AMES — Before the season began, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell said he thought this 2020 offensive line room was the most talented room he’s had at Iowa State.
He went a step further to say it had a chance to be the best.
Iowa State had just graduated four members of its offensive line from 2019 and its center was coming back from injury.
He was putting a lot of faith in a lot of young, unproven players.
Campbell doesn’t like to evaluate the offensive line position until after the season because they need to be good from start to finish.
And with four new faces along the line, it had a chance of wearing down.
“Having been an offensive line coach, the first thing is I think we all know how long it takes to recruit, develop and really maintain those guys,” offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “And really, the credit goes to those guys. I mean, there’s a lot of young players that have helped. We’ve had some injuries there. We’ve had to mix a lot of different guys in there. They’ve done a really good job.
“The one thing we’ve been excited about is throughout this season, we do feel like those guys have gotten better fundamentally, and they’ve maintained their strength, which is sometimes a challenge, particularly with young players on the offensive line. It’s a position where you can get worn down quickly.”
Manning mentioned the injuries. Iowa State’s one returning offensive lineman from 2019 was Trevor Downing. Downing got injured in Iowa State’s first game against Louisiana and was replaced by freshman Darrell Simmons.
By the end of the first game, Newell was the only one with meaningful experience that played in 2019 or even 2018.
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On top of the injury to Downing, Joey Ramos started the season at right tackle before getting injured and being replaced by freshman Jake Remsburg.
Remsburg got injured in the Big 12 championship game and Ramos was able to fill back in for him.
All Iowa State’s line did this season while navigating injuries and inexperience was block for the nation’s leading rusher (Breece Hall) and protect the first-team All-Big 12 quarterback (Brock Purdy).
Iowa State’s line gave up the fewest sacks in the Big 12 and had the best tackle-for-loss differential in the nation at plus-32 en route to the program’s first-ever New Year’s Six bowl — the Fiesta Bowl.
“You know, it’s a tough position,” center Colin Newell said. “It’s a position that takes a while to develop, and Coach Campbell, Coach (Jeff) Myers, Coach Manning — all those guys have done an absolutely wonderful job just developing us.
“It’s a learned position, and they’ve done a good job of teaching us.”
Iowa State has come a long way from Campbell’s first season in 2016 when it had the eighth fewest rushing yards in the Big 12 and gave up the most sacks.
“When we came in here, the level of where we were in terms of that offensive line, it was down, in terms of scholarship numbers, almost to the bare bones,” Campbell said. “The ability to have to rebuild that from the ground up was probably more there than anywhere in our football program.
“There’s not a lot of quick fixes at Iowa State. We’re always going to be a developmental program. And nothing takes longer to develop than the offensive line. It’s a learned skill. It’s a learned trait. And I just think that it’s taken time to get that room to where it needs to be from a competitive standpoint, from a depth standpoint.”
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While both Campbell and Manning were former offensive line coaches. Campbell wants Myers to get his fair share.
“Give a lot of credit to Coach Myers,” Campbell said. “I think he’s done an absolutely incredible job of taking that development to the next level, and both from a recruiting standpoint and really from a physical developmental standpoint. I think it’s a group that still isn’t a finished product, still has ability to continue to grow, and that part is really exciting.
“The offensive line has made big steps from where it was four years ago and where it was even a year ago.”