Nov 26, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell reacts to a call during the second quarter against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Throughout spring ball and fall camp, ISU coaches heaped high praise on junior offensive guard Oge Udeogu.
For good reason. The young man’s developing nicely — but he’s not alone at his position.
Josh Knipfel, who shined for Iowa Western and didn’t arrive in Ames until late May, has surged toward the possible No. 1 spot at right guard.
Who starts Saturday at 7 p.m. in the home opener against Northern Iowa? Stay tuned — and that’s a good thing.
— CycloneFanatic.com (@cyclonefanatic) August 28, 2017
“You talk about guys that really stood out in fall camp,” Cyclones Coach Matt Campbell said during his first Monday news conference of the 2017 season. “I mean if you think about what (Knipfel’s) done. He got here in, really, the early to late part of May, then all of a sudden — a lot of times when we bring freshmen in, they kind of separate themselves. They lift at a different time than our upperclassmen. We kind of try to bridge that gap a little bit until we throw them in there with the varsity kids.
“But Josh was a guy that from day one, came in and had the ability, the conditioning, to come in and lift with that group. I thought he had a really good summer. He’s a really good learner. He’s powerful. He’s strong. And he’s a guy that if you said, Matt, who were you probably the most impressed with of any of your kids on the offensive line coming out of fall camp, it would be Josh.”
High praise, meet loftier praise. Knipfel impressed coaches during the summer lifting sessions as well as fall camp.
It’s obviously vitally important to have a solid two-deep (at least) of offensive lineman, and bare minimum, Knipfel (6-5, 317) and Udeogu (6-3, 317) provide that at right guard.
Knipfel, a sophomore, chose ISU over schools such as Michigan State and West Virginia, so it’s long been evident he yearned to wear cardinal and gold. Now the Hampton native can — with the likelihood of seeing major action sooner rather than later.
“I think one of the unique things about Josh is Josh wanted to be a Cyclone and that’s really rewarding,” Campbell said. “He comes every day like he wants to be a Cyclone and he wants this team to have great success. So — and that’s no knocking anybody else, that’s just, I think, a really neat story and I’m really excited for him. He’s putting in a great position to be the starter Saturday night. It’s a great battle and Josh has had a fantastic camp, so I’m really excited about Josh. I think he gives us some depth and maneuverability as well amongst that offensive line, and that’s not short-cutting Oge or anybody else on our offensive line right now. It just tells you what kind of last four or five weeks Josh has had in our program.”
KICK RETURNER SPOTS UP FOR GRABS
The Cyclones’ first game week depth chart included the interesting and mysterious letters “T-B-A” next to kick returner. Why? For one, last year’s standout, Kene Nwangwu, is not yet fully healthy after enduring a painful Achilles injury last season.
“You can assume it’s a no-go unless we say otherwise throughout the season,” Campbell said of Nwangwu’s eventual return.
So where to go now? Plenty of options exist, Campbell said. He’s just not tipping his hand prior to kickoff against the Panthers.
“I think we’ll take it probably through the end of this week and we’ve got some really good options. I said that — going into media day, somebody had asked me that question, and kind of reiterating it at this point,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of guys back there. Obviously Trever (Ryen) can go back there. Kene is still not in that situation where he’ll be playing this week, so he’s a little bit TBA and obviously was a kick returner a year ago. Johnnie Lang’s a guy that has the ability to go back there. So we’ve got some different guys that can go back there and do some different things. I think we’ll take it through practice this week just until we fell really comfortable with who that guy will be as we get into Saturday night.”
As my colleague, Jared Stansbury, noted during our Monday Rundown, don’t be surprised if Lang emerges as a top option here.
SOEHNER’S STOCK RISING
Campbell said a healthy Dylan Soehner translates to greater flexibility at tight end and the “F” position. Chase Allen’s listed at No. 1 at tight end and Sam Seonbuchner’s earned the top spot at the “F.” Still, Soehner’s big body (6-7, 271) and multifaceted skill set helps conjure intriguing options.
“Dylan Soehner, really similar in terms of what I talked about with Josh,” Campbell said. “Dylan’s had a really, really impressive fall camp. And, again, a year ago, Dylan had shoulder surgery so he came out of fall camp, we knew we were going to redshirt him and he had a labrum tear, so he wasn’t going to have the opportunity to play and he knew it. But there were some flashes in those last couple scrimmages before he had the surgery, he kept practicing, and it was like, ‘Wow, this guy’s got a great opportunity to help this football team somewhere down the line.’
“He had a really good summer and he’s piggy-backed that really good summer into an opportunity where he’s a guy that could go in and play F. He’s a guy that could go in and play on the ball. He’s a guy that you could flex out and he’s a big target. He’s got really good hands and he gives us an opportunity to be flexible in a lot of ways, so I’m excited to see Dylan. I think he’s got a chance to really start his career and do some really good things for us, plus special teams-wise, he’s a great asset.”
Campbell was asked about top MIKE linebacker and former starting quarterback Joel Lanning possibly playing on both sides of the ball in week one. His answer?
“Everybody wants to know, is he going to play on both sides of the ball on Saturday night? I know it is,” Campbell said. “So, my answer is, ‘We’ll see.’ So, is that fair? Awesome.”