Competition at QB — and across the Iowa State offense — intensifies as fall camp ramps up

Iowa State Cyclones quarterback Rocco Becht (3) looks for ta throw the ball against the Ohio Bobcats during the fourth quarter at Jack Trice Stadium Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, in Ames, Iowa. © Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK

AMES — It’s been precisely one week since Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell said if his team had a game that day, all three of his quarterbacks would likely play.

 Not much has changed.

 The competition between redshirt freshman Rocco Becht and true freshman J.J. Kohl for the No. 1 spot remains extremely tight — and will likely remain that way as the calendar tilts toward the Sept. 2 season opener against Northern Iowa.

 Throw in the potential for dual-threat junior college transfer Tanner Hughes to be deployed in various packages, as well, and the most high profile position for the Cyclones looks to be as unsettled as its been since Campbell’s first season in 2016 — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 “Those guys have been working really hard,” ISU’s first-year offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase said during Wednesday’s media availability. “We’ve put them in a lot of different situations in camp, which I think is really important.”

 Two-minute drills. Third down situations. Taking snaps at a variety of spots up and down the field.

 Becht and Kohl are seeing it all on the practice field before one of them will become the primary play caller once the season starts. Becht, a 6-1, 205-pounder from Wesley Chapel, Fla., is the only one to take a snap at college football’s highest level. He completed 7 of 15 passes last season for 65 yards. Kohl — a four-star standout and early enrollee from nearby Ankeny — has impressed coaches with his strong arm and maturity. Hughes could earn some change-up snaps, particularly in short-yardage situations. So all three are capable of helping the Cyclones this season, despite their relative lack of experience.

 “We haven’t had one of those guys in our building longer than — shoot, Rocco’s been here just over a year,” said Scheelhaase, whose offense is without last year’s starter, Hunter Dekkers, because of charges stemming from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s ongoing probe into sports gambling. “But the way they’ve carried themselves has made you feel like (they’re veterans). And I think maybe the offense and the team in general feel like that. Those guys have come to work each day with a great mindset and a great mentality just to learn and grow.”

 That vast learning curve must be traversed relatively quickly, of course, but that’s true across the entire offense. Projected starting tailback Jirehl Brock, as well as last season’s top-scoring tight end, DeShawn Hanika, also face charges in the state’s gambling investigation, as does one of ISU’s most experienced offensive linemen, Jake Remsburg. So opportunities abound at each level on that side of the football, providing a platform for stern competition beyond the quarterback position.

 Case in point: The running backs room. Sophomores Cartevious Norton and Eli Sanders were both pressed into duty last season as Brock battled an array of injuries. Norton, in turn, suffered through a spate of injuries of his own, and Sanders didn’t escape stretches of hard knocks, either. Both are healthy now, eager to earn the largest share of snaps, while fully acknowledging it’s likely to remain a running backs by committee situation at least early in the season.

 “We push each other to the limit,” said Sanders, who rushed for 197 yards on 47 carries as true freshman last season. “Everyone on offense is striving to be great.”

 Especially at quarterback, where mystery and uncertainty will eventually give way to clarity and stability. That’s the plan, anyway. 

 “They’re all consistent,” transfer wide receiver Jayden Higgins said. “They know the plays great and they push me to get better.”