The way Darius Darks sees it, this is as good a time as any to put in the spread offense at Iowa State.
A team running that offense needs a lot of wide receivers and the Cyclones just happen to have plenty, with Darks, a sophomore, leading the way. When he gets healthy, that is.
Darks hasn’t recovered from a hamstring injury that slowed him during spring workouts and might miss the season opener Thursday against North Dakota State.
Still, his eyes light up when he thinks about what the new offense might mean for him and his fellow receivers.
“We’ve learned a whole lot since the new coaching staff’s gotten here,” Darks said. “We’re going to learn even more this fall. I’m pretty excited to show everybody what a new football team we’ve become.”
Darks is the top returning receiver after catching 49 passes for 477 yards as a freshman last fall. A quarterback in high school, Darks had his best games late in the season, including a seven-catch, 113-yard performance against Oklahoma State.
Iowa State often used three-wide receiver sets last year, sometimes four. This year, look for four and five receivers spread from sideline to sideline on nearly every play.
“We have a lot of returning receivers, which definitely makes the offense more powerful because we all have a good relationship with the quarterbacks,” Darks said.
“We’ve got a good feel for how they deliver the ball, they have confidence in us.
“On top of that, we’ve gotten better this off-season. We’re catching a whole lot better, we’re running routes a whole lot sharper. It’s going to make this offense even more dangerous.”
First-year offensive coordinator Tom Herman is the architect of Iowa State’s offense. He used the spread effectively last year at Rice, which went 10-3 while averaging 471 yards and 41 points.
“I don’t know that you’ll see a guy in this offense catch 100 balls,” Herman said. “But what you might see is four guys catch over 40 or 50 balls. I think we’ve got some leveling of talent.”
One of those guys could be Houston Jones, who emerged as a solid receiver last year after catching only one pass in 2007. Marquis Hamilton makes a good target at 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds and 6-4 sophomore Sedrick Johnson, the most highly regarded player in ISU’s 2008 recruiting class, is looking to improve in his totals from last fall (18 catches, 188 yards).
Tight ends Collin Franklin and Derrick Catlett also are good receivers.
Iowa State’s receivers at a glance
Starters: WR — Marquis Hamilton, sr., 6-3, 224 (26 catches, 301 yards, three touchdowns); Sedrick Johnson, soph., 6-4, 205 (18-188-3); Darius Reynolds, jr., 6-2, 201 (JC transfer). TE — Collin Franklin, jr., 6-6, 248 (15-258-2).
In the mix: WR — Darius Darks, soph., 6-1, 184 (49-477-1); Houston Jones, sr., 6-0, 194 (32-384-0); Joel Zitek, sr., 6-1, 202 (7-68-0); Lonzie Range, fr., 6-2, 197; Jason Carlson, jr., 6-0, 205 (no stats); Josh Lenz, fr., 5-11, 184; Jake Williams, jr., 6-1, 199 (no stats). TE — Derrick Catlett, sr., 6-4, 243 (20-230-0); Carter Bykowski, soph., 6-7, 254 (3-21-0).
In the know: The receiving corps easily is the deepest position on the Cyclones’ team this fall. Wide receivers and tight ends caught 228 passes last season. And the players who hauled in 170 of those pass completions are back for another campaign.
Bowling if … The wide receivers make more big plays than they did a year ago. Among the returnees, Houston Jones is the leader with his average of 12 yards a catch. Those returning receivers caught only seven of the team’s 17 touchdown passes last fall.
— Chuck Schoffner