This year's Cyclone team features a fantastic foursome of backfield runners, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. With the emergence of Steele Jantz as QB, expect to see the Cyclones depend on their ground game. It also wouldn't be unreasonable to expect some option reads make their way into Tom Hermann's Spread offense this year. If things go well, we could see a lot of yards on the ground this season, a seemingly novel approach in the era of pass-happy Big XII teams.
Shontrelle Johnson - #21 - The Human Torch
A true sophomore out of Florida, Shontrelle was a 3-star RB recruit with great acceleration and agility, but was considered by teams to be too small to be a serious threat. Originally committed to Northwestern University, he de-committed in December 2009. Two short weeks later, he committed to Iowa State - less than 24 hours after seeing the Cyclones win the 2010 Insight Bowl. As one of Rhoads' first year recruits, he credited a strong Florida presence on the team and a the "good, genuine people" of Ames as major decisions in his factor to play for the Cyclones, although the icing on the cake may have been Rhoads' decision to attend one of Johnson's high school playoff games. Johnson's belief that he would fit into Iowa State's system better than those at Iowa (Pro-Style) and Georgia Tech (Triple Option) also played a large factor in choosing Iowa State.
Johnson had a few carries last year behind veteran power runner Alexander Robinson, who mentored him last year while grinding out 50% of the offensive production and battling injury. Instead of bruising runs up the middle, however, Robinson is expected to be the big play threat that Iowa State has lacked in the past few years, able to turn short runs and screen passes into much more. Both of his Touchdowns last year were on runs longer than 30 yards. SJ will also reprise his role as the team's primary return man, and I don't think it would be a stretch to think that he's got the speed to take at least one kickoff back for a score this season.
It is unclear at this point whether Johnson's small stature will help or hurt him. While a 5'9", 185 lb. Sophomore isn't going to be trucking over or through anyone in the secondary, if Johnson can get one on one with a defender, more often than not that defender will be getting juked out of their cleats. And once into the open field, there are only a select few players in the Big XII with the ability to catch him. Like the Human Torch, he'll burn you with his speed, and he'll look damn good while doing it.
Last Year: 35 Rushes, 218 Yards, 2 TD. 25 Kickoff Returns for 585 yards. (23.4 per return)
Jeff Woody - #32 - The Thing
Shontrelle is likely to rack up some inpressive highlight reel footage. But sometimes, you don't want the guy with the big play ability. Sometimes, you want to hit the defense as hard as you can, right in the mouth. And when that time comes, you want Jeff Woody.
Woody is a redshirt sophomore out of Des Moines, and played for SE Polk in Des Moines during his high school years. He is officially listed as the Second String RB, but expect to see him replace Shontrelle in the backfield near the goal line, and starting at Fullback in the few offensive plays that require that particular personnel package. He saw playing time in all 12 of ISU's games last year, and amassed a respectable statline as a backup bruiser to A-Rob, grinding out 191 yards and a TD. His blocking also improved throughout the course of the year, so look for him to be setup as a decoy a couple times this season.
Woody almost didn't come to Iowa State - he was originally recruited by Gene Chizik before his departure to Auburn. Woody claims that he would not have gone to Iowa State if he was the still the coach, and described him as "too much like a car salesman or politician." He compared this to Rhoads, who seemed "like a really honest guy" that brings a certain "hope to Iowa State." Tom Herman gives him credit for the surprising speed at which he has achieved success at the Division 1 level.
Woody isn't likely to make any highlight reels, but he just might be able to pound out the ground game long enough to secure a win or two, as he did at Texas last year. He is built to endure the goalline beatings that might cause a smaller, quicker back to succumb to injury, and should emerge as the "thunder" to Shontrelle Johnson's "lightning.
James White - #8 - Mister Fantastic
James White is the sort of smart football player who can really *stretch* a defense out. (Alright, so maybe this analogy is a bit of a stretch. Stay with me here.) A redshirt sophomore out of Texas, White is one of the few underclassmen on the team who originally signed up to play for ex-coach Chizik. After some impressive running during last year's Spring Game (in which he racked up a pair of touchdowns), White didn't get much of a chance to make his mark on the field - racking up 5 carries for 12 yards during some clean-up duty.
With an explosive cut-back running style similar to Shontrelle Johnson, expect to see White taking on Johnson's role as a dynamic playmaker if the former should be unavailable during a game. White is reported to have the highest top speed of any back on the team, and was one of the most improved players going into the spring game. He has been described by coaches as the most improved playmaker on the team heading into the 2011 season, and should see some meaningful action in the upcoming months.
The Invisible (Wo)Man - #24 - Duran Hollis
My full apologies to Duran Hollis for this comparison (and the photoshop), who probably wishes he could have been invisible when he was busted for "posession of a controlled substance." While we don't publicly condone any illegal activity here at Clone Chronicles, as someone who spent summers living in the stupor-inducing boredom that is Ames in July, I can certainly sympathize with wanting to liven things up a bit.
The young man that they call "Duck" is a Redshirt Freshman out of Texas. Despite recieving and "indefinite suspension" from the coaching staff in July, he is still expected to be listed as 4th RB on the depth chart going into the season opener on September 3rd. He spent his redshirt year getting better acquainted with the offense and has the ability to start (or stop) running on a dime.
Will Hollis see any meaningful time in 2011? Probably not, unless catastrophe strikes the top of the depth chart. Still, having several talented backs is a good thing, and I would be surprised if he didn't get a few chances to make up for his previous lack of good judgement on the field.