AMES — Coming off of a surprising 8-win season that caught the attention of many around the country, Iowa State concluded its first spring practice of 2018 on Wednesday afternoon with optimism flowing within the Jacobson Building.
Below is a transcript of Campbell’s near 30-minute conversation with the local media. Of course, we’ll offer up more stories and analysis on spring ball in the coming weeks.
Did you guys make it through the first day ok?
MC: We did. Obviously from my end, it felt really good to be back. For our kids, it’s been nine weeks of an offseason where I think there has been a lot of growth. We were such a young team in a lot of ways and I think you see bodies change for a lot of guys, which was certainly positive. We need these 15 practices to continue to grow. Really good day today, day one, but obviously a lot of work to do.
What do you do with all of your running backs? How do you get them all on the field?
MC: We need to get them all healthy. Kene (Nwangwu) is close to being back and ready to rock and roll. Johnnie (Lang), the same thing. It’s a great problem to have. There’s a lot of competition in that room. I think that’s the great thing about us offensively. You just continue to evolve. My theory is players, formations, plays. How do you find ways to get those guys involved in what you do? I think for us, we feel really confident that we have three or four guys the we feel can really do some special things. Three of them at least have video evidence to show they can do it in game situations.
Do you add pages to your playbook?
MC: If you know us, you know that our playbook is probably a thousand pages at this point over seven or eight years together. You always do and you always find ways to better yourself in the offseason. That’s always been my niche. It’s always been what I do. Now we still have a foundation but it is always growing with your personnel.
If you had a depth chart to give us today, what would it look like at quarterback?
MC: Obviously it is going to be Kyle (Kempt) as the No. 1 guy and Zeb (Noland) at No. 2 but the reality is, and those two guys know it, that Zeb Noland has played a lot of football for us. He’s played good football. We said this the day we got here, my goal, and in really good programs, there are really good rosters with great competitions. It may look like that today but the reality is that there is always competition. Kyle would tell you that and Zeb would tell you that. So would the rest of the guys on the roster right now. Everything is fluid and everything is changing but Kyle has earned the right to be the No. 1 guy right now.
Where is Kyle’s biggest need for growth?
MC: How he gets 15 practices as, ‘the guy.’ I think that’s really big. What you saw last year was kind of a great foundation to what he could do but growing with the offense, taking ownership in the offense…With the great quarterbacks I have been around, you’re not looking over to the sideline for plays, the quarterbacks are the guys who takes the games into their hands and can be the offensive coordinator on the field in a lot of ways. That’s a really great growth for that room in general. No matter who it is or what it looks like, but especially for a guy like Kyle who has gotten so many game reps now. How do you apply it and how do you use it to be that field general who has complete ownership of the offense?
What can David Montgomery do to improve?
MC: Oh I think there are a lot of things that David can do to improve. I think the reality for David is whether if it is fair or unfair, David has a lot of room to grow because you’re talking about a young guy who was a high school quarterback. His growth will come a little bit as well with the offensive line’s growth. The greatest challenge to this football team is can this offensive line grow? And can this offensive line become what championship teams look like, and they have championship offensive lines? We aren’t there today but I think there is a lot of room to work. It think it will allow our running backs to grow. A lot of it is improvised. David uses his phenomenal athleticism and ability to do things in space but that natural running back skillset and talent, I don’t know if we have gotten to see that yet, to be honest with you. There’s been so much improvising because of scheme or that offensive line just being young and not mature. It’s nice to have four or five guys back on the offensive line and I hope that maturation process really starts to develop for this program.
David Montgomery on how he can continue to improve in this CFTV. pic.twitter.com/clxfkpt5P7
— CycloneFanatic.com (@cyclonefanatic) March 21, 2018
You’ve got to replace a couple of guys in your secondary this year. What does that situation look like?
MC: The good thing is that Lawrence White got some really meaningful game reps through the season. Braxton Lewis got some great game reps. You obviously throw in Greg Eisworth and guys who have played game reps, maybe not all here, but have gotten meaningful reps. There’s a lot of competition there when you throw in DeMonte Ruth and some of those other guys who can move around and player other positions. There is as much competition there as maybe the D-Line, there in that secondary. Who is going to play meaningful reps? How will they sort out?
As far as the quarterbacks go, is there any chance you could play Zeb and Kyle together in any capacity like you did Jacob Park and Joel Lanning (and then Kempt), or even Re-Al Mitchell in some capacity?
MC: Anything is possible. I think that was a little different situation with Joel and Jacob because their skillsets were so drastically different. But I think the reality is, Re-Al, there’s a guy whose skillset is different than those top two guys. I think he is a guy who can be an interchangeable part at times. Brock Purdy is another guy, when he gets on campus, who kind of has a different skillset at times. I think all of those things are fair game. We are always going to do what gives our offense the best opportunity to have success and help our team be successful.
It sounds like Re-Al is a guy you anticipate having an instant impact this season?
