Running backs showcased at Iowa State spring game

AMES – Fifteen spring practices give college coaches a chance to develop and feel out what their team will be.

The last of those practices for the Iowa State football team was held Saturday in Jack Trice Stadium. Players switched sides throughout the scrimmage, highlighting the competition for playing time.

Coach Paul Rhoads said “the majority” of the team’s starters have separated themselves from others in the spring, though their preparation is far from completed. Eleven starters from last year’s bowl loss return for Iowa State, which is trying to reach its fourth bowl game in five seasons under Rhoads.

“We’ve got a whole summer to figure out what our identity is,” senior defensive back Jaques Washington said. “We really find that out in fall camp the middle of fall camp, how special our team is.”

Saturday afternoon gave an early look at the team’s running back corps – a group that’s impressed the Iowa State coaching staff and appears to be a strength of the team.

Rhoads said the running backs probably had the best spring out of any position group. Seniors James White, Shontrelle Johnson and Jeff Woody – who combined for more than 1,200 rushing yards last season – are a part of that, but several new faces hope to add dynamic potential to the offense.

DeVondrick Nealy – a 5-foot-10, 183-pound sophomore – had a game-high 18 carries and 142 yards, scoring touchdowns with the first- and second-team offenses. Junior college transfer Aaron Wimberly, a 5-foot-9 speedster, had 15 carries for 89 yards and was targeted several occasions for pass plays.

Rhoads said coaches will review the team’s backfield over the next several months with one goal in mind.

“It’s not a concern about keeping people happy,” he said. “It’s what makes us the most productive.”

Iowa State scored more than 30 points in five of six wins last season, but averaged just 16 points in their seven losses.

Rhoads thought the tempo of the offense is quicker this season. The Cyclones utilize a fast-paced style of offense that relies on a mobile quarterback, short passes and option runs.

The addition of Nealy and Wimberly could add a breakaway threat to the mix.

“Knowing that those guys can break loose at any time might take a little pressure off me,” said sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson. “It’s something you can work well with.”

After taking over the starting job in the last two games of his freshman season, Richardson returns this season as the team’s clear starter. He finished with eight touchdowns, one interception, and a 58-percent completion rate.

Nealy, on the other hand, had just 16 carries as a freshman and said the end of spring ball “hurts” because he can’t prove himself until the start of practice in August.

“I did what I could when I could,” Nealy said. “But I still feel like I have more to give.”