AMES — This is it.
Fall camp begins for the Cyclones on Friday and one of the most anticipated seasons in Iowa State history is officially underway.
Matt Campbell’s program held its annual media day event on Thursday, where my tape recorder was rolling and my pen was constantly moving (cause I’m old school like that).
Here are some need-to-knows for fans heading into fall camp.
These things happen all of the time so how can Iowa State avoid it with Cyclones at two critical positions on each side of the football? I’m referencing Brock Purdy (quarterback) and Mike Rose (middle linebacker).
“They have to be the great communicators,” Campbell said. “There is a lot on their plate. I think just continuing to grow and see the game, feel the game and understand different situations. Understanding the length of the college football season. All of those things are first and it’s hard to quantify that or put it into great detail but that’s a real issue and challenge.”
Regarding Purdy specifically, who was tabbed as the Big 12’s True Freshman of the Year in 2018 according to ESPN: The sophomore out of Arizona was 6-1 as a starter in Big 12 play and completed an efficient 66.4 percent of his passes.
What can go wrong?
“I think sometimes that a young man, early in a career, has great success, like Brock did, Campbell explained. “Sometimes you are eager to put so much on his shoulders that you can stunt the growth that can happen.”
Keep things simple. That is essentially the game plan for Iowa State’s offensive coaching staff.
“I just want to see Brock grow from a freshman to a sophomore,” Campbell said. “We all saw what he can do when he is at his best no matter who is in the backfield or who is at receiver. He spreads the ball, where it needs to go with great consistency. He also has the ability to pull the ball down and run with it. As long as Brock continues to evolve and grow and play to his strengths, he will have a great year.”
Purdy’s passing efficiency number of 169.91 was the 60th best in the history of college football and the best ever by a true freshman.
For Iowa State, hopefully the best is yet to come.
Seriously…Brock Purdy went DEEP down the field of play action last season. pic.twitter.com/rhcYugq6gp
— PFF College (@PFF_College) July 29, 2019
Rose’s transition to a sophomore, albeit challenging, should be easier than Purdy’s due to personnel. Rose finished third on Iowa State’s roster with 75 tackles as a freshman, and will have arguably one of the 10 best defensive lines in front of him as a sophomore.
La’Michael Pettway: Why Iowa State?
The 6-foot-2, 223-pound wide receiver who is in Ames via a transfer from Arkansas spoke to the central Iowa media for the first time on Thursday. Pettway explained why he chose the Cyclones over Auburn, Oklahoma State, North Carolina, Oklahoma and other top-tier programs around the country.
It basically came down to the quarterback position. Had he stayed at Arkansas, who would be delivering footballs to Pettway, who caught 30 passes for 499 yards and four touchdowns as a junior?
“We didn’t have a clear-cut guy and not having a clear-cut guy at quarterback hurts especially for me at wide receiver,” Pettway said.
Working on that chemistry with Purdy has been a goal for Pettway all summer.
“Honestly, it’s dang near perfect,” Pettway said of their timing. “I’ve been with Brock a lot and the timing and everything, what I think and what he thinks has come together.”
Pettway is currently listed as a co-started at the “Z” wide receiver position with Sean Shaw (Fr.) and Jalen Martin (Jr.).
Tom Manning: How does it feel to be back?
After a year of coaching tight ends for the Indianapolis Colts, Tom Manning is back at the offensive coordinator helm for Iowa State heading into the 2019 season.
Even while living through the grind of an NFL schedule last fall, Manning kept a close eye on what was happening in Ames.
“It was fun to see the evolution of the program and probably the culture of the program,” Manning said. “When I left here, we had just come off of the bowl win and we had so many great players and seniors that really helped turn the culture of what Coach Campbell was trying to do here. For me, I felt that push even farther and farther and farther. That’s what I really like about Iowa State. Not much has changed. Really good people, kids who work really hard and a coaching staff that works really hard.”
Working under Colts head coach Frank Reich, Manning also grew in his profession.
“Just getting the opportunity to be around something different,” Manning explained. “I had been with Coach Campbell for so long. I played for him. I coached for him. It was nice to see a different way to do something and bring that back here and investigate what we do and how we do it. For me, I thought that from a personal side, helping align perspective of what I think is important in the game of football.”
Will the offensive line be better this season?
The development of a high caliber offensive line has taken longer than most spots within Campbell’s Iowa State program, but there are reasons for that. It’s one of the few spots on the field where there is no such thing as a quick fix.
Campbell gave a very concise report on the evolution of this position since he arrived as head coach before the 2016 season.
“Year one and year two, we were trying to piece it together, “Campbell said. “I think until really last year, that was the first time we felt like we kind of had a foothold and that the building blocks were in place. At Iowa State, you aren’t just going to snap your fingers and have a good offensive line. Offensive line is a learned skill. It is a craft. You have to work in the weight room. You have to work with how you eat and work with how you play. It has to be five guys communicating as one to be successful.”
Campbell coached offensive lines at Bowling Green, Mount Union and Toledo before coming to Iowa State. As far as positions go, the offensive line is his baby.
