Joel Lanning practices at linebacker during spring practice. (Courtesy: Cyclone Football on Twitter)
AMES — Joel Lanning has continued to impress the Iowa State coaching staff since moving from quarterback to mike linebacker at the start for spring practice.
After spending his first four years at Iowa State on the offensive side of the ball, the Ankeny native brings a unique perspective to the middle of the Cyclones’ defensive unit. It is that perspective, coupled with some serious athleticism, that has helped Lanning solidify his position atop the depth chart.
“Joel just gives us a little bit of presence out there,” defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said after the team’s closed scrimmage on Saturday. “We need him to have a presence because he can run. He made a great play on the one outside play, perimeter play, he ran it down. He’s got some abilities that we have to tap into.”
There is no questioning the redshirt senior’s leadership after he was elected a co-captain by his teammates before last season. Despite losing his job as the starting signal-caller after nine games, Lanning’s presence as one of the team’s leaders never wavered.
Those leadership qualities are possibly best represented in the way Lanning has willingly moved to the other side of the football and jumped straight into improving himself as a linebacker.
“He’s improving all the time,” Heacock said. “You know, just lots of little things that he has to learn. You’ve got to appreciate his attitude and his effort, the want-to and all of those things, but he’s made a lot of improvement. He’s doing a good job out there for us. He’s not where he needs to be yet and he knows that, but he’s doing a good job.”
There are obviously still things Lanning needs to pick up on at the position as spring comes to a close and the summer months commence. Jumping from one side of the ball to the other isn’t as simple as just deciding to make the move.
With that said, it doesn’t seem like the coaching staff is overly concerned with the amount of progress Lanning still needs to make before next season. If the past is any indication, he will attack the summer and fall camp with a tenacity that puts him in a position to have success when the lights turn on at Jack Trice Stadium next fall.
“Sometimes he gets caught looking in the backfield a little bit because that’s where he’s always played,” Heacock said. “Just fundamental stuff that the guy hasn’t played linebacker for eight years, but good football player, great leader. Love the fact we have him playing linebacker for us.”
On the defensive line unit…
“They are a good looking group,” Heacock said. “They’re working really hard. We’re extremely young, in all fairness. Vernell (Trent)’s in there, but Carson (Lensing)’s at one end. JaQuan (Bailey)’s in there. Ray Lima’s been here for, what, nine, ten practices. Jamahl Johnson’s young. The backups are young. We’re just young, but I really love their attitudes and their want-to’s and they are some big bodies in there. Those two A-gaps, we’re better in there from body types and what we’ve got going on.”
On the progress of the safeties…
“Young,” Heacock said. “Kamari (Cotton-Moya)’s gotten a few reps these last couple weeks so that’s been fun watching him get out there. He’s a veteran. Everybody else, Lawrence White was making a ton of improvement, got hurt the other day in practice. He’ll be fine, but got banged up so he didn’t get any reps today. Jatairis Grant’s a young guy, those guys haven’t even been here a full year. We moved (Darius Lee-Campbell) over from wide-out. This is his tenth practice of trying to figure it out. They’re just young guys and Kamari adds a little bit of experience to that whole group.”
On the difference between this spring and last…
“We’re further ahead and that’s fair,” Heacock said. “That’s nothing against a year ago, we’re just further ahead. Our guys understand what we’re asking. You’re not coaching all the hows all the time. Run to the football, run off the field, the fundamental things that you think guys know that we weren’t prepared for. I think our guys are much better that way. I think they’re studying the game off the field. I think they’re working their rear-ends off. I think we’re just further ahead from the want-to and the will-to. We’re still young and going to be young, but it’s not an excuse, it’s just a fact and we’ve got to allow those guys and help those guys become old fast.”
On the improvement in communication on defense…
“Just experience,” Heacock said. “If you go in and watch tape with our kids now, they all know what it should’ve been. If they missed it, what should’ve happened, ‘Oh, Coach, should’ve done…’ Last year, it was nothing but eyes and crickets. You couldn’t hear anything so they know better and that’s fair. I think that’s what experiences do. Our guys have worked extremely hard. I love our group. I love working with them. I love their attitudes. I love their effort. I love this group and I think on both sides of the ball we’ve had two really good scrimmages of football. Guys competing and playing, we’re making some improvement and that’s a lot of fun watching our guys do that.”