Let's dive right in, shall we? I've organized this best I can but it has a stream-of-consciousness vibe to it.
As it's the first day of practice, take the notes with a grain of salt. The Cyclones are back Wednesday in helmets for one last session before spring break.
Good first practice for Iowa State but not a great one, per coach Paul Rhoads, who afterward spoke to his team about mentally and physically fading in the latter portions of the drills and stressed expectations needed to be higher.
I've got a treasure trove of quotes from Rhoads, Wally Burnham, Mark Mangino, Sam Richardson, Grant Rohach and D'Vario Montgomery, but you'll have to wait until Tuesday for them. This practice report assumes priority.
Grant Rohach took first snaps, followed by Sam Richardson, Joel Lanning and Trevor Hodge. Kyle Starcevich participated in drills but did not receive any reps.
Rohach was most impressive in the accuracy drills, which is a big springy net with three soft nets (pouches) built in. Rohach fired footballs into the upper-right and the middle pouches at first try. Lanning whistled some passes into the upper-right pouch. Hodge struggled here, missing the big net once and mixing in some ducks.
Hodge also struck me as a bit robotic in his motions. There's a hitch as he takes the ball from chest to locked position. He had some moments but I don't believe him to be a contender in this battle.
Physically, Richardson and Rohach looked great, each adding around 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason thanks to a weights regimen keying on Olympic lifts and gainful eating.
Rhoads wants to see better decision-making on Rohach's part. Didn't see much of that Monday. The sophomore-to-be moved slowly through his progressions and ended a few 11-on-11 reps without throwing a pass and the play being blown dead. He also patted the ball and twirled it in his palm while dropping back, oftentimes a sign of indecision. A few nice throws were sprinkled in — the play of the day was a long, 60-yard touchdown pass to E.J. Bibbs on a verts route down the seam — but it wasn't a banner day for Rohach. The accuracy he demonstrated in drills wasn't always present in the live reps, several passes ahead or behind intended targets.
Kind of the same vibe for Richardson, who had fewer discouraging moments than Rohach but also didn't have the highlight play. His outs and throws to the sideline were zippier than a year ago, which is a great sign, but he didn't go deep too much.
There were plenty of read-options call in Mangino's offense and Richardson, to no surprise, executed them well. Richardson also engineered some toss sweeps. Didn't see any speed options.
The star of the day, in my humble opinion, was Joel Lanning. The kid has an absolute cannon, the best on the team, which falls in line with everything I've heard the last six months or so. He just spins it, man, and his over-the-top, downward plane release reminds me of Sam Bradford (Note: I'm not saying Lanning is Sam Bradford, just that he has a similar release. I'm into releases like some are into batting stances). It's a really pretty result.
Lanning's downward plane action works well in tight windows on close routes — swings to the flat, drags over the middle, outs. Didn't see him go deep too often with it. It's going to be tough for the redshirt freshman to beat Richardson and Rohach for the starting gig, but he's got all the tools.
Todd Sturdy is good cop to Mark Mangino's bad cop. That temper they've spoken of? It's real. It's very real.
Rhoads singled out Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy as being the top performers. I agree. Of course, it's easy to look great in helmets only, but the two running backs were slashing and juking their way all over the defense in team reps. I got some up-close looks at them in drills and they're each really cut.
On one play, Nealy ran the wrong route and backs coach Lou Ayeni jumped on him. When Nealy wouldn't confess to messing up, Ayeni joked they should be Nealy's stipend on it.
Rob Standard isn't as big as I thought and might not be a pure power back, but he's the biggest option the Cyclones will have. Tyler Brown is an electric runner who will get touches.
There's nothing more to say about E.J. Bibbs other than he's the clear star of ISU's offense. The Cyclones have a gem. So physical, so quick, such soft hands.
Alex Leslie got lots of looks. Graded out well in my book. The Cyclones flexed him and Quan West out. As Ben Boesen is a blocking tight end, I'd imagine Leslie or West — and for now I'd guess Leslie — gets decent playing time in 2014.
At wide receiver, Quenton Bundrage ran mostly short routes, over the middle, while Jarvis West was involved in a lot of swings. Dondre Daley and D'Vario Montgomery bring very similar skill sets, but one of them should separate by August.
