By Rob Gray
AMES — Five capable running backs.
Two big-play tight ends.
A blossoming deep threat at receiver and numerous capable complements.
Therein lie the contents of Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson’s on-the-field toolbox as he prepares for his third career start in Saturday’s 7 p.m. season opener against Northern Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium.
“Quite a bit ahead of the game,” Richardson said.
Richardson’s vast array of weapons — including tailback James White, tight end Ernst Brun and wideout Quenton Bundrage — is enough to make a former quarterback take notice.
“I’m not saying by any means these guys are better than the guys I played with,” former ISU quarterback Austen Arnaud said. “They’re not, yet. They just have the raw talent and ability to be that good.”
Depth makes it possible.
In 2009, Arnaud handed off the ball to the Cyclones’ last 1,000-yard rusher, Alexander Robinson.
He also hooked up with dynamic tight end Collin Franklin and sure-handed receivers such as Marquis Hamilton.
So front-line firepower was in place.
Now there’s two, three, even four layers of support and not much drop off.
“They have depth of Big 12 (talent),” said Panthers coach Mark Farley, who beat ISU 24-13 in 2007. “So I think that’s what really made the difference of viewing them as an opponent, is their depth is much stronger and the talent they have on the field is much better that maybe what it was in years past.”
Running back’s particularly well-stocked.
Just ask one of them, Jeff Woody.
“There’s a lot of different flavors, as coach (Kenith) Pope puts it,” Woody said.
White’s the composite back — he does about everything well.
“And when he’s got fresh legs, which, almost every running back should have fresh legs this year, he’s one of the fastest guys on our team,” Woody saod.
Shontrelle Johnson’s peerless in terms of moves.
Aaron Wimberly? “He just can burn,” Woody noted.
As for DeVondrick Nealy … He’s a combination of Johnson and Wimberly.
And Woody himself?
“I’m kind of a bulldog type, hard-nosed type, blocker-runner,” he added.
That’s a flavor-filled bunch.
“Each one has their own little personality and it’s something I’ve grown to learn in each of them,” said Richardson, who averaged 5.7 yards per rush himself last season. “They all have their certain tendencies and obviously I’ve taken note of that.”
At tight end, Brun caught six touchdown passes last season.
Franklin caught five in his celebrated career.
Sprinkle in transfer E.J. Bibbs — as well as Ben Boesen — and that position may be as strong as its ever been in terms of field-stretching capacity and wide-ranging blocking prowess.
“Not taking them off the field much,” Richardson said. “So obviously expecting them to make a lot of plays.”
The same is expected of Bundrage, who also boldly wrapped up a top kick returner spot.
“He’s not a dancer,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said to sum up Bundrage’s expanding role.
No, the dance card is full.
Just as Richardson likes and needs it as he tightens his grip on the controls.
“I’ve always been taught growing up to lead by example at first,” the sophomore said. “And then when you’re leading people, take them along with words.”
KICKERS STILL COMPETING: Rhoads reiterated Wednesday the competition for place-kicking duties will go down to the last minute.
He also said it’s possible Edwin Arceo and Cole Netten will split tasks such as kickoffs and field goals, and, ultimately, his gut may decide who sees the field first.
“I could have a No. 1 guy going into a game and look at both of their eyes on the sideline and not feel good about him and change at that point,” Rhoads added. “THat’s how that decision will roll.”
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