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AMES — What Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell saw during the weekend in his team’s last spring practice leaves him with confidence.
That confidence can be either shaken or strengthened based on what happens over the next four months.
Coaches won’t be able to have hands on, day-to-day interaction with the players during the summer months. Ownership among the players started to manifest more this spring, but can’t diminish now that the structure of spring ball is done.
“You better have a mature team and you’ve got to have leadership and you’ve got to have guys that are willing to lead the way when nobody is watching,” Campbell said. “Last year we weren’t ready for any of that and it showed to be honest with you.
“It showed really early in the season, it showed as we struggled to kind of overcome what we missed in those 16 weeks (during last summer). Now I really feel we’re a lot closer to where we need to be in terms of that.”
Saturday’s spring game provided a glimpse into the depth Iowa State has created on both sides of the ball, but was missing a few notable names.
Allen Lazard, David Montgomery, Jake Campos and Kamari Cotton-Moya all sat out for precautionary measures. Junior college wide receiver Matt Eaton was out for health reasons and defensive linemen Ray Lima and Matt Leo played sparingly.
Quarterback Jacob Park had an efficient day, productive spring and enters the fall as the clear-cut starter.
Zeb Noland, who sat out the spring game for health reasons, and Kyle Kempt enter the summer and fall in a contest for the No. 2 quarterback spot.
Kempt, who is a walk-on, started his career on scholarship at Oregon State and was 11-for-17 for 109 yards in the spring game. Take Saturday for what it’s worth, but in two spring games, Kempt would be a solid option as a second or third quarterback and give that position nice depth.
A position that has no depth issues is the wide receivers.
Hakeem Butler, Deshaunte Jones and Trever Ryen are old faces, but Carson Epps, Denver Johnson, Jalen Martin and Marchie Murdock are all names that give that position plenty of options. Tight ends Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner, who had a combined two catches for 25 yards in the spring game, are pass-game threats, too.
Montgomery, Warren and possibly sophomore Sheldon Croney Jr. give the Cyclones a stable of running backs.
The biggest question mark still comes with the offensive line. Campos is experienced, but Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker are the next two most experienced guys as redshirt sophomores. Sean Foster and Oge Udeogu had nice springs, but continuing the upward trajectory this spring is the only way to pay dividends in the fall.
“I think it’s unfair to make outlandish statements other than to say I think there’s great growth in that group,” Campbell said. “Does that group have to improve and do we have to be even better than where we left off today? Absolutely.
“We’ve got to get bigger, we’ve got to get stronger and we’ve got to grow. I am excited about the growth they made. (Offensive line) Coach (Tom) Manning did a great job with those guys this spring.”
The defensive line faces the same challenges as the offensive line. ISU coaches have bridged a gap to the youth through JUCO transfers, but almost everybody is on the same learning curve when it comes to D-I football.
JaQuan Bailey, Eyioma Uwazurike, Carson Lensing and Jamahl Johnson are all talented, but young.
The talent is there, but the experience is a piece that will take a little bit of time.
Joel Lanning had a productive showing at linebacker during the spring game, but might be surrounded by more depth than expected. Marcel Spears and Tymar Sutton both had a game-high six tackles Saturday and, although young, showed flashes of production.
Jatairis Grant, Mackenro Alexander, Richard Bowens III and Arnold Azunna were the standouts for the secondary, which is perhaps the most experienced on the defense.
Adding guys like D’Andre Payne and Brian Peavy into that mix makes that group even more reliable.
Oregon State transfer Garrett Owens has the edge on Chris Francis coming out of spring, and is the likely candidate to replace the outgoing Cole Netten.
“Jokingly I said this, I think I saw (the media) standing down (by the goal post) and the first extra point (Owens) kicked, he missed,” Campbell said. “I was trying to make you guys be that storyline today.
“You’re saying, ‘Campbell lies about the kicker.’ To be honest with you he’s had a really, really good spring. I think Garrett’s, again, one of those kids that this is really important. He’s worked really hard at it and continues to get better.”
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