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Football

WILLIAMS: Five positives to come out of fall camp

I tend to break down college football’s elongated offseason into five segments.

There’s basketball season. This is as fresh as the offseason can be. This is when coaches are being fired and hired. Transfers are sniffing around. It’s the silly season of the sport that we love. 

There’s that buck wild recruiting period that leads up to the first Wednesday in February. This is the time of year when the rich get richer and the rest of college football’s society believes that it is getting a lot better. 

There’s spring football.

There’s that unbearable post-spring football lull that lasts until mid-July. 

Finally, there’s fall camp.

That final portion of the offseason came to a close for Iowa State on Saturday night in a scrimmage that was interrupted by violent weather that ripped through central Iowa.

Let’s be real: There are usually more positives to come out of camp than negatives. Programs tend to talk about the good and try to hide the bad. It’s called public relations. The media and pry and pry but a coach will only say so much. 

I do feel a lot more optimistic about this Iowa State team now compared to a month ago though. I don’t see Iowa State competing for a Big 12 title by any means but based off of what has come out of Ames and off-the-record conversations I’ve had, I certainly see Iowa State winning more than three games (which is where Vegas has set the over/under on the upcoming season). 

For your Monday, here are five positives to come out of fall camp, 2015. 

Additional depth at defensive line 

Last season, Robby Garcia started at defensive tackle in Iowa State’s season opener against North Dakota State as a redshirt freshman. When the Cyclones kick off 2015 in less than two weeks, Garcia will likely be third string.

When it comes to depth on the defensive line, after losing Rodney Coe and David Irving in the offseason, Wally Burnham’s 2014 unit was a kiddie pool. By comparison, this year Burnham is swimming in the 10-foot. 

It all starts with JUCO Demond Tucker, who by all means has lived up to the high expectations placed upon him when he arrived at Iowa State last winter.

“An outstanding nose,” said offensive coordinator Mark Mangino of Tucker on Saturday. “He’s quick. He’s strong. He’s compact. He’s hard to block. He uses his hands very well.”

Tucker has sidekicks too.

Probably the single most positive story to come out of camp was the surprise arrival of another highly touted JUCO, defensive end Jhaustin Thomas. Like any summer JUCO, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end needs time to condition his body for this level of ball, but I’ll be speechless if he isn’t a major contributor right away.

“When he comes off the football with those long arms and long legs and he gets leverage on you, he gets some push,” Burnham said. “He can cause some problems making the ball change lanes and things like that in the run game. So we’ve seen progress there too.”

Mangino’s analysis of the pass rushing defensive end?

“He’s raw as can be,” Mangino said. “That guy, he’s a beast. He keeps at it, in a year’s time, he has a time to be pretty special.”

Word within the program is that Thomas is a special type of talent that the Iowa State’s of the world don’t acquire very often. Give him three or four games and look out.

Iowa State finished 2014 ranked 122nd (out of 128 programs) in rush defense. Throw two fully developed JUCO’s in Dale Pierson and Trent Taylor into the mix with Devlyn Cousin inside. Not bad. 

Over the years, I’ve learned to never be too excited about an Iowa State defensive line but I do know one thing: Based off of how bad last year was, it’s nearly impossible for this group not to take a giant leap forward compared to what we saw in 2014. 

Willie Harvey at linebacker

That’s important too because Iowa State is going to be as green as a John Deere tractor at linebacker.

Athletic and young is how I’d describe this group.

Way more athletic than in recent years.

One name to keep an eye on when the season opener’s depth chart comes out next week though is redshirt freshman Willie Harvey. I’ve heard from multiple sources that the 6-foot, 222-pound rookie is a heavy hitter and could very well start for the Cyclones against UNI.

Joel Lanning

Heading into camp, I wasn’t quite sure how Iowa State would opt to use Joel Lanning this year but I did not think that the sophomore would beat out Grant Rohach in the race to be named Sam Richardson’s backup. If the season started today, my guess is that is exactly what he will be.

For you Lanning lovers out there, keep things in perspective. Richardson has been prone to injuries throughout his career. Chances are, Mangino will have to go to his backup at some point in the upcoming season for one reason or another.

For the most part, Iowa State is healthy 

The only confirmed injury that we know about is a season-ender to backup center Patrick Scoggins

I’ll take it. 

Team has bought in

To me, the whole “culture change” conversation around the program has seemed a little bit forced. After five wins in two years, fans simply don’t want to hear about it. They want to see results. 

The thing about though is that it’s actually legit. Unprompted, Wally Burnahm all but confirmed it for me on Saturday night in this long quote. 

“We do not have a superstar,” Burnham explained. “We don’t have an All-American yet — I hope we have one out of there somewhere, but we don’t have that kind of defense right now. We’ve got 18-19 kids that we feel real good about and I’ve been on a lot of good teams that had 18-19 kids that played real good defense, so we know we’re going to get the best they’ve got and then we’ve got to bring the others along. It’s got to be a team thing and that’s what they’re bought into right now. It’s strictly a team defense. They’ve taken a lot of pride in that. If we have a bad practice and when I talk to them, I won’t let them stay on the field, because they don’t deserve to be on it, but when we have good practice like tonight, when we meet at the end of the practice, we all — coaches and players — stay on the field. That’s a pride thing. It’s our field. It’s our territory and they’ve taken pride in those kind of things. Now, is that going to mean wins? I don’t know. But pride and effort and intensity and knowing what you’re doing can win you some football games.”

The final sentence of that Burnham quote essentially sums up my feelings on the upcoming season. 

I have no idea how many games Iowa State will win, but I don’t think we will see a team quit on the field like what happened in Lawrence last season. 

We shall see.

It’s time to get excited though. A week from today, game week will be upon us.