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AMES — The Iowa State football team’s second spring under coach Matt Campbell has been about developing depth and creating competition.
That work will reach its culmination Saturday during the annual spring game in Jack Trice Stadium (it starts at 1 p.m. and admission is free).
Here are five things to watch:
1. What will Joel Lanning look like at linebacker?
Joel Lanning started last spring as the undisputed No. 1 quarterback. Just 12 months later, he’s the odd-on favorite to be the starting middle linebacker as a fifth-year senior. That’s no small feat.
Lanning’s move to defense has dominated much of the conversation this spring, but today will be the first chance to see him there. Campbell knew after the second spring practice that Lanning’s trial run at linebacker was more than just an experiment.
“I think him playing on offense for three to four years and really having an understanding of what the offense is doing allows him to be really active and allows him to have a great awareness on defense,” Campbell said. “I think guys have really rallied around that.”
Lanning hasn’t taken many reps, if any, other than at linebacker this spring. Campbell wanted him to settle into a primarily defensive role, but this fall, don’t be surprised if Lanning is integrated into special situations on offense and gets a few snaps per game.
2. Who will be the third running back behind David Montgomery and Mike Warren?
The situation at the top of the running back chart is pretty clear. Sophomore David Montgomery and junior Mike Warren are an interchangeable, one-two punch of size, speed and agility.
The real question is what’s behind them.
Kene Nwangwu would be the clear choice, but an Achilles tendon injury that required surgery took away his spring and could jeopardize his season. That leaves Sheldon Croney (5-11 205), who hasn’t been able to crack the rotation in his first two years but gets a golden opportunity now.
“It’s good for us to really see Sheldon run the ball well,” offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “He pass protected really well and took care of the football. He can do a lot of things as well and we’re happy to see kind of his progression. We’re certainly excited what he can do from a depth standpoint.”
Redshirt freshman walk-on Ethan Staskewicz is also in the mix.
3. How will the backup quarterback situation unfold?
With Lanning’s move to linebacker and junior Jacob Park settled into the starting role, redshirt freshman Zeb Noland and fifth-year senior Kyle Kempt are in a two-way race to be the backup.
Noland sat out last season with a torn ACL and has been limited to seven-on-seven work this spring, but will engage in a more true competition this fall. Kempt has filled in as the primary backup this spring, and does have other Division I experience — he was at Oregon State from 2013-14.
4. Where does the progression on the offensive and defensive lines stand?
Defensive line coach Eli Rasheed and Manning, the offensive line coach, have been building depth all spring. Today will be the closest thing to an actual game those groups will get to test out that progress.
Offensive linemen Sean Foster, Oge Udegou and Bryce Meeker will be the key guys to watch while JaQuan Bailey, Ray Lima and Matt Leo will be important pieces on defense.
5. When will the kicking competition be resolved?
Cole Netten left Iowa State as one of the most accurate kickers in school history. The search for his replacement, at the moment, is between two guys.
Senior Garrett Owens transferred from Oregon State this spring and is for all intents and purposes No. 1. Kickoff specialist Chris Francis, going into his fourth year, is right there, too.
“(Owens) showed a great leg (in the second scrimmage),” Campbell said. “Obviously Chris Francis continues to, in the world of the kickoff game, continues to do really good things but is competing at the kicker spot as well.
“I think Garrett is a guy that’s really starting to settle in.”
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