AMES — I hadn’t been to a college football practice in years, mainly because most college coaches don’t open their practices to the media.
Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads made his team’s practice Thursday afternoon open to the press. It’s a one-time-only deal this season, and it was done because nothing the Cyclones did in over two hours of work would give away anything they’ll do during a game this fall. It was ISU’s first practice of the season.
It was interesting to see Rhoads at work. None of the grass on the practice fields across University Avenue from Jack Trice Stadium grew under his feet. He went from one unit’s drills to another, spending a few minutes from station to station, observing, getting in a comment or two, and moving along.
He wasn’t one to use constant chatter, but he spoke throughout practice, and his voice was the most-distinguishable of the coaches, loud and quite clear. In fact those were his words after practice.
“Everybody hear me loud and clear?” he asked as he addressed his squad.
“Finishing (plays) and hustle,” Rhoads said. “You young guys have got to learn that so it’s a ritual, so it’s automatic. We’ve got to finish and hustle all the time.”
In offense-vs.-defense drills, ISU quarterbacks were intercepted at least three times.
“The defense won and the offense lost,” Rhoads told his team afterward. “We can’t do that the first day!”
Rhoads told the quarterbacks to start throwing the ball away instead of trying to impress everyone by throwing into traffic, then added “Defense, hell of a job!”
“When you do things right, there’s a reason,” he said to the players. “When you do things wrong, there’s an answer. And where there’s an answer, you’re getting coached or you know the answer yourself. So fix it!”
The overall tone of the two-plus hours was very positive, from all the coaches and players.
“You looked like a receiver there,” Rhoads told redshirt freshman receiver Keith Blanton after one play.
After practice, I asked Rhoads what he and his staff were trying to get done this day.
“Getting everybody exposed, not just the newcomers and freshmen, but getting everybody exposed to the basics and the fundamentals of the offense, understanding the tempo of practice, what we’re setting out to accomplish in development, and building on our fundamentals.
“There was good. There was bad. There was enthusiasm. There was hustle. There are a lot of mistakes. There were young guys that don’t understand how to practice at this level yet.”
I shot some video from practice and hope to post some of it here by Friday noon. Saturday, I’ll have a column on Cyclone starting senior safety Michael O’Connell of Iowa City Regina, who has gone from dressing in the visiting team’s locker room before ISU practices as a walk-on freshman to becoming a team captain as a senior.