AMES — Iowa State is in a rare situation where it returns all five of its starting offensive linemen.
The offensive line has been one of the weaker position groups since Matt Campbell has arrived, but he feels the group is about to turn a corner.
“I really feel like that group, from the midpoint of the season last year to the end of the season, made tremendous growth,” Campbell said. “If you look at the bowl game, they physically imposed their will on somebody — that’s the first time we’ve done that since we’ve been here. You hope that’s the growth.
“You had guys who were juniors and now they’re going to be seniors. I really think the growth that group has made this offseason — we’re bigger, we’re stronger, we look like what a real offensive line looks like — that part is exciting. I feel like I haven’t seen that for four or five years.”
The offensive line’s inefficiencies were hidden by running back David Montgomery’s tremendous elusiveness and ability to make something out of nothing and quarterback Brock Purdy’s ability to get out of a collapsing pocket. But the Cyclones no longer have Montgomery and Purdy would like to make more throws from the pocket.
Offensive line coach Jeff Myers is trying to continue the growth of the offensive line by mixing and matching players. He wants to do this so they get used to playing different positions or playing next to different people in case an injury does happen.
“Yes, we have all of our starters back from a season ago,” Myers said. “But we’re putting as many combinations together as possible because I want to see where our depth is. We’re doing it so if something did happen, they could come in and help us right away without that adjustment period.”
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For example, right tackle Bryce Meeker had a minor injury during part of the spring season, so the coaching staff moved right guard Josh Knipfel out to right tackle.
“We never saw him as a guy who could swing outside, but he’s done it for a number of practices now and looked really good,” Myers said. “That was a shock to some of us. Him knowing the offense and him being confident enough to do that is where he’s really grown. We knew he could move around inside, but it’s been a pleasant surprise to see him outside at tackle.”
In all likelihood, Knipfel will move back inside once the fall rolls around, but he learned a lot about what the tackle’s responsibilities are while he was at that position.
“It’s been different,” Knipfel said. “The pace and speed are a lot different than playing inside. There’s a lot more space out there. When you’re a guard, everything is closer to you and it’s right away. At tackle, you have to be more patient out there.
“If I know what my tackles doing, then I know how to adjust off of him as a guard. It helps you out knowing what they have to do.”
The only player not being moved around is the player who changed positions three times in three years, Julian Good-Jones. Good-Jones started as a freshman for the Cyclones as the right tackle, then as a sophomore he went to center, as a junior he moved to left tackle and now as a senior, he’s staying at left tackle.
“It’s been good seeing guys moving around and trying different positions. Luckily, it hasn’t been me moving around again,” Good-Jones said with a laugh. “I’m staying put.”
The other piece that Campbell hopes improves the line is the added depth with Trevor Downing, Joey Ramos and Rob Hudson; Downing and Ramos are redshirt freshmen and Hudson is a redshirt sophomore.
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“When you talk about Trevor Downing, Joey Ramos and Rob Hudson, now, all of the sudden you have real competition,” Campbell said. “Rob Hudson had a transformational winter and spring.
“There’s a lot of competition and that’s going to play out until fall camp. When there is real competition, you have to come every day and fight for your job.”
Even Good-Jones is learning a couple things from the young guys.
“We all learn from each other,” Good-Jones said. “I, on a daily basis, learn from Joey Ramos. He taught me some hand stuff and me and him have gotten pretty tight.
“It’s a lot of people helping other people. You see the talent in dudes like Trevor, Rob and Joey and you want to help develop those guys.”
Myers said he’d feel comfortable playing any of the eight linemen from the starting five and the three up-and-comers.
“Depth breeds competition,” Myers said. “And each of those five, each one has to earn their spot again. That first group is being pushed, but they’re doing a great job of setting the tone. They’re being really physical, they’re really controlling the running game.”
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