MC: I think until we get through the spring it is hard to give a fair evaluation of that. The one thing Re-Al has is elite athleticism. He has elite speed. He is a guy that is a game changer in a lot of ways but until we get through spring practice and see what he can handle and how much he can really do against 21 and 22 year olds, I think it is a possibility though because his athleticism gives him a shot to do something like that.
Who is being held out this spring?
MC: Carson Epps had surgery after the Kansas State game. He will not practice this spring. Jeff Nogaj, he had surgery after the season on his shoulder. Jeff won’t practice this spring. Kene is kind of limited until we can get him ready to rock and roll. He will play this spring for sure. So will Johnnie.
Are you just monitoring Kene or how is that working?
MC: I think until you get Kene back on the field, you want to take it slow. But the thing that is really neat for us, he got a lot of meaningful reps for us during bowl practice. The neat thing is that we were really cautious at that time as to how much time we gave him. Now, you’re coming off of a nine-week stretch of winter workouts where he really pushed it and I think you want to slow feed those reps back to him. We don’t want to go fast. We’ve dealt with this injury before and I think to ask him to do everything right now is a really big mistake, both physically and mentally.
On the defensive side, Kamilo Tongamoa and Matt Leo have each been here for a while now. What are your expectations for them over the next few weeks and even next season?
MC: The neat thing for both of those guys is that Matt Leo, you’re talking about a raw piece of clay that came to you. You watch him even through the bowl practices, a guy who was a football player and you saw him understanding what to do on defense. We gave him nine weeks then to develop with the rest of those guys and he’s a really impressive football player right now. I don’t know if I would have used to words ‘football player’ a year ago. Kamilo, again, there’s a guy who didn’t get here right before the first game but he’s dropped 20 pounds. He’s in the best shape of his life. He looks really good but both of those guys should have high expectations because they are guys who have high end ability. If they reach their full potential you are going to see two high end football players but right now, it’s just potential. Our job is to get them to fulfill that. I think these 15 practices for guys like that are absolutely critical.
You guys started last year on defense running a 4-3 but mostly ran the 3-4 at the end of the year. Do you go into the spring with a clean slate seeing what pieces fit or do you have something in mind?
MC: I think that’s a really neat thing for us. We will start off with a four-man front. That is our foundation. That’s not going to change. But it’s great to have the ability to switch in and out, to be able to play both of those. As we figure out where we are at, you will see us in both of those sets throughout the spring. We will be multiple and I know I’ve said this but if you are just playing one of those today, it’s really hard to play winning football. You need to have the ability to play both and we are fortunate when you look at that defensive line with 11, 12, 13 guys are competing right now for playing time. You compliment your defense with the ability to do that. We also have the ability with that linebacker crew too. There are a lot of good players who are fighting for playing time.
What’s next for Chase Allen?
MC: I think Chase is ready to take that next step. He played last year probably at 220 pounds. Now, you see a young man at 245-pounds. What do tight ends do? No. 1, they need to be really good blockers. Putting on that weight, that strength gives him great confidence. Chase is a guy who can also be a factor in the passing game. He’s a big, tall, rangy pass catcher. I think one of the guys who has been really impressive this winter is Dylan Soehner. He had a really good day today, a couple of great catches. It’s nice to have that. Charlie Kolar kind of fits in that mold He’s healthy for the first time. It’s great to have tight ends. I sat here two years ago and we didn’t have a scholarship guy in the program.
What do you need to see out of whoever emerges at middle linebacker?
MC: Those are big shoes to fill. I think with what Joel was able to do and the consistency that he was able to play with … will it be one guy to match that consistency? Is it multiple guys who are matching that? I think consistency is the word. That’s why you saw so much production from Joel. He got better every game. By the end of it, he was a really consistent football player in the run game, in the pass game and in the blitz game. A lot of guys fighting for that spot. It will be really interesting to watch that play out.
How nice is it for you guys to have Brayden (Narveson) and Corey (Dunn) in this spring to be able to work with them?
MC: It’s a game-changer. We’ve been down that road before where you had to have a high school kid come in during June and have them go through the growing pains with confidence in kicking and punting. There will be a lot of reps. There will be some really good days and some really tough days. That’s the nature of the beast with a freshman but especially at a spot like that, which is craft oriented. It’s like golf. To get those guys that refs to do it in the spring game, to do it in meaningful scrimmages, and to get those guys with Joe (Houston), I don’t know if that could be any more important.
Is left guard the biggest battle right now on the offensive line?
MC: It’s really nice to have guys back with experience and playing time but I think this group knows that their development is critical to our success. If we are going to take a step in this program – I don’t care if it is left guard, center, right tackle, I don’t care who it is. The best five are going to play. You’ve seen that from us and I think right now it is a competition across the board. If I played offensive line, man I would be fired up to come out today. No matter what position it is across the line, I have a chance to come out and compete.