AMES — Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell believes this is the best offensive line he’s coached at Iowa State.
Which, he admits, is a pretty low bar.
“I wish we had a better standard to go back on,” he said.
But he’s convinced it won’t be just the best of a bad group. It can anchor the whole offense.
In years past, the line just needed to get in front of somebody and running back David Montgomery would do the rest.
“Thank goodness we had David because if we didn’t, it would’ve been a great challenge to actually hand the ball off to somebody and have success,” Campbell said. “We weren’t great those first few years, but there was great progress as the season went along last year. Now, you lose somebody (Montgomery), and you want to anchor that offensive line.
“I do think there is a lot on the offensive line’s plate right now to just steady the ship as we work through, ‘Who is that running back, who are those running backs that we can use? And what do those moments look like?’ We need to make sure we’re not making one of those running backs have to be a super hero and be David Montgomery. They just have to be the best version of themselves they possibly can be.”
Campbell highlighted three areas that allowed the line to progress into the unit it is today.
The first is game experience. The line has four seniors and a sophomore who played in 12 of Iowa State’s 13 games last season.
The second is physical growth and maturity.
“They’re guys that have probably physically matured to (being) really close to where they’re going to live as a football player, in terms of being the most physically developed that they can be,” Campbell said. “So I think those certainly aid to our process a little bit.”
Left tackle Julian Good-Jones put on 20 pounds in the offseason to get up to 310.
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Offensive coordinator Tom Manning noticed an immediate difference. Good-Jones, a Cedar Rapids native, was able to move guys off the ball easily, instead of straining to move them like he had to before.
“It’s night and day,” Good-Jones said. “I don’t think I’m close to the same player I was last year. I have a lot more power.”
The final key to an improved offensive line is the depth that’s developed behind the starters. Campbell said there are six guys competing for five spots with the emergence of Trevor Downing. Good-Jones said redshirt freshman Joey Ramos, the backup left tackle, is the most talented offensive lineman he’s seen and redshirt sophomore Rob Hudson is another player the coaches bring up when talking about the depth of the line.
“There is competition, finally, to where if you’re resting on your laurels, if you just come to practice and you’re getting through it, it’s really hard to get better as a football player,” Campbell said. “Our sport — especially the offensive line — it’s such craft you have to perform in at such a high rate to maybe maximize your full potential. I’m not saying those guys haven’t had that, or haven’t had to do that in the past, but without competition, I think it’s allowed those guys to maybe lack in development maybe at times to where they need to be.
“I think now you’re seeing a competition. You’re seeing veteran growth and you’re seeing a physically more mature football team in terms of offensive line play than we’ve had. So, I’m excited to watch that group and see where that group is.”
The key will be consistency. Campbell points to the Alamo Bowl every time he brings up how much the offensive line improved. But he admits the line play wasn’t consistent during the game.
“We were physical, dominant and yet there were inconsistencies and penalties during the bowl game,” Campbell said. “It’s about consistency and the ability to be ready in the big moment.
“We have a veteran group and I want them to act like veterans.”
The line isn’t afraid of the responsibility.
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“We just need to put the load on us and hold us accountable,” Good-Jones said. “We need everyone to put their trust in us and know that we’re going to do our job and lead the way for the young running backs.”