AMES — Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell believes it’s easier for a receiver or defensive back to play early in their careers.
His reasoning is sound, too.
“If you can run fast, you can run fast and if you can catch it, you can catch it,” Campbell said.
But for a position like middle linebacker, it’s hard. The guy has to be physically mature enough to handle playing in the middle of a power-five defense.
That’s why the emergence of true freshman Mike Rose in the battle for middle linebacker is so unexpected. Rose is 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds.
“To be a linebacker and to be physically put together like he is and to be able to run and move like he’s shown,” Campbell said, “I think that’s come as a little bit of a surprise — just that he’s so physically mature at this point.”
Rose is in a three-person competition for the spot with Cedar Rapids Washington grad O’Rien Vance and junior Bobby McMillen.
When Rose’s name was first mentioned as part of the competition, it seemed like a coaching ploy to motivate Vance and McMillen. But as the weeks have gone on, it seems like less and less of a ploy and more of a “this could actually happen.”
On Tuesday, Campbell was asked how good Rose really was.
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“We’re going to find out, probably pretty soon,” Campbell said. “The reality of the position he plays and for a freshman to be able to compete right now says a lot about how good he is early in his career. His explosiveness, his understanding of the position and his intelligence. You couple all of that together and he’s able to learn and grow really fast in our system.”
“I’m really impressed with Michael, he’s had a really good fall camp. To be where he’s at this soon, especially competing for playing time and competing to be a factor us, that’s been really impressive for all of us as coaches.”
Rose has been impressive since the staff first saw him in person. When Iowa State played Akron last season, the staff went to Rose’s football game.
Linebackers coach Tyson Veidt said he had never seen a guy play as hard as Rose — a Brecksville, Ohio native — every single play.
“He’s one of those young guys that’s still learning,” defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said. “But man, does he play hard and fast. What we thought we saw on film and who we met and family that we met ... he was all of those things.”
One person who’s helped Rose is nose guard Ray Lima, who has been helping Rose out because they have to fit off of each other.
“(Rose) is a young bull, man,” Lima said. “It’s great. He’s confident, he doesn’t play like he just came out of high school. When I turn around and we’re going through plays, we’re trying to build that trust and confidence level. I think that’s one of my jobs as a nose because a lot of what we do is nose and mike schemes where I fit and where he fits off of me. I think it’s a big job for me to make sure that he’s on point because if I’m fitting here, he has to fit there.”
Heacock said Rose works as hard as anybody on the team.
“He’s a football guy that is really, really intelligent and that loves the game,” Heacock said. “He’s got a great personality when you talk to him. He’s very competitive — he’s a competitive dog. He’s that. That’s what’s allowed him to go play.”
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Campbell has said this fall camp has been the most physical fall camp since he’s been at Iowa State, which is a good thing. It starts at the middle linebacker competition.
“That’s one battle, you got out every day, and it’s a great battle,” Campbell said. “You see O’Rien Vance who continues to grow, you see Bobby McMillen who comes back from injury and then you have Mike Rose.
“It’s a great competition and it’s great to have depth in your program. You better come to practice every day because we’re evaluating playing time and I think that’s when your program is healthy, rather than your starters breezing through practice and expect to play on Saturday. Things are a little different here now.”
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