Publisher’s Note: The following is the second of a two-part
Q&A the CN staff did recently with ISU football coach Dan McCarney for our
upcoming 2003 football preview issue of Cyclone Nation Magazine. Part one was
posted yesterday. For more information about how you can subscribe to Cyclone
Nation, please click on the following link:
CN: The offensive line was a work in progress last season. How
much do you expect it to be improved in 2003?
McCarney: I’m very optimistic. I think
Marty Fine did a heck of a job this spring with those kids. Luke Vander Sanden’s
health is real important to our offensive line, and he’s done an excellent job
at center. Aaron Brant and Seth Zehr are two of the best offensive linemen we’ve
brought in since I’ve been in the program. We’re going to continue to let them
battle at right guard, but they will both definitely play in the first game.
Aaron’s up to 314 pounds and Zehr is 285. Brant’s really got a Big 12 body
already, even though he’s just an 18-year old freshman. Zehr is starting to look
like a Big 12 offensive lineman.
Bob Montgomery, Casey Shelton and Cale Stubbe did tremendous
things for us last season. We’ve got to continue developing our depth on the
CN: Would you rather have an unsettled quarterback position and
the best set of receivers in the league, or the best quarterback in the league
and an unsettled group of wide receivers?
McCarney: I’d rather have an established
quarterback. It’s not easy playing receiver, but that’s a position that
sometimes guys can come in and play sooner a little easier than others. Youth at
wide receiver doesn’t always kill you, as long as they have ability and are
easily coached. But youth and a lack of experience at quarterback can really
hurt you sometimes.
CN: How important is it to improve last season’s lackluster
McCarney: It’s really important and
we’ve addressed it because we weren’t satisfied. We could run it on average
defenses, solid defenses and poor defenses, but once you get into the heart of
the season you don’t see many of them. You see outstanding, great, top 10 ones.
It started in the locker room in Boise. We were getting
physically beat up front and weren’t physical enough. We were getting stalemates
instead of knocking people off the football. We’ve got a good system in place
and it’s a proven system. We can run the football and know what we’re doing. But
we got knocked back off the ball far too many times and didn’t get enough
We were average at best in the offensive line and running back.
That hasn’t happened since we’ve been here. We’ve been better than that most
years. That’s the challenge and the same thing I talked to my players and
coaches about. We’ve got a great running tradition here that we’ve got to get
CN: Switching gears to defense, could this frontline compare
with the 2000 group that included Reggie Hayward, James Reed, and Ryan Harklau?
McCarney: From what I saw in the spring,
I thought they had a chance to be as good as that defensive line and hopefully
better. That’s a lot of athleticism and speed on the edge out there with Tyson
Smith and Cephus Johnson, and a lot of heart, character and toughness inside
with Jordan Carstens and Nick Leaders.
Any good rush defense has to have a nose guard, a MIKE
linebacker, and physical safeties. You look at our defensive lineup right now
and it looks pretty good there. It gives you hope with Leaders, Carstens,
Brandon Brown and JaMaine Billups back there at safety.
I liked the personality of our defense this spring. There are a
lot of tough guys that like playing together. I think this is going to be our
best secondary. Brandon can be and should be the best linebacker we’ve had since
I took the job. Joe Woodley’s a throwback to the old days and I love him. He’s
not fast enough, but somehow he makes plays.
We need to continue improving and did that last year with our
rush defense. We were up to fifth in the conference in total defense and
improved a lot on forcing turnovers. We were pathetic in goal line and short
yardage defense. A lot of that is attitude and that was poor. Those things are
unacceptable and we addressed it as soon as the season was over.
CN: How does your two-deep look behind the defensive
McCarney: I think this can be a deeper
unit. Tim TeBrink could play three of those positions right now. Klayton Shoals
showed flashes this spring that he maybe had a chance. Beau Klaffke is 275
pounds right now and is starting to look like a Big 12 defensive lineman. Korey
Smith reminds me a lot of a younger Kevin DeRonde. He’ll run through the wall
and he’s starting to develop physically. Hopefully Andy Leaders can give us
eight to 12 snaps a game. He’s coming off of knee surgery and is about 280
Erik Anderson and Jamar Buchanan have to give us some depth at
SAM linebacker. Kyle Smith, Chris Whitaker and Boyd Viers – if he can ever come
back – could give us some depth at MIKE. Then Matt Robertson and Jimmy Morris
have got to be depth guys at WILL.
I’d be shocked if anybody can break into that secondary, barring
injuries. You’ve got Billups, Anthony Forrest, Marc Timmons, Harold Clewis,
Steve Paris, Ellis Hobbs, Johnny Smith and Brian Ollie that have played on
CN: Is Jordan Carstens the embodiment of what Cyclone football
is all about?
McCarney: No question he is. He was 228
pounds when he came in. He reported to camp as the last guy in. Mike Woodley saw
him in the Shrine camp and came back and said there’s something special about
that kid, so we worked him in. He was the last guy we brought to camp. He was an
under-sized tall, skinny kid. Yet he wouldn’t take any stuff from the other
kids. He wouldn’t back down. I remember those big seniors, like Ryan Gerke, just
whacking him. I knew we had something special then. He has a great work ethic
and is an ambassador and academic All-American. He exemplifies all of the good
about this program.
CN: On to special teams. Given how Adam Benike struggled at
times this spring, is the kicking game now a question mark?
McCarney: I don’t think it’s a concern,
but we do need to find out who our starter is. For whatever reason this spring,
Benike struggled a little bit. But you’ll recall two springs ago, Benike didn’t
have a real good spring and ended up being an All-Big 12 guy for us last fall.
It’s also a credit to Tony Yelk’s improvement and his focus on getting the ball
up quicker and higher.
CN: What’s your overall assessment of the special
McCarney: We’ve got a lot of the
important guys coming back. Snapper Eric Schmitz is coming back. He had some
personal problems and that was part of him leaving. His grandmother died, he was
real close to her and dropped out of school. We’re appealing right now to the
Big 12 to get a hardship to get him back. He was the best deep snapper we’ve
Many of those other positions are back. The philosophy, and I’m
going to preach it to them again, is ‘are you good enough for special teams’ and
not ‘are you too good for special teams?’ A lot of the best players from
Oklahoma and Kansas State are all over the field on special teams, and it really
stands out because they always have great defenses and special teams.
We’ve got to eliminate the inconsistency of our special teams.
We were either really strong or stunk it up. We saw a real marked improvement in
our punt return and punt block units last year, but little improvement in our
kickoff return game. We’ve already addressed all those things and have a