Honestly, it was a quiet day for the receivers. That's not a surprise given the quarterback play. Many of the balls intended for Montgomery were over-thrown. West made a nice diving catch.
Two guys to keep an eye on, though: Damein Lawry and Bryan Ajumobi. Good route runners, good measurements, play-making skills. Actually, Lawry runs GREAT routes. The dropsies struck each player at least once.
Didn't see too much of the offensive line because the unit was at the other end of the field and, given the choice between watching QB drills or OL drills, I'm going with the arms.
From left to right, it went Brock Dagel, Daniel Burton, Tom Farniok, Jamison Lalk and Jacob Gannon. Farniok and defensive lineman Pierre Aka got in a short-lived scrum on the turf after a blown whistle (nothing out of the ordinary). Dagel is an NFL prospect because of how he carries his weight. The junior is 6-foot-8, 300 pounds and looks like a power forward.
There's no need to sugarcoat this: ISU's front-seven was already a concern and with Rodney Coe, David Irving and Luke Knott until summertime, it's not going to be very pretty come the Spring Game.
The good news is the return of the injured players, including Justin Madison, and the return of Jared Brackens from a two-practice suspension, will help tons, as will the infusion of JUCO talents Dale Pierson, Terry Ayeni and Trent Taylor.
Devlyn Cousin got his paws in on a few plays. Think it's clear he'll be an upgrade over Brandon Jensen.
Pierre Aka was a guy I circled on the roster several times. I loved his little fight with Farniok but it was his pop on a running back — Wimberly I believe — that was his hit of the day, sans pads.
Only saw Gabe Luna in on a few snaps but he got after the passer better than I thought he would.
Cory Morrissey beat Dagel off the edge once. I'm not convinced he can be the best player on a defensive line — he doesn't do enough to draw extra attention and he doesn't make many game-changing plays — but he's a fine leader, a smart player and knows where he needs to be. The "high-motor" label is often a cliché but it fits Morrissey and it really does matter — nothing irks a coach more than a talented cat who doesn't get after it every play. Morrissey isn't Jadeveon Clowney, far from it, but he doesn't take snaps off.
Didn't see much from Vernell Trent or Robby Garcia inside or Mitchell Meyers on the edge.
Darius White is listed as a strongside linebacker but he lined up a few times at end with his hand in the dirt.
Alton Meeks is a sleeper pick for me to get snaps this fall.
The rest of the linebackers were unremarkable. Jordan Harris needs some time to adjust but straight-up went the wrong way on a couple reads. Kane Seeley didn't stand out. The outside guys — Drake Ferch and Jevohn Miller — did not do a good job keeping containment and sealing off the edge. Running backs were getting to the outside then cutting back in.
Nigel Tribune has picked up where he left off. Watched him in a few tackling drills and he flew to the dummy.
Kenneth Lynn got snaps with the first-teamers at the other corner spot while Sam E. Richardson was with the twos.
Oh my, T.J. Mutcherson. It's one practice but I might need to revisit my prediction that two JUCO safeties start for ISU this fall. Mutcherson was everywhere Monday. The rising sophomore tipped a Rohach pass over the middle then adjusted to the ball and picked it off. He hung with ISU's wideouts. He ran well and looks big enough to pack a punch.
Good to see Kamari Cotton-Moya out there after an Achilles injury robbed him of his freshman season. He went step-for-step with E.J. Bibbs on an out route and dove to his right to make the deflection. Looks like a nice free safety prospect.
Devron Moore, like Jordan Harris, had a quiet day. Par for the course for a JUCO transfer. He was in on limited snaps.
Ezra Reiners had an interception of Rohach on the sidelines.
DeVondrick Nealy, Quenton Bundrage, P.J. Harris, Dondre Daley, D'Vario Montgomery and Aaron Wimberly practiced fielding kicks off a JUGS machine.
As the Cyclones are one-deep at punter (Holden Kramer) until Colin Downing gets to campus, Cole Netten did lots of punting Monday.
On Tuesday I will add Q&As with Rohach and Richardson.
You won't find as comprehensive a practice report anywhere else. We empty the notebook from Iowa State's first spring session: Grading all four quarterbacks, including the star of the unit, outlining some sleepers at receiver, the struggles of the front-seven and a star safety in the making