Returning receivers to play bigger roles

Matt Gubbels

The ISU football team had only 38 pass plays of 16 or more yards or more last season, and coach Gene Chizik wants that to change.

“One of the things we’ve harped on about our offense is the lack of explosive plays,” Chizik said. “Those are both defensive killers and momentum swings for the offense.”

Sophomore quarterback Philip Bates said the receivers have done a good job of making long catches in spring practice.

“They’re making a lot of plays – they’re changing the game a lot,” Bates said. “They’re helping me out, and they’re helping themselves out.”

The receivers who caught 21 of last season’s 38 long passes have graduated or changed positions, however. Senior wide receiver Euseph Messiah said a better understanding of the offense should make big plays a recurring event.

“Back in the past, you really didn’t see us doing that kind of thing,” Messiah said. “We would catch a pass and probably get tackled, but now we’ll make plays afterwards and you’ll see receivers making blocks downfield. It’s just a whole offensive click that we’re trying to get used to.”

Wide receiver coach Jay Rodgers say one of the focuses in spring practice has been getting off the press of defensive backs at the line of scrimmage.

“The number-one focus has been, ‘be physical,'” Rodgers said. “The next focus after that has been ‘get off releases, get off press coverage and play faster.'”

The Cyclones do return their second- and third-leading receivers from last season in junior Marquis Hamilton and senior R.J. Sumrall, who led the team with 54 receptions. Hamilton caught 45 passes for 534 yards and one touchdown while showing some explosiveness with four catches of 25 yards or more.

Hamilton will now have to be one of the main players to pick up the slack for Todd Blythe, who finished his career as the Cyclones’ all-time leading receiver.

Chizik said Hamilton had a solid year but needs to become more consistent to reach a higher level of play.

“He’s always going to be a solid guy, but I would like to get him out of that level and get him to the next level,” Chizik said. “That’s what were working on with him right now – getting him to be a difference-maker catching the football and blocking – and he’s not there yet.”

Rodgers said there are two ways Hamilton can go with his play.

“You can be content with the way you played the year before, or you can do what the great ones do and get better from year to year,” Rodgers said. “He has so much room for improvement – he has to be able to take the coaching and get better from here on out.”

Player to watch: Jr. Houston Jones, 6-0, 194 lbs.

Jones only had one catch for six yards in limited action as a special teams player last season. Coach Gene Chizik and quarterback Phillip Bates have been impressed by the improvement and play of Jones this spring, however.

Chizik said Jones is a good blocker but has improved in other areas as well.

“He really can be a physical blocker on the perimeter,” Chizik said. “He really has come on in terms of catching the football. He’s got some banged-up body parts that we’ll hit and knock him out of practice, and he’ll come back and practice – he just keeps on plugging along.”

Jones was not listed on the opening spring two-deep chart, but may be working his way onto it.

“I hope he can stand prosperity now that I’m saying this and he doesn’t just go out and tank it this week,” Chizik said. “What he’s done on the field and his production have been very pleasant.”