Football

NOTEBOOK: Position battles, Purdy’s leadership, UNI prep and more

Nov 24, 2018; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones head coach Matt Campbell watches his team against the Kansas State Wildcats at Jack Trice Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Campbell met with the media on Friday for the final time before Iowa State begins official preparation for its season opener against Northern Iowa on Aug. 31. The Cyclones will practice once more time on Saturday to officially wrap up fall camp. They then will enter standard game week procedure as the regular season gets underway.

Here is a complete rundown of the most important notes from Campbell’s time with the media.

*** The battle to determine Iowa State’s starting running back is still unfinished with eight days left before the season opener. It should not come as a shock to anyone that this could extend into, at least, the first few weeks of the regular season.

“Here’s what I really feel like is we’re really confident in that running back room right now,” Campbell said. “To be honest, Kene Nwangwu got dinged up a little bit. It was a hamstring. Kene will be back at full camp on Sunday. He had a really good camp going on. Johnnie Lang’s had a great camp. Breece Hall’s had a great camp. Sheldon (Croney) continues to do really great things. I think to me, what this is going to be, and I said this early on, it’s probably going to be the first couple weeks until we sort that whole thing out and who is what and where can they go.”

“I do think the real positive for us is that whole entire room has done a really great job. To be honest with you, Jirehl Brock, for coming in when he did, has really started to come on the last week and a half. We feel really confident in that room and I think it’s going to have to play out a little bit. It will play out a little bit as to who is the starting guy next Saturday. I think they’ll all get reps as we work through the early part of the season.”

*** Campbell seems really encouraged by the way Iowa State’s wide receivers have progressed over the offseason. That is good to hear considering the question of replacing Hakeem Butler still looms large. Tarique Milton and Deshaunte Jones are obviously locked into their spots, but everything else will truly be figured out once the coaches are able to evaluate some game film.

“I think that group has maybe grown the most this camp and probably just because of getting some guys late like (La’Michael Pettway) and like Darren (Wilson), going through the early stages of what are the expectations of Iowa State football, they didn’t get that in the spring practice,” Campbell said. “You know, the first week they looked rusty and then the second and third weeks these guys really started to show who they really are. I think this is a group that is going to continue to grow. Probably a little bit like the running backs. We’ve seen a couple of those guys play.”

“We know what Milton can do. We know what Jones can do. I think with the rest of those guys we feel like there’s a lot of talent there. You guys know this, until the lights come on and you line up against real people, you can get the signal, you can get lined and then you can make the play, it’s great that you’re doing it in practice with coaches on the field and sometimes coaches off the field but who can do it when the lights come on? Joe Scates has had a great spring to a great summer and now to a really good fall camp so he’s done a great job. Sean Shaw continues to work really hard. Landen Akers moving inside I think has been really great for us. You’re talking seven or eight guys who have a lot of ability and we’ll continue to space those guys out.”

*** Campbell said outside of a few guys being dinged up, the Cyclones are in good health entering the first week of the regular season despite a very physical fall camp.

“We’ve had a couple of guys that got dinged up but the nice thing for us is we’ll be at full strength come Monday. Honestly, I don’t know the last time that’s happened,” Campbell said. “This has been the most physical camp that I’ve been a part of. I thought we were a pretty physical team at Toledo but I think this has been a really physical camp and to be able to be physical and, still at this point, knock on wood, be in good shape health-wise is a real positive.”

*** The competition to be one of the five starters along the offensive line has really heated up during fall camp with redshirt freshman Trevor Downing pushing his way into contention for one of the spots. Will the Creston native start game one? That remains to be seen, but it is hard to believe he won’t start at least one game this season.

“I think that’s a hot competition right now. Until we get the early part, big Tuesday, big Wednesday, practices next week, I think it’s too early to tell,” Campbell said. “But, there are six guys fighting for five starting spots. I think you’ll see a lot more guys play there than you have in the past which is a huge positive that we can sit up here and say that today. Trevor’s really had an outstanding camp.”

*** It would be a pretty big shock if redshirt freshman Will McDonald is not Iowa State’s starter at the sam linebacker spot when they take the field next week, but Campbell said he has also been impressed by Chandler Pulvermacher’s progression along with the linebacking group as a whole.

“Two guys that can do some of the things we’ve asked that sam linebacker to do in the past. They’ve got to be so multiple there because we ask that guy to do a lot of things. Those two body types, those two players have certainly had that kind of ability and have shown it,” Campbell said. “I think just the linebacker group, in general, has been really impressive. O’Rien Vance is a player who has had an incredible fall camp in my opinion, a guy that continues to push to be a major factor for this team. Was last year but I thought made great strides. Jake Hummel and you’re not even talking about what Mike Rose has done or certainly what Marcel (Spears) has done so I think just the collective whole, in general, is really exciting for all of us. We feel like we’ve got some really good depth and the ability to do a lot of different things with that group.”

