Notebook: Quality reps, depth on the defensive line and growth from receivers

Eyioma Uwazurike and Anthony Johnson celebrate after a third down stop against Baylor on Nov. 7, 2020. 

Sam Stuve

While Iowa State returns 19 out of 22 starters on its team, there are some areas where it has roles to fill.

Some of those holes are in the middle of the defensive line. Meanwhile, on the offensive side of the ball, some wide receivers have talked about growing mentally and both sides talked about the importance of quality reps.

Depth on the defensive line

Iowa State already has established veterans in seniors Enyi Uwazurike and Zach Petersen and junior Will McDonald.

However, the Cyclones are trying to build some depth on the defensive line but also need to replace the production that Latrell Bankston, who transferred away, and JaQuan Bailey, who went to the NFL, had.

One of the players who could fill the nose guard role this season is junior Isaiah Lee, who started in nine games last season and was an All-Big 12 Honorable Mention.

“Isaiah Lee has done a great job managing his body over the summer and spring; the one thing that he can give us is that he can give us power there,” Iowa State defensive line Coach Eli Rasheed said. “We just don’t know how long I think he’s improved in that aspect where his stamina has gotten better.”

Rasheed said there’s strong competition amongst one another in the defensive lineman room.

“Competition in the room is all over the place,” he said. “J.R. Singleton is a young kid, he wants to play for our program. So that competition there between Enyi and Isaiah and J.R. and Howard [Brown], they’re competing for that playing time and that’s what you want as a coach, that competition.”

Rasheed said Singleton is self-motivated and will come up to him in his office and ask him questions.

Brown is a true freshman this year, while Singleton is a redshirt freshman and played in three games last season.

Another player Rasheed was asked about is senior Cordarrius Bailey, who has only played in three games in the last two seasons because of achilles injuries.

“We don’t have enough time to talk about what he’s gone through; you think about ruptured Achilles, the career-ending injuries — for that kid to get himself back on the field and ready to go, he’s been better than he was when he was healthy,” Rasheed said. 

Quality vs. quantity of reps in practice

One of the main themes players and coaches talked about Wednesday was what a quality rep is. 

Uwazurike said quality reps are the execution of the basics.

Wide receiver Darren Wilson Jr. said a quality rep is about making the most out of a given opportunity.

“As Coach [Matt] Campbell likes to say, football is about the moments, so quality reps is doing it right when you go in and make the play when you have the opportunity, it’s about that moment,” Wilson said. “You only get 12 opportunities (guaranteed games) in the season, so make the most of your opportunities. And so the quality of these kind of goes with that.”

In practice, these moments appear to be happening when starters on offense face the starters on defense. 

This is something Rasheed said Campbell has put more of emphasis on since the beginning of last season.

“That’s the new Coach Campbell’s model, we’re gonna get good on good reps,” Rasheed said. “We don’t take a lot of reps, we want the quality reps, and we want the best possible look that we can provide and practice to be as close to Saturday in terms of feel as we can get it. It doesn’t have to be long. It just has to have good quality.”

This can be beneficial for players as they are given the toughest competition and maybe some different looks as well.

“Everything in practice, it’s not gonna be anything I haven’t seen going into the game, so that’s why it’s probably the most beneficial for me,” Uwazurike said. “Different things do pop up week by week, so it’s good that we get to see good looks and different looks and practice from all of us, so it’s definitely beneficial.”

Rasheed said this has made the defensive line better.

“They’re physical … that’s what our offensive line provides for us every snap,” Rasheed said. “If you don’t have the proper footwork and leverage and play against that group, they’re gonna embarrass you on the field as a physical group. They’re making us better; they’re making our young guys who hadn’t had that game experience out there better.”

Wilson and Scates showing growth

One of the topics of discussions with wide receivers/running backs Coach Nate Scheelhaase and Wilson was the topic of growth.

One player Scheelhaase brought up and said has had great growth throughout the last calendar year is junior Joe Scates.

“The progress that he made last season, throughout the year, I was really excited about it,” Scheelhaase said. “The other part I would say in the offseason that he’s had has made me really encouraged about the point that he’s out right now, four practices in or so, five practices, he’s done a really good job of coming each day with a workmans-like attitude.”

Scheelhaase said Scates has had a great demeanor, he’s locked in and he’s more mature.

“He’s more experienced out there on the field, I’m excited about where he’s at right now. And I think we just have to keep going day after day, week after week,” Scheelhaase said. “He’s starting to develop that mindset and that mentality, but he knows more than anything it has to be consistent throughout the whole season for him to be at his best.”

His teammate Wilson also gave praise to Scates.

“He’s growing mentally, not only mentally but he’s growing physically,” Wilson said. “He’s put on some weight, but I see he’s gotten faster, his routes are getting crisper and he’s close to being dangerous, that’s for sure.”

Wilson said he can see this from his demeanor in meetings and his ability to “lock in.”

As for himself, Wilson said he thinks he’s grown mentally this offseason, too.

“I’ve definitely grown mentally since I first got here, it’s coming to me now. I think I’ve matured a little bit,” Wilson said.

Wilson attributed this to discussions with the team and coaching staff.

“I mean, we all as a group, we all help each other out,” Wilson said.

Wilson is coming off a year where he spent most of his time dealing with an inner ankle ligament tear but still played in eight games and scored a touchdown.

“I mean, it was rough. I had a few injuries going, one in camp, one a week before KU the game, just bouncing back from that, it’s been rough,” Wilson said. “I had surgery back in February, I’ve been working through that, so now I’m trying to get back to football and I’m feeling good now.”