FRISCO, Texas — As Joel Lanning conversed with several reporters on the final day of the Dallas Cowboys rookie minicamp Saturday, the former Iowa State quarterback/linebacker did so wearing a number other than 7.
He was sporting 43, digits more befitting a linebacker, which he is in Dallas.
“It’s been awesome,” Lanning said of his first few days with the Cowboys. “It’s been a lot to take in. I’m just taking it one day at a time. You’re with the Dallas Cowboys, so you got to suck everything in.”
On April 30, just two days after the 2018 NFL Draft, Dallas signed Lanning as an undrafted free agent. And through the first three practices of the two-day rookie minicamp, Lanning primarily worked at weakside linebacker but said the big-picture plan from the coaches was for him to also learn the middle linebacker position.
The camp, which started on Friday and concluded Saturday, featured two daily on-field workouts with meetings, media access and meals sprinkled in. Basically, the entire experience was nothing short of a whirlwind.
But seeing two fellow ISU products — offensive lineman Jake Campos and wide receiver Marchie Murdock — also participating has been a big plus in a foreign locker room.
“Yeah, it’s awesome to have guys with you in the same locker room, it definitely helps,” he said. “You know somebody, you need something, they can help you, too. It just shows that Iowa State is producing people as well. They’re having great camps.”
Lanning’s switch from starting quarterback with the Cyclones as a sophomore and junior to linebacker as a senior, when he earned first-team all-Big 12 Conference honors, has been well documented and discussed at length.
And he brings a similar team-first mentality to the NFL and to a Cowboys defense led by veteran coordinator and former NFL head coach Rod Marinelli.
“He’s awesome, pretty old school,” Lanning said of Marinelli. “He’s a good guy. I’m just excited to learn from him. He’s got a lot of knowledge to give out.”
After also playing on special teams as a senior at ISU, Lanning is fully aware the quickest way for any NFL rookie to catch the eye of his coaches and earn more reps at his position is by first excelling on kickoff and punt coverage units, which he has a track record of doing in the past.
“I did it this past season, I was on punt coverage. And then at the East-West Shrine Games and those things, I was on kickoff return and punt,” Lanning said. “I have experience there. I haven’t done kickoff. I’ve done kickoff returns. I’ve experienced it all in gamelike situations, so I’ve just got to get better at it and try to make it my job.”
Lanning made the position switch before last season and, in just over a year, has come to feel comfortable at linebacker. He said being a quarterback helped ease his transition because he knew exactly what opposing signal callers were thinking in each situation.
He added that watching film was essentially the same for both spots since he had to know what everyone on the field was doing for both positions.
However, one big adjustment was having to learn the defensive playbook, a lot of new information to absorb, especially for someone who’d previously only played on the other side of the ball. Another big change accompanies the switch, one he’s still acclimating to.
“Really just getting used to the physicality of the game, running down and getting hit every single play is definitely different from quarterback, so you just have to prepare your body and just do what you can,” Lanning said.
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Flexibility is a trait which served Lanning well at Iowa State. Now the ex-Cyclone is attempting to make another jump, from the Big 12 to the NFL. If his past is any indication, Lanning will put in the necessary work to succeed at the next level.