Iowa State is confident sophomore quarterback Sam Richardson has a bright future — even though he has only started twice.
The Cyclones aren't as sure yet about the receivers Richardson will be throwing to this fall.
Iowa State will be forced to rely on a highly inexperienced group of wideouts to improve an underwhelming passing game.
The Cyclones ranked ninth in the Big 12 last season with 205 yards passing a game and a completion rate of just 55.1 percent. Though Richardson has earned the coaching staff's trust in the offseason, he'll enter his first season as the full-time starter without the top three pass catchers from a unit that often struggled last season.
Iowa State opens Aug. 31 at home against Northern Iowa.
"You've got to be demanding. You've got to be understanding," wide receivers coach Todd Sturdy said. "You've just got to keep pushing them, but also you've got to understand the learning curve. There's going to be good days and bad days. There's going to be ups and downs. There's going to be inconsistency at times."
The receiver the Cyclones are counting on most for a breakout season is sophomore Quenton Bundrage.
After being selected the team's outstanding newcomer in 2012, Bundrage is poised to become a big part of the offense.
The 6-foot-2 Bundrage caught 20 passes and had TD receptions against Texas and West Virginia in his first season.
"He's obviously got to be a guy that we lean on heavily. Starting to see more leadership out of him on the field," Sturdy said.
Bundrage and Richardson clicked when they worked together with the scout team. By the end of last season, it was evident that both players were being set up to play major roles in Iowa State's future.
All indications are that Bundrage will be Richardson's top target to start 2013.
"We're a young team, so I know that someone has to step up and be a leader. If we don't, it's going to cause problems somewhere," Bundrage said.
Even though Jarvis West opened camp as a backup to unheralded senior Justin Coleman, he and senior Albert Gary should provide experience to a unit that desperately needs it.
The Cyclones are hoping they'll prove to be more than just that.
West was tied for third on the Cyclones with 31 catches last season while sharing the kick returner role with Gary, who had 18 receptions a year ago.
Still, both find themselves competing with Coleman for starting spots.
Coleman only transferred to Iowa State after his former school, Nebraska-Omaha, dropped football. After redshirting in 2011 and playing mostly special teams last season, Coleman has unexpectedly emerged as a No. 1 receiver.
"All these different situations you get to in football, he always seems to do the right thing," Sturdy said of Coleman. "He's always where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be there. Sometimes he gets there in different ways, but he gets there, and then he catches the ball consistently. Smart guy, smart player."
The Cyclones have also given extensive looks to a number of redshirt freshmen, with 6-foot-1 Dondre Daley leading the way as camp winds to a close.
But it'll be quite a while before anyone can tell whether Iowa State's inexperienced receivers can upgrade the program's struggling passing game.
"I'm basically sitting here saying Quenton Bundrage is the bell cow and the leader of the whole room — and he's a redshirt sophomore. So that's what it is," Sturdy said.
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