Sep 28, 2019; Waco, TX, USA; Iowa State Cyclones offensive lineman Trevor Downing (52) blocks Baylor Bears defensive end Niadre Zouzoua (97) during the first half at McLane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
It is an understandable question to ask.
How confident can we be Iowa State’s offensive line will improve in year five under Matt Campbell?
After all, it has been quite some time since the Cyclones rolled even an above-average offensive line out to start a season, let alone a good one. Add in the fact the program is losing 144 combined starts from its 2019 group and, well, it’s easy to wonder how quickly the next line up can grow into being what Campbell wants out of the five guys up front offensively.
This year’s group is expected to be talented, led by junior center Colin Newell and sophomore guard Trevor Downing, the only two returners with extensive starting experience, but largely anyone else who steps into a role for this year’s line during Saturday’s season opener against Louisiana (11 a.m. on ESPN) will be green in comparison to the five guys the Ragin’ Cajuns will be using to protect senior quarterback Levi Lewis and open holes for star tailbacks Elijah Mitchell and Trey Ragas.
So, how confident can or should anybody really be in this group? I asked Campbell that very question on Tuesday.
“I just think from my end it’s recruiting to a plan here over a long period of time,” Campbell said. “I’ve said this, I don’t think there’s a quick fix to what we came into and the development of the offensive line. I’ve never believed that and I still feel it. What I do believe is there’s a plan to develop the mentality and the right guys from an offensive line perspective. When you’ve got two anchors like Trevor Downing and Colin Newell and then you’ve got a great tight end room around it then I think what happens, again, you’ve heard me talk about a standard, I think those guys demand everybody else to come to their level of excellence.”
The size piece of this equation is certainly an important one when you’re looking at what this Iowa State offensive line could become. This group should look every bit like a Big 12 offensive line when you consider the physical makeup of the players expected to battle for starting position, with redshirt junior Derek Schweiger being the smallest (used loosely) at 6-foot-3, 311 pounds.
Downing and Newell are each 6-foot-4 while weighing 314 and 304 pounds, respectively. The players battling for tackle spots, redshirt sophomore Joey Ramos, redshirt freshman Grant Treiber and senior Sean Foster, are 6-foot-5, 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-8 with Ramos being the lightest (against used loosely) at 303 pounds.
Then, there’s Robert Hudson, who is battling for the other guard spot opposite Downing, coming in at 6-foot-7, 360-pounds.
Last season, the Cyclones at times started two players who were under 300 pounds (Newell and Collin Olson) while Downing was an even 300 pounds.
So, just to put it simply, when you look at those numbers you start to understand the physical makeup Campbell and his staff are looking from the men tasked with protecting Brock Purdy and opening holes for Breece Hall. For the first time since arriving in Ames, this staff will be rolling out a group of five offensive linemen they recruited into the program.
How well the group will perform once the lights are on and the chips are down is left to be determined, but Campbell’s plan for the offensive line room appears to be moving into the next phase of his fix that could not come quickly. We will start to see how well that fix has gone on Saturday against the Ragin’ Cajuns but will leave final judgments for this stage until the group has a larger body of work under its belt.
This group will be young, but Campbell seems to feel good about the potential they bring to the table. What about the most important guy on this Cyclone roster, the one those five are tasked with protecting above all else?
“I think from summer until now they’ve all collectively have grown from experience of getting reps out at practice and watching film,” Purdy said on Tuesday. “Obviously, Trevor Downing and Colin Newell have done a great job of having that experience and helping everyone else, whether they’re running with the ones or running with the twos. They’ve done a great job of doing what they’re told. For me being back there, pass protection and everything, I love what I see so far. They’ve done a great job. The bottom line is they’re all willing to do what it takes this year to be the best offensive line they can be. I know that. They know that. To be honest, I’ll go to war with them any day of the week, because they have that drive in them. I’m really excited for them. I’m ready to roll with them come Saturday.”
Purdy’s is certainly a ringing endorsement for this group to have, but don’t blame us for being skeptical and trying to protect ourselves from raising the expectation levels too high. We have seen groups fall apart due to injuries and watched a lack of depth lead to constant shuffling from week-to-week.
It has been a while since we could have a ton of confidence in the guys whose job it is to protect. But, we would all love to watch them prove us wrong.
“I think that’s what we’ve been really fortunate to have,” Campbell said. “Some of the competition on the offensive line going into this fall.”