Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads is intent on building the Cyclones into a consistent winner. Last year was a step in the right direction. Iowa State won its first bowl game in five years.
But if the Cyclones are to build off a successful 2009, the defense must step up in 2010.
Seven starters must be replaced and while the spring went a long way to findings several replacements -- defensive tackle Jake McDonough and linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott may have secured starting spots -- there is still plenty more to be done with a unit that is young and inexperienced.
"I think some lights are starting to glow a little bit," Rhoads said. "I don't know if they've turned on, but they are starting to glow."
The Cyclones do have an experienced secondary. The 2009 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year, safety David Sims, and cornerback Leonard Johnson started all 13 games last year while safety Michael O'Connell and cornerback Ter'ran Benton have seen significant action.
"We've made progress this spring and we'll continue to do so between now and the start of the season," said Sims of the defense.
If the defense can find a way to keep opponents off the scoreboard, Iowa State could be in for a good season as the key components to the offense return in quarterback Austen Arnaud and running back Alexander Robinson.NOTES, QUOTES
--Running back Alexander Robinson is the cornerstone of the Cyclone offense. He had an all-conference season in 2009 and is expected to do more in 2010. Don't look too much into his spring game performance, where Robinson gained only 15 yards. The coaches purposely limited his number of touches, saving him for the season.
--Quarterbacks Austen Arnaud and Jerome Tiller combined for 433 total yards and two touchdowns in the spring game. They each completed more than 65 percent of their passes as well. While Arnaud is still the clear-cut starter, Rhoads said he has confidence that Tiller could win Iowa State games if ever called upon.
TE Collin Franklin -- Now that he's healthy, Franklin's impressed coaches with his ability to make plays in the passing game. He's even improved his blocking, a must for the pass-catching tight end. The key for Franklin will be to stay healthy. He's dealt with nagging injuries the last two seasons that have limited his time on the field.
DT Jake McDonough -- He only played one game last season after dropping 50 pounds because of a mystery illness -- doctors never came up with a true diagnosis. Back to his playing weight, McDonough has climbed atop the depth chart this spring and could be a playmaker at a position Iowa State sorely needs someone to step up.
WR Sedrick Johnson -- He put in extra work this spring and it's showed. He's playing with the first team offense now. He's running crisper routes and doing a better job of catching the ball. He could develop into the big play receiver the Cyclones are looking to develop.
QB Austen Arnaud -- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads called him the MVP of the spring, saying Arnaud's improved more than anyone over the 15 practices. Arnaud tweaked his mechanics during the winter and is now more accurate and has a better grasp of offensive coordinator Tom Herman's spread offense. He could be on the verge of a breakout season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Austen Arnaud has been playing much better. I think his technique has improved. I think his fundamentals are improved and I think his command of the offense is also improved." -- Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: Iowa State is looking to build off its first bowl win in five seasons. A second straight bowl berth isn't guaranteed, not with a loaded schedule. The Cyclones face Iowa and Utah in non-conference action and perennial Big 12 powers Texas and Oklahoma rotate back onto Iowa State's conference schedule.
The offense will be asked to carry the load this fall as the Cyclones must replace seven starters on defense. Another bowl berth is possible if the offense can be more efficient and the defense makes progress throughout the season.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Nearly everyone returns from last year's unit. The Cyclones plan on averaging more than 20.5 points per game, like they did in 2009. The running game, featuring running back Alexander Robinson and a stellar offensive line, will be the centerpiece of the offense. The passing game should be improved this fall. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said quarterback Austen Arnaud was the most improved player this spring and the wide receivers showed an ability to make big plays in the spring.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This will be a rebuilding year for the defense. Seven starters must be replaced, including all three linebackers. The coaching staff likes the young players who are filling in on the front seven, especially linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, but growing pains are expected, at least early on. The youngsters will look to defensive end Rashawn Parker, safety David Sims and cornerback Leonard Johnson, all returning starters, to lead the way in 2010.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: The biggest question facing the special teams is who will punt this fall. The Cyclones hope true freshman Kirby Van Der Kamp is able to come in from West Des Moines Valley High School in Iowa and earn the job. If Van Der Kamp can't win the job, look to walk-ons Daniel Kuehl or Chad Powell to get a shot.
CB Anthony Young -- Coaches expect Young to come in and contribute right away to a secondary that lost two starters. How well Young contributes may depend on how quickly he picks up the pace of Big 12 play. He could see time as a starter, a nickel back or as a safety, but either way, look for him to see the field in 2010.
LB Matt Tau'fo'ou -- Middle linebacker may be the most important position in defensive coordinator Wall Burnham's Cover Two scheme because he is asked to make plays all over the field. Coaches believe Tau'fo'ou has the speed and tenacity to succeed in the middle. If he does, he could be racking up double-digit tackles on a weekly basis like his predecessor, Jesse Smith.
DE Rony Nelson -- Nelson planned to enroll at Iowa State for the spring semester, but fell one credit short of graduating from junior college. He is currently in Ames ensuring he'll be eligible for the fall and is also working out with hopes of being the pass rush specialist in 2010 the Cyclones desperately need.
--Offensive tackle Brayden Burris missed the final week of spring practice after tearing his MCL. Burris, who was the starting right tackle before suffering his injury, is expected to be back in three or four weeks.
--Defensive end Rashawn Parker, who is still recovering from a torn ACL, didn't play in the spring game, but is expected to be at full strength for fall camp.
--Offensive guard Hayworth Hicks, who was academically ineligible for the 2009 season, has been reinstated and will return to school in the fall.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010