Got a nice, long look at Iowa State last week, and we'll be featuring the Cyclones on the blog on Friday. Here's a few thoughts from my visit.
The first carry I watched Alexander Robinson take this spring was a 40-yard touchdown through a tiny gap just left of the center. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads says, as you might expect, he's seen a ton of improvement from his best player. Robinson has good command of his teammates and that grip should only strengthen if he can keep up the consistent production he showed in 2009. He only dipped below 50 yards once and topped 100 yards six times.
By the way, later in 11-on-11 drills, Robinson leaked out of the backfield, took a short dump pass and outran everybody on the field for a 65-yard touchdown. Robinson didn't have a ton of big plays last season. That could change in his senior season.
The linebackers have a long way to go, with A.J. Klein and Jake Knott bringing only 40 career tackles combined into their first season as likely starters. Middle linebacker Matt Tau'fo'ou was a juco transfer who redshirted last season. Tau'fo'ou doesn't have great speed, but he seeks out contact at 5-foot-10 and 246 pounds. Tau'fo'ou busted up a pass to running back Jeff Woody with a big hit, and a play later, Klein broke up a pass in the skeleton drill with a textbook outside-hand knockdown. More plays like that, please, Rhoads says.
Based on Austen Arnaud's progression (more on that on Friday, of course), don't expect to see much of Jerome Tiller in 2010, but when Arnaud leaves, the Cyclones could have another playmaker taking snaps. Once, on a broken play on fourth down on the goal line, he was flushed to his right and dove into the end zone for a score, absorbing a big hit after sliding inside the pylon. On the final play of practice, on yet another fourth down in the red zone, he escaped a rush, rolled right and dove across the goal line between two tacklers as time expired to finish off an impressive 80-yard drive in the two-minute drill. He can look pretty impressive when it comes time to fix broken plays.
Recurring theme from Rhoads: "We've got a long way to go." Everyone in the program is proud of what they accomplished in 2009, but seven wins isn't acceptable in the big picture for Iowa State.