Sep 16, 2017; Akron, OH, USA; Iowa State Cyclones offensive linemen Bryce Meeker (74) blocks Akron Zips linebacker Jamal Davis II (9) in the third quarter at InfoCision Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Dermer-USA TODAY Sports
The question was how can David Montgomery improve heading into his junior season.
Matt Campbell briefly touched on how much room for improvement there is in the Cyclones’ dynamic tailback’s game, but then he changed gears. As much as the former high school quarterback turned running back can improve individually, his continued success hinges more heavily on the improvement of Iowa State’s offensive line.
“The greatest challenge to this football team is can this offensive line grow? Can this offensive line become what championship teams look like and they have championship offensive lines,” Campbell said following the Cyclones’ first spring practice last week. “We’re not there yet. We’re not there today, but there’s a lot of room to work. I think it will allow our running backs to grow. For David, a lot of it is improvised. David has phenomenal athleticism and ability to do things in space, but that natural running back skill set and talent, I don’t know if we’ve gotten to see that yet, to be honest with you, because there’s been a lot of improvising because of either scheme or the lack of development, it’s not right to say lack of development, but that offensive line just being young and not mature.”
“It’s nice to have four or five guys back that have played on the offensive line so you hope that maturation process really starts to occur for this program.”
For the first time since Campbell took over in Ames, the Cyclones do have a handful of returning contributors along the offensive front. New offensive line coach Jeff Meyers went as far as to say the program has eight or nine guys it feels comfortable working into the rotation.
Two years after a pair of former walk-ons occupied two of the group’s starting spots, there is depth for the staff to work with and hopefully, that depth will bring along the improvement Campbell is looking for.
“I think you’re going to continue to see our offensive line grow,” Meyers said. “To be honest, I think Coach Campbell deflected the question because we know who David Montgomery is. We know he’s been able to do with not enough depth on the offensive line, not good enough movement up front. We’ve seen what that guy’s been able to do. Now, we’ve got to focus our attention on the offensive line. If we really want to get the running game to where it can be, to help David out, it puts all the onus on us up front.”
Finally, the Cyclones seem to be breaking out of the spot where they were forced to play guys up front before they were ready. Redshirt juniors Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker both said they felt like they were not quite prepared to be on the field as much as they were as redshirt freshmen in Campbell’s first season.
Now, the staff has the flexibility to keep redshirts on players like Rob Hudson and Jacob Bolton, who both appeared on the Cyclones’ two-deep at different times last season as true freshmen. Campbell always says he would rather play someone too late than too early and that margin of error seems to be widening.
The days of using a lack of development or youth as excuses for poor offensive line play appear to be going out the window.
“I think we’re at a point now where our guys are strong enough,” Meyers said. “They do look the part. But right now we’re trying to create that mentality. We’re trying to create the run first mentality. I think that’s the biggest thing. The way we drill it, the way we put the priority on the run game, those guys understand the run does come first and we need to be better for our offense to be better.”
Everybody who has watched an Iowa State game in the last two seasons knows David Montgomery is a special kind of talent. There is a reason he will be considered amongst the best running backs in the country going into his junior season.
Answering the question of whether or not he can sit amongst the most productive tailbacks in the country begins with the five guys in front of him.
“Last year we couldn’t run the ball in the fourth quarter and I think that’s huge,” Meeker said. “I think that will be our biggest progress this year is running the ball all four quarters, controlling the game. It starts up front.”