Editor’s note: This is the third in a series about each position on the Iowa State football team.
AMES – It’s been an offseason of transition for the Iowa State football program.
The well-covered ground of the departure of linebackers Jake Knott and A.J. Klein is finally starting to be put in the rear-view mirror as the team works through fall camp and into preparation for the fifth season under Coach Paul Rhoads.
But even with that, questions abound at all but only a few positions. With six talented guys vying for time on the field, running back is one of those spots.
“I told (the other running backs) to be like a family, stick together, encourage the teammate, help him out,” said senior James White. “If you know a little more than him, coach him up. Because you never know, you might be the guy that gets hurt, and then your backup, he’s in and he doesn’t know what to do. That’s hurting the team. We need all of us to be on point, be on our A-game.”
Rhoads made it clear at Iowa State’s Media Day that with what he has in the running backs group – that includes White, Shontrelle Johnson, Jeff Woody, Aaron Wimberly, DeVondrick Nealy and Rob Standard – he’s not at all worried about who has how many carries.
And unless they’re good actors, none of the backs at Media Day seemed all that concerned either. Echoing White, Woody – who, according to running backs coach Kenith Pope, likely will also see some time at tight end this fall – said each member of the group is out to learn and improve, no matter who is on the field.
“(We’ve got) depth, experience and (situational backs),” Woody said. “We’ve got three seniors, a junior and two third-year sophomores; guys that have been here a while and understand what we’ve got. They’ve been in other running back rooms.
“We know what we’ve got and we know what we’re capable of doing. So that’s a big thing that we’ve got going is we know exactly what we have to do, and not be selfish in doing it.”
Having a player for every situation the Cyclones are in or package they want to use will be a key advantage in an offense where other skill positions – yes, even the quarterback Sam Richardson, despite his firm status as No. 1 QB – are unproven.
What remains to be seen, at this point, is whether Pope and Rhoads can work together to put the right guy in at the right time.
“With so much talent, you have to use it to your advantage.” Johnson said. “You have to find different ways to put different guys on the field and do the things they’re good at. Coach has done a good job with different personnel formations, getting us in slot receiver positions, some speed back stuff … so he’s aware of our personnel and what kind of talent we have on this team.”
But don’t confuse being a good teammate with each back not caring about showing what they’ve got.
One of the keys to making this crowded arrangement work, Pope said, is the fire lit under each player.
“The guys understand the offensive scheme (and) are doing a nice job,” Pope said. “But they’re very, very competitive. And that’s what’s going to make it really good for us the whole year, because those guys have got to compete every day.”
Only time will tell if the depth and variation in this group will be recipe for success or not. Until then, individual goals will be reached for – White wants 1,200 yards, and Johnson said he’s “coming back from a second injury, so there’s no fear. I can’t hold anything back,” – and the group is aiming for “no less than 2,000 yards.”
No matter what, though, it appears as though they believe in the system and the common goal ahead of the individual goal.
“There’s always going to be a (friendly) rivalry because we’re Division I running backs,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be competition at the end of the day, but when it comes down to it, our objective is to win games by any means necessary. We’re going to do whatever it takes to help our team win games.”
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE ISU RUNNING BACKS
The depth chart
No. 1 — James White, sr., 5-8, 192; No. 2 — Shontrelle Johnson, sr., 5-9, 186; No. 3 — Jeff Woody, sr., 6-1, 242
Though there won’t be a clear No. 1 back, James White has been the consistent face in the ISU backfield the last two seasons, gaining a combined 1,259 yards on 257 carries. He and Shontrelle Johnson split the majority of the carries last season.
The No. 2
Johnson, who has now come back from a near-career-ending injury twice, will once again likely be heavily relied upon. Before injuring his knee during preparation for the Liberty Bowl last year, Johnson had 504 yards on 115 carries.
The utility man
Senior Jeff Woody, who has made an ISU career out of doing anything asked of him, will be used in a variety of ways this fall. While there’s a possibility he’ll see time at tight end, he’ll also likely be the go-to at his specialty – short-yardage situations. His adaptibility to different positions and skill sets will be relied on by the coaching staff.
Though White and Johnson are the most tenured and successful backs in the group, head coach Paul Rhoads and running backs coach Kenith Pope have liked what they’ve seen out of Aaron Wimberly, DeVondrick Nealy and Rob Standard as well. These three could see time on the field in various offensive sets.