AMES – Iowa State’s offensive line doesn’t get a lot of love. People criticize it for not opening up big enough holes for star running back David Montgomery and not pass protecting well enough for whoever the quarterback is at the time.
The reality is, while there are inefficiencies, Iowa State’s offensive line is blocking for a near-1,000-yard rusher and it’s only allowing 1.4 sacks per game, which is the 23rd fewest in the nation and second fewest in the Big 12 behind TCU’s 1.2.
“It’s never on my own,” Montgomery said. “I think people take so much (credit away) from my offensive line. My offensive line is good. We’re young, that’s all it is – not much experience. But my offensive line, everybody on that line is a stud.”
Left tackle Jake Campos has battled through multiple injuries, guard Robby Garcia played defensive line, center Julian Good-Jones played tackle last season, guard Josh Knipfel was a junior college transfer and tackles Bryce Meeker and Sean Foster have split time.
“It’s a testament to the kids that have worked incredibly hard and I’m certainly grateful that they’ve done that because they’re a great group to be around,” offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Tom Manning said.
Even without all the position changes, injuries and uncertainties, offensive line isn’t actually fun to play.
“That position is not real easy to play and it’s not a whole lot of fun all the time either,” Manning said. “If you look at football from a very black and white standpoint, no one grows up wanting to be an offensive lineman because there is really nothing fun that you get to do.”
On every play, an offensive lineman collides with someone. Usually it’s someone just as big as them or nearly as big as them.
Those blows take a toll. And sometimes they can cause serious injuries. Campos broke his leg last season in fall camp and missed the whole 2016 season.
But he had no doubt he would be back out there this season.
“I knew I was going to get back out there and there was nothing that was going to stop me,” Campos said. “But it was a matter of whether I was going to perform sufficiently. There was always a question with that and whether or not I was going to need shots to try and numb that up, but throughout the season so far, I’ve been very lucky with it. It’s healed better than I could’ve hoped.”
Manning said he has to keep his guys on track during practice because the hits get old and they want to have fun.
“If you give the guys some free time and you threw a football out on the field, the guys that are pretending to play catch and drag their toes in bounds and those kind of things, they’re usually offensive linemen because all they want to do is touch the ball because nothing is fun,” Manning said. “Even on walk-through days I battle that. I don’t let them hold the ball because they just want to throw it and catch it. That group of kids, to get through that anywhere and get through your five years as an offensive lineman’s hard. And you look at these guys, no one’s had it easy.
Keeping his line focused has paid off for Manning. Iowa State’s offensive line steadily improved throughout last season, and it looks like the same thing is happening again.
“(Oklahoma State) was maybe as well as we’ve played up front. I think that group continues to get better,” coach Matt Campbell said.
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