Paul Rhoads has had a lot of success building scrappy teams up in Ames and always seems to find ways to piece together solid, fundamental D’s that typically receive little help from the offense.
It’s been the skill positions that have really plagued the Cyclones as they’ve often found some players they could fashion into serviceable or even good big bodies in the trenches but lacked featured playmakers. Let’s take a look and see if Rhoads is finally finding some horses in his long searches through Texas, Southern California, and Florida’s picked over recruiting grounds.When I evaluate a class you can throw out the star ratings. I’m looking at all of the players (2-10 minutes of highlight tape apiece) and projecting how they fit into their particular college’s system.QB:Needs of the ISU system: A savvy distributor who can make off-schedule playsTakes: Darius Lee-Campbell: 6-2, 200DLC is lucky to have come along after Rhoads brought Mangino aboard to captain the offense, one of the greatest OC’s in B12 history. For DLC, imagine Lorenzo Joe with a slightly better arm.I’m not sure if he’ll stay at this position as he’s very raw on footwork and reads but very athletic overall. He also has great vision, especially on the run, which Mangino will either fashion into his QB makeup or utilize to make him a weapon on the perimeter.Grade: CRB:Needs of the ISU system: Featureback, explosive home-run hitterTakes: Martinez Syria: 6-0, 205, Michael Warren: 6-1, 185Syria is a solid Zone running back prospect who can cutback and accelerates quickly. He’ll need to add some strength and likely won’t be an All-B12 player.Warren is lightning. He’s a better fit for the Counter, Power-Read (sweep), or Pin & Pull type plays ISU loves that allow him to beat people to the edge and get into open space.If he gets behind you it’s over.Grade: B+TE:Needs of the ISU system: good in-line blocker, capable possession receiverTakes: Scott Schaffner: 6-4, 220Schaffner was the X receiver in his HS offense and consequently is a pretty solid route runner. He’s listed at 4.6 and his acceleration on tape leads me to believe this is accurate. Rated as a 2-star, this is the kind of kid Rice loads up on and then ends up with NFL TE prospects while we scratch our heads in Austin and moan the lack of dynamic TE’s. We’ll see if he has the mentality and strength to be an in-line blocker but I think he’s a guy that can really hurt people running routes over the middle.Grade: B-OL:Needs of the ISU system: Mobile in space. ISU tends to rely on guys who can pull or move out on screens rather than trying to land the big mashers.Takes: Cole Anderson: 6-5, 264. Kory Kodanko: 6-6, 320. Will Windham: 6-4, 320. Wendell Taiese (JUCO): 6-5, 355. These guys are all pretty quick, even the massive JUCO. I think Mangino will find them adequate in pass protection and useful when asked to reach or pull. Not a group that will plow a road on Inside Zone or buy all day against Eric Striker.Grade: C+WR:Needs of the ISU system: outside receivers who can punish single coverage, slot receivers who can get separation against a nickelback. Someone who can house it if given space.Takes: Allen Lazard: 6-5, 204. Jauan Wesley: 5-10, 165. Orion Salters: 5-10, 165.Lazard is arguably the best WR in the entire 2014 Big 12 class. He’s big and fluid as a route runner and very physical in his style. We’ll probably see him start as a freshman opposite recent revelation Quenton Bundrage. He reminds me of Roy Williams.Wesley is a guy who’s acceleration could result in him being a useful chain mover in the slot. Salters is one of a million athletic, small guys who’s skills may or may not translate onto the football field. We need Team USA to start locating these types early and funneling them into soccer where they can do this nation some good.Grade: B+K:Needs of the ISU system: Elite punters and FG kickers cause the O usually isn’t very good.Takes: Colin Downing: 5-11, 170.Good name for a punter, his first kick on film seemed to go at least 50 yards in the air. A secret advantage to ISU has to be field position and the ability to court great HS kickers who know they will have a chance to shine there.Grade: ADL:Needs of the ISU system: pass-rush from every spot but Nose-tackle, good fundamentals against the run.Takes: Terry Ayeni (JUCO): 6-4, 265. Dalyou Pierson (JUCO): 6-3, 260. Gabe Luna (JUCO): 6-1, 245.Luna is very quick off the ball but I’m simply not buying a 6-1 DE in the B12. It’s too easy for lanky OT’s to get their hands on them right off the bat. At 245 and already with a few years under his belt, it’s hard to see him growing into a DT either. I’m guessing he sees time in pass-rush situations where he can pin his ears back and fly upfield.
