AMES - Iowa State quarterback Sam Richardson is nearly finished with his first spring as the Cyclones starter.
A new role and a new system haven't slowed down the sophomore.
Richardson earned high praise yet again Saturday from Iowa State offensive coordinator Courtney Messingham for his work in spring ball. Both Messingham and Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said they're pleased with what they've seen so far out of Richardson, who took over the starting job at the end of last season and entered the spring atop a thin depth chart.
Richardson has apparently made strides in his game despite having to also learn the intricacies of the pistol offense, which Iowa State has started integrating into its playbook over the past few weeks.
"I'm very happy with his progress this spring. That's one thing - he's always been a very smart quarterback. From day one, we realized that he really understands schemes. Now, he's understanding them with the bullets flying," Messingham said.
Richardson displayed the skills of a true dual-threat quarterback in 2012, throwing for 541 yards and eight touchdowns and rushing for 233 yards in roughly three games worth of action.
Iowa State is hoping he can be even more explosive from the pistol.
Rhoads hired San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick's offensive coordinator at Nevada, Chris Klenakis, to be his new offensive line coach. But Klenakis will also be counted on to help install the pistol, which utilizes a shorter shotgun snap so quarterbacks can see the entire defense from close range.
Klenakis was the line coach at Arkansas the past three seasons after a prolific run in Nevada, which included the nation's top rushing offense in 2009. After Klenakis jumped to Arkansas, the Razorbacks led the SEC in passing yards three seasons in a row.
"We are utilizing it more, and there's ceratin components of it that we've fine-tuned with coach Klenakis being aboard," Rhoads said. "I'm happy with that component."
At 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds, Richardson is still more of a lanky athlete than a bulky one. But he averaged nearly six yards a carry in 2012 by identifying openings and hitting them before they closed.
"The thing that people don't realize with Sam is that he's not a big bruiser as a quarterback runner. He's not a Collin Klein runner. But he's faster than you think," Messingham said. "I don't need him to be a guy that's going to go for a 100-yard gain on any given play. But I need him to be able to get 10 or 15 (yards) when they give him 10 or 15 so people really have to respect his ability."
Iowa State shouldn't have to lean too heavily on Richardson, though.
The Cyclones are deeper at running back than any other position on the team - and each of their backs has broken free for big plays at points this spring.
Iowa State brings back starter James White and short-yardage standout Jeff Woody. Injured senior Shontrelle Johnson should be back by the fall, and junior college All-American Aaron Wimberly might already be the fastest player on the team.
The coaching staff is also high on sophomores DeVondrick Nealy and Rob Standard, who might have already earned more playing time if their wasn't so much talent in front of them.
"We have different backs that do different things, so I think it should (help us)," Wimberly said about the Pistol.