Tom Manning has plenty to be excited about ahead of the Cyclones' season-opener vs Northern Iowa on Saturday: Three preseason All-Americans, the reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and a two deep stronger than ever.
But it wasn't the experience and the household names that the offensive coordinator for the Cyclones made note of when he spoke with the media Wednesday to discuss his assessment of the offense before Saturday's season opener — it was the group of young receivers who appeared in Iowa State's two-deep depth chart ahead of Saturday.
Young and experienced receivers impress as season approaches
Iowa State's offense enters Saturday's opener with experience as an advantage. With 19 returning starters as a team, including 34 career starts between its top three returning receivers, Manning recognizes Saturday and the season ahead will be a chance for young players to rise up the depth chart. Xavier Hutchinson, the reigning Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year, is back and will be Iowa State's outside threat, but redshirt sophomore Darien Porter is making waves as the season approaches. Along with Porter, fellow redshirt sophomore Ezeriah Anderson has earned the opportunity to make the early two-deep.
"There's also a group of young men that have fought for playing time and have earned the right to be on the football field. I think what I appreciate about those two young men is they're certainly consistent it their effort and have grown from a fundamental and technique standpoint," Manning said.
Porter and Anderson played primarily on special teams in 2020, but Manning said both have taken great strides in the weight room to accelerate their individual growth to find themselves as backups to open the season. Porter is listed as the backup to Hutchinson at the "X" receiver on the outside.
Jaylin Noel, a true freshman receiver, has brought a level of maturity about him that Manning said isn't common for young players. Manning said Noel built trust within the receiver room and throughout fall camp and Manning is excited for what the young receiver can add to the offense in 2021.
"I don’t know how much I've seen him grow, he came here as a mature young man. I wish I was mature as him [Noel] at his age," Manning said.
Outside the young core of the wideouts, Joe Scates' development has caught the eye of Manning. Scates played in 11 games last season, catching six passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The redshirt junior has focused on the fine details in his game like route-running and blocking and Manning said that will make him better for the Cyclones this fall.
"Joe has really grown and has become a better all around receiver," Manning said.
Panthers make multiplicity a challenge
As Manning has studied film leading up to Saturday's opener, he's noticed the Panthers present multiple looks in unique disguises — a challenge he and the Cyclones are ready to embrace.
Northern Iowa's defense has proven to be quite talented in Manning's assessment and their veteran makeup will be tough to combat in certain situations.
"I think it's a sign of really well coached football team and intelligent football team that they do have the ability to be in a lot of different things," Manning said Wednesday afternoon.
Iowa State will be focusing on changes at the line of scrimmage and Manning said it will be a team-effort to call out blitzes or additional coverage support.
"You can tell that those guys are really locked in and really well coached," Manning said of the Panthers.