The sample size is small (six days). The early takeaway: impressive.
But how precisely would Iowa State football coach Matt Campbell describe what he’s seen from his mostly fledgling offensive line?
“I’ve seen exponential growth,” Campbell said Friday during a Zoom interview with the media. “That doesn’t shock me because I think I knew what was waiting in the wings in terms of talent, ability and work ethic.”
The Cyclones graduated four O-lineman with strong starting experience last season: Julian Good-Jones, Josh Knipfel, Bryce Meeker and Collin Olson.
Two stalwarts return in center/guard Colin Newell and guard Trevor Downing, but the position group remains in “prove it” mode, even as hungry underclassmen such as Joey Ramos, Rob Hudson and Derek Schweiger, among others, seek to make their respective marks up front.
“It’s been great to start to get reps with the offensive line,” senior tight end Chase Allen said. “We missed out on spring ball, so that’s a lot of development time for everyone. Now that we’ve put all the pads on, it’s really fun to see what they can do. They’re really pushing themselves and making huge strides. It’s going to be great to have them there and I’m excited to see them perform. There have been a lot of highlights from those guys doing things I didn’t expect. That’s been really refreshing to see.”
Allen — in his fifth year in the program — has seen a once threadbare tight ends room evolve into an elite unit considered among the best in the country.
Development on the offensive line has been slower, more methodical, but the approach remains the same: Keep signing talented recruits who are capable of pushing veterans for starting slots.
“Like I (said earlier) about the depletion of the tight end room when we got here, there was a similar depletion in the offensive line room,” Campbell said. “Unfortunately at Iowa State, there’s no quick fix. It has to be time well spent, development well spent and doing a good job of getting the right guys here and developing them and giving them the tools they need to be successful. I give a lot of credit to where we are right now to Colin and Trevor. Those two have been really good leaders.”
So were the guys who came before them. No, it’s their turn to ensure a deeper, more talented room turns into a more productive one.
And it’s not just young guys pushing for greater relevance. Senior Sean Foster — a highly-touted recruit from the Chicago suburbs, has impressed Campbell, as well.
“We have a senior in there in Sean Foster who has played football games and I give him a lot of credit because he’s really bought into (strength and conditioning) coach (Dave) Andrews and he’s had the best off season of his career. With the addition of coach Andrews and his staff and the mentality and talent of that offensive line room, right now, today, I’d say exponential growth has occurred on the offensive line. I think that’s a huge positive because I’ve said this multiple times, we’ll take the next step in our program when that offensive line can take the next step.”
Those elite tight ends will help, too. Their role in the run game has been significant and should only increase this season.
Allen, who’s battled injuries throughout his ISU career, is an all-around top performer. Dylan Soehner — who’s also been beset by an array of injuries — excels as a blocker, but has become a clutch receiver, as well. The headliner, Charlie Kolar, doesn’t have a single glaring weakness and is one of the most explosive tight ends in all of college football.
“Go back four or five years and there are no scholarship tight ends on Iowa State’s roster,” Campbell said. “Now we’ve grown and developed. I’ve said this, there are no short or quick fixes at Iowa State — we have to be a developmental football program. With the tight ends in our offense, we can put them in formations and run plays that allow matchups to occur. Those things are hugely positive. We didn’t have the ability to do that early on, now last year and this year, you’ve seen the evolution of what we want to have the ability to do, offensively.”
ISU’s tight ends have settled into long-term “exponential growth.” Now, perhaps, the offensive line is finally poised to follow suit.
“I know I’ve said this multiple times, but you’re really building, in a lot of ways, from the ground up,” Campbell said of his program’s general growth. “You had to learn, number one, just to understand what it takes to win games. And we learned that. We learned how to have consistency in being successful. I think we’ve learned that. And I thought last year really put another great challenge in front of us. What’s that next step feel like and look like? What’s greatness look like? And you know, you probably put a lot of those challenges on a very young football team a year ago and I think what you got is you got young results. At times, you saw great efficiency and execution and at times you saw lack of efficiency and execution.
“I think it’s going back and understanding that the difference at Iowa State — I don’t care how good we get — what it becomes, the difference is always going to be in the detail and the difference is going to be an ability to execute in the margins. That’s the challenge we have here. It’s what it will always be and as soon as you come to understand it and then thrive in it, then I think you have the opportunity to have and take multiple steps within your program.”