In general, ISU has had great play at DT which they’ve managed from bulking up HS DE’s and teaching them great fundamentals. At DE they’ve struggled to land elite pass-rushers, which has always held back their D’s from making the leap from “stingy” to “great.” Ayeni and Pierson have a chance at rectifying this fact.
Pierson is a good SDE candidate and has some suddenness to his game that could lead to coverage sacks. Ayeni has the ability to flip his hips in the pass rush and close on the QB.Grade: C+LB:Needs of the ISU system: adequate size, speed, and instincts. The rest is taught.Takes: Sam Seonbuchner: 6-2, 223. Willie Harvey: 6-0, 209. Jordan Harris (JUCO): 5-11, 235. Reggan Northrup: 6-2, 190.Seonbuchner looks and sounds like a Cyclone LB. I think he can change direction in open space quickly enough to play in the ISU system where inside linebackers aren’t asked to cover as much ground.
Harvey’s tape will feature him blowing up a pulling guard in the hole one play, and then attempting the same the next clip and getting knocked aside. If he responds to S&C I think he’ll become what we hope Cameron Hampton becomes: Jeremiah George redux.
Harris is another short, quick linebacker that will thrive when covered up but ISU doesn’t always do that for their linebackers. He could be a weakside linebacker that can handle the coverage demands of 4 WR sets.
Reggan Northrup played OLB and NB in Florida but he’s not quite enough of an athlete to play Nickelback in a system that would ask him to turn and run with receivers. He’ll either grow into a weakside linebacker or play at the SAM on 1st and 2nd down and be a physical presence on the edge and in the flats. I call him “Rated R Reggan” cause he labeled his highlight tape “rated R for violence and gore.” He’s a big hitter, to be sure.No superstars in here unless Northrup ends up at 210+ and keeps his current athleticism.Grade: C+CB:Needs of the ISU system: The Cyclones don’t challenge short throws very often but they do ask their corners to frequently play without deep help and come up and make tackles in the passing game. Part of their “bend don’t break” philosophy that also allows them to keep the safeties in the middle of the field and the LB’s close to the LOS.Takes: De’Monte Ruth: 5-11, 170. Victor Holmes: 5-11, 170. Brian Peavy: 5-9, 164. Peavy is what ISU corners have typically looked like. Rhoads has typically struggled to find guys with the athleticism to play corner that are taller than 5-9. Mike Davis punished them for it but not everyone else has had that success.Ruth and Holmes are good prospects at Corner with better size than ISU has enjoyed in the past. Ruth has good tape jamming receivers at the line and high pointing fade passes, he could man the boundary for them where they are occasionally forced to defend the quick game.
Holmes is an explosive athlete who can really break on the ball. As a field corner he would really shrink the windows teams are used to enjoying against ISU.Grade: B-S:Needs of the ISU system: Reliable tacklers who can keep receivers in front of themTakes: (Johnson may be intended as a CB by the ISU staff)Qujuan Floyd (JUCO): 6-0, 190. Devron Moore (JUCO): 5-11, 180. Mike Johnson: 5-11, 180. With all-underrated boundary safety Jacques Washington and longtime contributor and SS Deon Broomfield moving on, there was an emphasis on getting guys ready to contribute soon at safety.
Floyd has just enough ability to flip his hips and run to make an adequate field safety and he can also land some big sticks. Devron Moore is the likely replacement for Washington and he’s very capable playing vertical passes in the deep middle or filling backside running lanes. Johnson is a HS corner who’s future is at safety. Grade: C+ Rhoads and his staff know how to find the thin OL they can beef up into AirRaid style OL, the growing athlete who’s future is at DT, the hard-nosed football player who their S&C program can build into a tackling machine at linebacker.
Their problems have been in finding the corner who can erase a receiver rather than tackling him after easy gains, the DE who can create turnovers with his pressure, the WR who demands safety help, or the dual-threat QB who can carry the offense.Terry Ayeni, Victor Holmes, and especially Michael Warren and Allen Lazard may be players who allow the Cyclones to finally field the game-changers that transform their team from scrappy cellar dwellers to real conference competitors.
The pairing of Rhoads’ defensive coaching with Mangino’s offensive brilliance is something to watch for in the coming years. You’d be hard pressed to find examples of coaches who have done more with less than these two.