For what is quite possibly the first time in program history, the Iowa State football team has very few pressing questions in need of answering during spring football.
Man, that sure feels good.
Under past coaching regimes, spring football was a time for a cavalcade of injuries to already thin units, player regression, quarterback controversy, and distress over the teams prospects in the trenches.
While the injury bug could still bite (everyone knock on wood, please), spring football in 2021 should be downright boring for the Cyclones. That said, there are still a few questions that may need answering.
Depth at the Wide Receiver Position
While it seems like this is always a pressing question in Ames, the wide receiver group is actually in a tremendous position for this fall.
The room is largely intact, as Landon Akers’ departure is the only change from a year ago. Xavier Hutchinson, who had a breakout 2020 season, is the headliner and lead WRX. Tarique Milton, who was never truly healthy last season, is poised to pick up his production at the WRM position, leaving Sean Shaw Jr. slotting in at the WRZ spot. All three of these receivers have seen significant playing time and a good rapport with Brock Purdy.
Behind them lies a pool of talented and somewhat experienced players who await their chance to shine. Daniel Jackson, a top 100 receiver out of high school, played in 4 games before an injury ended his season, though he was able to secure a redshirt. The staff is very high on his speed and he profiles as a natural backup to Milton. Darren Wilson Jr. profiles as a similar type of player, a senior who has never really earned large minutes, and his emergence would add another veteran option in 2021. Another name to watch is Darien Porter, the Bettendorf speedster, who is only a redshirt sophomore and has primarily played on special teams.
The wild card, and unquestionably largest question needing answers, is what the Cyclones have in Joe Scates.
Scates, a 4-star recruit who had offers from the likes of Alabama, Michigan State, and Arkansas, has never really blossomed into a big-time receiving threat. He played in 11 games and snagged 2 touchdowns in 2020, showing potential along the way. Is this the year he reaches his full potential? That would certainly be a welcome addition to this already very good position group.
Primary question here: The ends are solid, but can Isaiah Lee and J.R. Singleton hold down the middle?
This group underwent more attrition than any other for the Cyclones, though it is bolstered by Uwazurike’s decision to return. If both he and Will McDonald continue to develop, and Zach Peterson and Tucker Robertson continue to get bigger and stronger, then this group is likely in very good shape.
That said, we are all well aware that the secret sauce to John Heacock’s 3-3-5 is the ability to stuff the run up the middle.
Isaiah Lee, a 6’ 301 lb redshirt junior, was an honorable mention All-Big 12 player in 2020 and put together a sneaky good season. In fact, I’d be so bold as to say Lee did not get talked about enough in 2020. That will likely change in 2021 as he becomes the man in the middle for the Cyclone defense.
Behind him lies J.R Singleton (redshirt freshman), though Ewazurike can slide inside if needed. Keep an eye on early enrollee (and WRNL favorite) Howard Brown to earn some snaps inside.
Secondary Loose Ends
While the backend of the Cyclone defense returns nearly everyone, there are still some burning questions in need of an answer.
Will Tayvonne Kyle or Datrone Young bring consistency to the second corner spot? Both have shown flashes of competence, and both have also been picked on by opposing defenses.
Is Jaquon Amos the guy to replace Lawrence White? It sure seems that way, and his presence should add experience to the safety position, as Kym-Mani King played in 2020, but the junior has played rather sparingly.
Who are the rotational players? Heacock loves to rotate players in the back end of this defense, an effective strategy for a long season. D.J. Miller and TJ Tampa are two players the coaching staff is very high on, so expect to see them earn major minutes.
Some lesser-known names to watch are Michal Antoine at cornerback, Mason Chambers at the star position, and Craig McDonald and Malik Verdon at the safety position.
Oh for the love of all things holy, can we get a touchback in 2021? Just one? PLEASE?
Andrew Mevis, graduate transfer from Fordham, had an excellent career for the Rams, and will look to compete with the Ass-man for kicking duties. Mevis can also punt, so don’t be surprised if you see him all over the field.
Keegan Shackford, a walk-on commit from Virginia, could also be a factor. His mullet alone should put him in contention.