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AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell made two admissions when talking about his offensive line following the annual spring game.
That group, made up primarily of young and inexperienced pieces, was further ahead in its progression than the unit that preceded it. But there’s a catch.
As much progress as the group has made under offensive line coach and offensive coordinator Tom Manning, there are plenty of question marks heading into next season. This summer, perhaps, is more important for them than any other unit — along with the defensive line.
“(That’s) not to say that I don’t expect that group to settle in at some point,” Campbell said. “But the nice thing about Jake Campos being back is you have his leadership now.”
Campos is the only piece with years of experience at the D-I level, but he missed all of last season with a broken leg. He was held out of the spring game as a precaution and was limited in some spring scrimmages, but gives Iowa State stability on the edge.
Outside of Campos, who has 23 starts, things get interesting. Sophomore Julian Good-Jones started 11 games at tackle last season and is currently slotted as the starting center. Sophomore Bryce Meeker started the season opener in 2016 and can play guard and tackle.
That’s the extent of starting experience the Cyclones bring into next season. Four starters from last season’s line graduated, taking a combined 47 starts with them. Building depth in these few months of practice has been the primary goal.
“We try to provide as many opportunities as we can to allow somebody to showcase what they can do because you never truly understand what a kid can do until he has the opportunity to go do it without coaches out there on the field by themselves,” Manning said. “We want to get as many guys the opportunity to be ready as we possibly can.”
Fourteen offensive linemen went into spring practices. Seven of them were redshirt sophomores or younger, and three of those were slotted as starters (Good-Jones, Meeker and redshirt freshman Sean Foster).
The other two starters, senior Robby Garcia and junior Oge Udegou, spent time at defensive linemen and sat out as a redshirt last year, respectively.
Iowa State will add Michigan graduate transfer David Dawson this summer, but even he has somewhat limited experience. He played in 12 games during his four years with the Wolverines, but will compete for a starting spot at 6-foot-4 and 325 pounds.
“Everybody is just working for a spot,” Meeker said. “I think everybody knows there is Dawson coming in and he’s going to work for a spot and Campos will be back and he’s got 20-something starts and he’ll be more than ready when he does come back.
“I think that’s just the mentality for the whole O-line is just work for a spot and the competition just helps.”
Meeker was touted as having the most productive spring among the offensive linemen and at 6-foot-5 and 305 pounds, he could provide some added stability. Foster, 6-foot-8 and 290 pounds, was on the two-deep all of last season.
If Campos, Dawson, Good-Jones, Meeker and Foster are indeed the starting offensive line this fall, size and raw talent won’t be an issue. There could be a period, similar to last fall, where there are some kinks that have to be worked out.
“Some of the key things (the coaches) put out early on was film doesn’t lie,” Foster said. “If you watch yourself over and over in practice, you’ll see all the little things you do wrong. If you fix those, it’s just the little things that will make you right in the end.”
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