Cyclones’ Spring Game opportunity for players to prove themselves


Photo: Tim Reuter/Iowa State Daily

Quarterback Jerome Tiller looks to get rid of the ball during the second half of the game Saturday. Iowa State lost to Missouri 14-0, keeping the Cyclones from gaining bowl eligibility.

Chris Cuellar

Saturday’s annual Spring Game won’t count as a win or a loss on Iowa State’s overall record.

The scoreboard will have points on it, even if coach Paul Rhoads is debating how those points will be determined.

Fans will be in the stands cheering for the Cyclones, even if Jack Trice Stadium isn’t full and April doesn’t bring to mind tailgating and fallen leaves.

The game counts as a mark of progress for the Cyclones, regardless of the environment and weight of the event.

“A good practice is where you got good on both sides of the ball, it’s physical and it’s fast,” Rhoads said. “A number of our days have reflected exactly that. This group comes every day and that’s exciting for our preparation.”

The coaching staff is noting greater team speed among the Cyclones in what will be Rhoads’ third season in Ames. With a tough, nine-game Big 12 conference schedule, the team will likely need every scrimmage and skill addition it can get before summertime.

“In the last scrimmage, we had some people out of position, communication problems, so we’re looking to be more sharp with everybody reading their keys,” said sophomore safety Jacques Washington. “No depth chart spot is locked down, you can get your job taken any day. We’re just getting better every day, nothing is ever locked in.”

Iowa State will play offense against defense Saturday, with likely the No. 1 offense facing off against the No. 1 defense, and the second unit from each playing each other on assorted series.

With no depth chart spot truly locked up in Rhoads’ eyes, the chance for young and experienced Cyclones to tangle and prove themselves will be on display and prime for judgment in front of the ISU faithful this weekend.

“We want to get out and get better, you want to have a good day and prove that we’re going to be a good team,” said redshirt freshman center Tom Farniok, who sits at the top of the depth chart this spring. “You don’t get respect right away, you have to earn it.”

Kickoff is at 2 p.m. Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium and admission is free.

Quarterback battle

Gone is heralded, local quarterback, two-time captain and team leader Austen Arnaud, and with him, the certainty of which quarterback will take the first snap of the ball Sept. 3.

It is a wide-open competition that Rhoads has no plans on deciding anytime soon.

“I think all four candidates have had their days; they’ve also had their misses,” Rhoads said. “We’ll go into fall camp trying to decide exactly who will lead our football team.”

Juniors Jerome Tiller and Steele Jantz are considered the top two contenders for the job of signal-caller this season, with each player contributing in his own way.

“I think [Tiller] has got the knowledge of the offense and the experience more so than the other three, so there’s a comfort level that goes with that,” Rhoads said. “You can see that Steele’s behind, as far as understanding what to do. We need to continue to be more accurate with our ability to throw the ball.”

Sophomore James Capello, who saw limited action last season, and redshirt freshman Jared Barnett are the other two names on the depth chart; each of the youngsters have shown flashes of growth in spring practice. While not out of the conversation entirely, the transfer Jantz and former starter Tiller are expected to get the bulk of good looks in the Spring Game.

“We all run the same plays and for the most part we’re out of shotgun, so it’s just a different guy telling you what play to run,” Farniok said. “We have faith in whoever is back there, so we’re going to run it either way.”

Without Arnaud or even a consistent face lining up behind center for the Cyclones, Rhoads had a major concern about the leadership of the team, and which voice would step up in the huddle and take control. While Tiller and Jantz haven’t accomplished that yet, the rest of the offense has been responding well in practice to whoever is performing.

“To their credit, I think they’ve been unaffected, each of the four guys leads in a different manner,” Rhoads said. “They know all four are working hard to be that guy and they’re there to support them. Whoever is with the ones or twos the guys have just responded with good, honest work.”

Depth chart shifts

Quarterback isn’t the only position to remain unsettled on the depth chart, with a few major moves made preceding the Spring Game.

There are young names filling in on the team’s offensive line, even if a few spots feel locked down in practice.

“Everyone wants to play, and I’m in a position to do that, so I want to take advantage of it,” Farniok said. “I’ve still got to get bigger and get smarter and learn everything to perfection. It’s intense all across the board. If you don’t bring it every day, you don’t want to get demoted. There’s no relaxing.”

The running back unit is still working on a committee basis, with growth shown by Shontrelle Johnson, Jeff Woody, James White and Duran “Duck” Hollis.

“It’s a group that we knew was strong going into spring, they have not let us down,” Rhoads said. “The position is very dynamic right now. They all have the ability to make a lot of people miss on any given play. The moves that these guys make are fun to watch and electrifying, and I hope they display that on Saturday.

On defense, the starting cornerbacks will remain the same, but safety is a position Rhoads is hoping works itself out.

“We feel like we play better as a team now. The corners are lock-down, Jeremy Reeves and Leonard Johnson have taken their game to another level,” Washington, currently the top free safety said. “I think we have more depth in the defensive backs, it looks good.”

Injuries and impacts

Former JUCO defensive end Rony Nelson redshirted last season, but a concussion has kept him off the field and prevented the Cyclones from adding depth on the defensive line.

“He went into in the winter with a bone spur surgery, so we have not got true exposure to Rony, and that’s somewhat of a disappointment,” Rhoads said.

Other names on the depth chart with injuries include cornerback Jeremy Reeves, center Sam Tautolo and wide receiver Josh Lenz.

Reeves had wrist surgery recently to heal a nagging problem, and Rhoads expects the returning starter to be ready later in the summer.

Tautolo and Lenz have a shoulder and ankle injury respectively, and Tautolo will likely miss the Spring Game but should return to the team soon. Lenz should be available Saturday.