*** Campbell said the Cyclones began preparing for UNI heavily this week and will continue to do so on Saturday leading up to their standard game week schedule.

“To be honest with you, 60-40 Iowa State to UNI this week. I think probably, (Thursday), (Friday) and then obviously (Saturday), will be really heavily UNI focused,” Campbell said. “I think one of the positives for us is we kind of know what that team looks like and feels like. I think credit to that says you better be ready to play football because they’re a football team (built on) attitude, effort, even schematics at times can resemble some of the things we do. We know the challenge at hand and my fear would be not preparing for them would be a huge mistake. I think our football team has great focus right now.”

*** After squaring off with the Panthers, Iowa State enters its first of two bye weeks before the annual showdown with the rival Iowa Hawkeyes. How does Campbell feel about the early off-week?

“I love it,” he said. “We did that every year at Mount Union. My entire career that’s how it was and when I coached there. I love the ability to play a game and then have the ability to (look at) where are you as a football team for real, what’s this team really look like and where are these margins that you better hurry up and changed and where are those margins that you feel like you can continue to build on. I think it is certainly a positive for us.”

*** Campbell said Joe Rivera will officially begin the season as Iowa State’s starting punter after Corey Dunn was lost for the season due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.

“I said this before camp, Joe’s been in hard situations, tough situations in the past being our holder, having to come into that Drake game and do a great job,” Campbell said. “I think now, it’s like anybody, you lose a great player and the next player’s got to step up. How does he respond to that adversity? Joe has taken it head-on. I’m excited about Joe. Joe’s really talented. We thought Joe was really talented when he came in here and it’s been huge for him to get really quality reps with our ones and take advantage of it.”

*** We all knew Iowa State’s 2019 recruiting class was one of the best the program has ever brought in, but Campbell made that even more clear after getting a chance to see the group in action during fall camp.

“I’ll say this probably in general to this group, sometimes you get into those first 16, 17 practices and you’re either like, ‘Man, that guy’s really good’ or ‘That guy’s going to take awhile to develop.’ This is, bar none, the best class of freshmen that we’ve brought in here,” Campbell said. “I think in some areas that it’s probably easy, whether it’s a mistake or a challenge to evaluate, the defensive backs that came in this class and the offensive linemen that came in this class, I would say, are collectively the best that we’ve brought in here. That’s exciting.”

“Will any of those guys help us this year? I think it’s way too early to tell. I think a guy like Kym-Mani King that I’ve talked about has been flashing and is really good. Virdell Edwards at safety is a guy who has flashed and has been really good. That part is certainly really positive. On the offensive line, that group, are any of those guys going to play? I don’t know, but those guys have shown great potential. Grant Treiber and some of these other guys who came in have been really successful. The running backs have been really impressive at that spot. It’s especially nice to have Breece come in early. I think that really helped him greatly to understand the expectation of what it takes to play here. The tight end position we’re excited about. The defensive line position, Corey Suttle is a guy who has flashed and done some great things for us already with Blake Peterson already being. Are we really excited about that group? Man, I really am. I think it’s a group of guys that somewhere down the line will be able to help us and continue to push the depth of this football team.”

*** Campbell said he anticipates Iowa State’s captains being announced prior to the team’s practice on Saturday. It would not be a surprise to see one of those captains end up being true sophomore quarterback Brock Purdy, who Campbell said has really grown as a leader during the offseason.

“I think the biggest thing Brock has is a sense of that overall leadership and ownership of it,” Campbell said on his young quarterback’s progression. “Not that he needed that because I think Brock’s a guy that has so much respect from his teammates and his coaches but I think understanding how to take that ownership onto the field from play to play and from situation to situation and, to be honest with you, from day to day.”

“The nice thing about having a really great defense for Brock to go against is if you’re going to win the day, you better be on it and that offense better be on it. I think it’s been a pretty good back and forth camp. To have to respond to those tough days, who is stepping up and leading? Kyle Kempt is not here anymore. David Montgomery is not here anymore. Those guys were those verbal leaders and those great leaders. You’ve seen Brock take some of that role. You can only do that if you’re mastering your own craft and I think Brock’s a guy who has made that growth right now which has been really fun. I think, again, offensively it’s nice having Coach (Tom) Manning continue to build our playbook and who we are offensively and being able to do that all of us sitting there and say we want to do it in around what Brock’s skill set allows him to do. I think that’s been a real positive.”

Jared Stansbury

administrator

Jared is in his sixth year covering Iowa State football and basketball for Cyclone Fanatic. He's the site's lead reporter for ISU recruiting. He worked as the site's intern for three years while studying Journalism in Iowa State's Greenlee School of Journalism. He started as the full-time staff writer in May 2016. Jared spent five falls covering Iowa high school football as a reporter for KMA Radio, 1460 KXNO and 1430 KASI.