AMES — The story of Iowa State’s 2016 football team would not have been complete without the emergences of true freshmen David Montgomery, Deshaunte Jones, JaQuan Bailey or a handful of others from the 2016 signing class.
Now, the question becomes which members of the 2017 class have a chance to make the same impact? That’s the question I asked Matt Campbell during his media day press conference and, to put it lightly, he had a lot to say.
“I will say this, this will be maybe my seventh or eighth year putting a recruiting class together (and) this is bar none, from top to bottom, the best recruiting class that we’ve been fortunate to put together,” Campbell said. “And whether it was luck, or whether it was — you just don’t know sometimes. But, one of the things that I’m really excited about is, what — and it’s nice now, they’ve been here since June, so you have at least an understanding of what they are; I think you can make a statement like that and not say that’s a fluff statement out there to make everybody feel good. I think it’s a real statement to say we’re really fortunate that this class has given us some great depth. Now, who and what has flashed? I don’t know if that’s fair yet, either, because we’ve only had three practices and not even a real football practice in terms of putting all the pads on and getting out there and hitting and being physical. So I think any of those statements would be premature. I think collectively, offensive line, I know I said this down in Dallas, it’s already shown is the best group of young men that we’ve had the ability — you talk about five scholarship offensive linemen. All five will have a chance to be really high-end players here at some point and then you throw in Josh Knipfel that comes in right at the end, a guy that’s going to give us, I think, instant gratification of being able to come and help our football team have success. Tight end-wise, we really like what Charlie Kolar’s all about in this class and Johnnie Lang — you guys have heard my statement on Johnnie. I think Johnnie’s right in the mold of what David was like and what Kene (Nwangwu) was like. He’s got high-end explosion; what he can and cannot give us will be fun to watch and see. Tarique Milton has already been a guy that’s flashed in the first couple days of practice. Josh Johnson at the wide receiver position. So you look at the offense and I think you see, man, that group looks really good and then, oh, by the way, here’s Devon Moore: high-end talent. Can really throw the football and do what we need to do. But collectively, can they play for us this year, and what can that group do? We’ll see. And then you flip it over on the defensive side and I think we’ve all seen Ray Lima and Matt Leo — those guys are going to be instant impact players for us, somehow, someway. To what extent and what range? I don’t know yet, but I can tell you those guys instantly make our football team a better football team. Tucker Robertson is a young man that’s come into this class, big, strong, physical. Dan Sichterman’s going to be a good football player for us on the defensive line. Really like those guys. Cordarrius Bailey can rush the passer. The two linebackers I’ve talked about, (Jake) Hummel and (O’Rien) Vance, really like those guys. And O.J. Tucker, Datrone Young, Keontae Jones, all those guys already can show that those guys can help us at some point. Now where and what and how, it will be really fun to watch and see, but I’ll tell you, we’re really, really excited about what this class has done. That’s our job. We’ve got to continue to bring in classes like that, where if we can just continue to stack those on top of each other and keep raising that level of excellence, I think we’re going to be right where we want to be as a program through the long haul.”
Campbell went on to tell me he probably did not give me a very good answer. If that is what he is calling a not good answer this year, I can not wait to hear what the good ones will sound like.
Thanks for writing my notebook for me, Coach.
Who returns kicks?
Kene Nwangwu is listed as Iowa State’s kick returner on the pre-fall camp depth chart, but at this point it seems unlikely the sophomore will be ready to go on Sept. 2 as he recovers from an offseason achilles injury.
With that said, who are the guys most likely to be in the competition to fill that role?
“There’s a lot of guys,” Campbell said. “Guys like, certainly D’Andre Payne, Johnnie Lang, Trever Ryen, Mike Warren — guys that I think, all guys that we think have the ability to do those roles and kind of be that guy. So there are certainly plenty of options if Kene isn’t ready to go by that time, but again, those are things that until we do it, until we get out there and we see guys who have the ability to field it, vision, what that looks like and feels like, we’ll be anxious to see. The thing I’m excited about is those other 10 guys around them. A lot of guys from that kickoff return unit that are back, which sometimes we don’t think about, but I think that’s pivotal, and you saw that group really get better as the season went last year and was really huge for us.”
Comfortable at center
Julian Good-Jones was primed to be Iowa State’s backup center entering last season, but then Jake Campos got hurt. Campos’ injury held him out for the entire season and forced Good-Jones to make the move from center to right tackle.
As the 2017 season gets underway, Good-Jones is back at the center spot and is more comfortable than ever.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable,” Good-Jones said. “Last training camp, I was at summer, Jake went down and I had to go to right tackle. Just getting more reps at center, I got to play the whole spring at center so I’m feeling a lot more comfortable there.”
The redshirt sophomore was listed on the watch list for the Rimington Award given to the nation’s best center earlier this summer. That’s especially impressive when you consider he’s yet to make an in-game snap at the college level.
“It’s crazy, man,” Good-Jones said. “It’s super humbling. I never thought I’d be put on that list, but it’s awesome and I’m going to work hard and see how far I can go with that.”
Spreading the wealth
It is not any kind of secret that Iowa State’s skill position groups are as loaded as they’ve been in recent memory. That fact creates the question of whether or not there will be enough touches to go around throughout the season.
I asked quarterbacks coach Jim Hofher what the quarterback’s role is in spreading the ball and he put it into an interesting perspective for me.
“It’s less his job to keep everybody happy. It’s far more coaches jobs to make sure that if there’s talent, how do we get the ball to that talent,” Hofher said. “What are the schemes and the plays that are going to get this guy the ball with the expectation of if they’re going to play that defense we should be able to accomplish A, B, C and D. Where can we put four different players to make that happen? That’s a collective effort by all of ours. The quarterback just has to execute the play based on the read that he’s been given. Do that right, good things will happen.”