AMES — In the first week of spring practice, Joel Lanning let an interception slip through his hands.
His move from quarterback to middle linebacker was fresh and there was an adjustment period to go through. Lanning waited for another opportunity to come his way.
In the Iowa State football team’s spring game Saturday, Lanning wasn’t about to let it happen again.
“It was looking like a beach ball to me, it was too easy. So I had to get one back,” Lanning said. “It was a good way to end the spring honestly.
On the first play of the second half, Lanning picked off quarterback Jacob Park and flew down the right side of the field for a 37-yard score.
“I like the end zone, you know? So I’m trying to score whenever I can.”
Setting the interception aside, Lanning is starting to feel at home on defense after only 15 practices on the job. He added four tackles on the day.
“When you’re in the season and you’re going 12 weeks in a row or 13 or 14 or whatever it is with the bye weeks and stuff, you’ve got to take care of your body,” Lanning said. “It’s going to be huge for me to take care of my body this summer too.”
Early in the spring, Lanning had to adjust to the change in style of playing offense to defense, and seek out contact. The mentality of a linebacker, particularly the middle linebacker, has to have a nice balance of being proactive and reactive.
Linebackers Marcel Spears and Tymar Sutton and defensive back Mackenro Alexander each had a team-high six tackles.
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has seen the switch start to pay off nicely for Lanning, particularly in the last several practices. Even as long ago as a few months, Campbell told a friend that Lanning would end up being a natural at the position.
“I would have never put Joel in a position to fail,” Campbell said. “Joel’s a guy that has elite athletic ability, especially for big, skilled players. He just kept getting better every day.
“It was great to see him have some success (Saturday), but I could be honest with you and go watch the film from 14 practices and you could see him having that kind of success.”
Campbell was quick to follow up by saying he doesn’t want to be silly in saying the transition is complete. Lanning’s move to defense and learning curve is representative of the team as a whole.
Developing the youth on the offensive and defensive lines is the most important piece of the upcoming offseason. Getting a high volume of repetitions and developing depth were the No. 1 and 2 items on the to-do list this spring.
Sean Foster, Robby Garcia, Julian Good-Jones, Oge Udegou and Bryce Meeker — who Campbell called a pleasant surprise — started with the first offensive line. Mike Warren had 28 yards and two touchdowns on four carries while Sheldon Croney had 10 carries for 39 yards.
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“I think my mentality has just changed a lot,” Meeker said. “I think last year I was just a freshman and I almost thought, ‘I have time.’ That’s not the case at all. This year I just came with a new mentality and I’ve really attacked the spring and I think it’s helped my game a lot.”
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