“Coaching that position so much in my life, you aren’t snapping your fingers to get there,” he said. “Now we have finally gotten to the point where there are guys who have played together. There is cohesiveness and there is an understanding that this team will go as we grow and develop.”
Iowa State returns five starters on the offensive line and with young talent like Trevor Downing and Joey Ramos waiting in the wings, the future of the position group looks better than it has in years.
Is Easton Dean a tight end now?
The rumors have been swirling as pictures of true freshman Easton Dean hanging out with the tight ends have surfaced on social media over the last week. Dean, a 6-foot-6, 230-pound freshman out of Kansas, signed with the Cyclones as a quarterback last fall.
So what’s the deal? Why make a position move so early? According to Campbell, that isn’t exactly the case.
“We are continuing to tinker,” Campbell said. “Easton is a big athlete and to say we are wholesale changing Easton Dean from quarterback to tight end would be wrong. But to say that we are continuing to strengthen our roster to be the best roster that it can possibly be?”
Regardless of position, Dean is likely going to redshirt the 2019 season. Iowa State is looking ahead and experimenting now.
“That’s something that we are always looking at, even through fall camp sometimes we have done those things,” Campbell said. “It’s not about those guys at the starting point. It’s the guys on the two-deep and three-deep that really define the success of your football team.”
Speaking of tight ends…
There is a strong feeling around the program that this position is going to break out this fall. Iowa State has 60 receptions to replace via the departure of Hakeem Butler from last season without an obvious fill-in at that position.
From a pure talent standpoint, other than probably defensive line and maybe linebacker, this might be the strongest position group on Iowa State’s roster. Charlie Kolar, Chase Allen and Dylan Soehner are all considered to be high-level players when healthy and best of all, they compliment each other well.
Kolar is probably the best receiver of the bunch. Soehner is the best blocker. Allen is probably the best all around player, when healthy.
“What’s the next step for them? Can they be the x-factor? Can they be consistent in critical moments? I thought that those guys had great springs,” Campbell said.
Keep an eye on how Campbell and Manning get creative with these guys. Campbell has given plenty of hints about this during the offseason…
“It’s a position that you play where you can move guys around, just like you saw us move Butler around and (Allen) Lazard around,” Campbell said.
Iowa State’s tight ends caught 25 passes last season, which isn’t a huge number but is up compared to five in 2017.
“We are confident that we can handle so many diverse things on the field,” junior Allen said. “We each have diverse skillsets and we look forward to showing that on the field.”
BROCK PURDY/TIM TEBOW: Brock Purdy is a big fan of former Florida Gator quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow. I guess I always just assumed that Purdy wore the No. 15 because of Tebow…
Not so fast…
“They just gave me this number when I got here,” Purdy told me with a laugh. “So I wear it.’
Talk about a low maintenance signal caller.
I got to thinking (and wondering), now that Tebow is off playing minor league baseball now, who does Purdy have his admiring eyes on while watching football on a Sunday afternoon?
“I’ve watched a lot of Drew Brees and Russell Wilson lately, just because of their height,” Purdy said. “I can relate to that. They are great leaders and really accurate. I love watching them play.”
Purdy is listed at 6-foot-1, 210-pounds on Iowa State’s fall camp depth chart.
OUCH: If you paid attention to the Cyclones at all in 2018, you saw safety Greg Eisworth creep up and make a lot of big hits. I asked No. 12 if he was the hardest hitter on the team. He intelligently didn’t want to crown himself in fear of retaliation from the other safeties because as Eisworth put it, “Every safety thinks he hits the hardest.”
So who gets the honor?
“Cordarrius Bailey is the hardest hitter on the team,” Eisworth said. “You might not of heard of him yet but you will really soon.”
HIGH PRAISE: This Matt Campbell quote regarding what senior defensive lineman Ray Lima means to the program speaks for itself.
“He is the entire reason that this football program has turned. Who he is. What he is. What he stands for. You won’t know because you can interview him and he won’t tell you. But I can tell you that he is the reason the culture of this program has turned. He is a guy who has made me a better person. He is a guy who taught me the right way to lead. His actions and servant leadership amongst our locker room has absolutely been the reason we are who we are.”
CAMPBELL ON THE RUNNING BACKS: According to the depth chart, it’s a five man race to start the season opener vs. Northern Iowa on Aug. 31.
“I think we are at the place where there are highly talented and highly competitive guys in that room,” Campbell said. “Yes, David was the mainstay and we all know that because we saw it but we were also able to persevere at times and guys could show a little bit of their talent when David wasn’t in.”
How will Iowa State’s offensive coaching staff approach this competition during camp though, specifically when it comes to freshmen Breece Hall and Jirehl Brock?
“Of all of the great guys that we have had in the past, those guys are all guys who competed early,” Campbell said. “I see it as a wide open race to be honest with you going into camp. We have to create those moments and create those experiences early in camp to see who is ready to be that guy. As you know, our schedule from the very beginning, you better be able to rock and roll.”
ICYMI: Iowa State is ranked No. 24 in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll.