybe a tick better, then both sides of the ball stand to benefit. The hype is REAL.
The Offensive Line is Improved and Versatile.
Bryce Meeker, Robby Garcia, and Ode Udeogu. Their presence at the top of the depth chart is a solid development. Tom Manning did magic with last year’s crew and I think they are two full steps ahead of last year. Sprinkle in a dash of Jake Campos and pinch of Dave Dawson and you have real depth and real possibilities.
Time for Park and second-level blocking for the dynamic duo at running back would be a game changer. Put this in the REAL slot.
Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner will End Cyclone Woes at the TE Position.
There was a nice catch from Allen. I had a report of some competitive blocking from him too. Soehner looks the part and may still have work to do in order to get on the field regularly. The athletic attributes presented by these two are palpable and exciting. However, there seems to be work to do for both.
We may see them gradually become factors as the 2017 season progresses, but right now, I think this is HYPE with an asterisk for growth in fall camp.
The Defense will Make More Stops than it Did Last Year.
This may be a reach, but I heard the defensive coordinator make reference to this. It was an homage to a bend, but don’t break mentality. I am fine with that because I think that is the best we can hope for. But, I saw something that made me re-think my initial thought.
I was only able to see highlights of yesterday’s spring game. In those highlights, I noticed three down lineman and the cyclone dime pressure package we collectively deemed the Cyclone defense. The fact that it was present in the spring game tells me that it will be much more frequently used in the upcoming season. That got me excited.
The three down pressure package places this in the REAL slot. If the base look is predominant, then I will hedge with a HYPE call.
The Secondary is Experienced and will be Solid when we Find a STAR Guy.
Hold your horses here. Brian Peavy is solid and D’Andre Payne is solid in multiple positions. This premise assumes that Kamari Cotton-Moya is solid and we only need to find another safety. The presence of two holes (star and free safety) in a five man secondary should be frightening because one weak link can beat you in the Big 12.
My hope was that Payne went to corner with a plug-n-play guy ready for star. That isn’t the case. I expected another safety to step up along with Evrett Edwards to round out the group. KCM has experience and is solid in the run game, but the defense can improve against the pass without him on the field.
Put this solidly in the HYPE column and color me worried.
The Defensive Line is Improving and Developing Depth.
See the secondary above. We heard a lot of names with good reviews, but none were the guys I expected. That could be good or bad. As it stands, we know Ray Lima will play as much as he can and probably be pretty good. The next closest thing to a sure bet is that Vernell Trent will be in the rotation.
I think this fact is why I lean so heavily to a three-man front. Not that we need more pressure on the linebackers, but the less ISU relies on a solid four-man front, the better we will be. At least, that is my thought now.
A lot of names without any clarity is a red flag. Just like the 3rd and 4th receiver slots. Spring HYPE.
What does this mean?
I have no idea — yet. The team is in a better position than last year and is poised to maintain the momentum they gained at the end of 2016. At present, Iowa State is not a team any of our opponents are anxious to play. It isn’t Iowa State of the past.
Personally, I am shifting gears to focus on our opponents and will undoubtedly be overwhelmed by the hype v. real conundrum from their own propaganda. Are the real improvements enough to make a leap up in the standings given the improvements other teams will show?
I will be on the hype train regardless, but will be looking for a realistic expectation for 2017. Overall, the spring was successful. Injuries were minimal and team leaders seemed to emerge on both sides of the ball. CMC’s process is in place and I can’t wait to see what difference it makes.