ISU special teams coordinator Jordan Langs wants to provide “the edge” for the Cyclones

 AMES — New Iowa State special teams coordinator Jordan Langs joined the program with one simple goal in mind: Be of help, not a hindrance.

 “We want to be the edge,” said Langs, who is also the Cyclones’ running backs coach. “We want to be the edge in big wins. We don’t want to be the reason for a tough loss.”

 Unfortunately for ISU, the latter’s tended to be the case in recent years.

 Last season, first-year starter Jace Gilbert missed three field goals in a 14-11 loss at Kansas.

 Then-freshman punter Tyler Perkins also saw two of his kicks blocked that could have been costly in a 10-7 win at Iowa.

 Those high-profile miscues overshadowed excellent kickoff and punt coverage (both top-seven nationally), as well as Perkins’ 42.2 yards per punt average, which helped him earn second team Freshman All-America honors.

 The Cyclones also ranked 81st in punt returns (6.7 per attempt) and 118th in kickoff returns (16.6 per attempt), so there’s also plenty of room for improvement in those areas when it comes to establishing and maintaining that “edge.”

 “It’s not a schematic issue,” ISU head coach Matt Campbell said. “It’s the confidence of the punt returner of going to get the football — all those little details that are in there, I think those are things that we can be much better at. But again, Kene Nwangwu (of the Minnesota Vikings) was here in 2020 and we were the best kick return team in the country. So a lot of it is the who.”

 That personnel aspect remains up for grabs on every special teams unit except for the punt team. Perkins dropped 19 punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard line last season and said Langs has helped everyone on special teams sharpen their focus and execution.

 “Coach Langs is awesome,” Perkins said. “And really all of the coaches have kind of stepped up and we’re building really good habits. Offseason was great and I think Jace has really stepped up, too. He had a really good offseason and I expect a lot of big things this fall on special teams.”

 Gilbert is immersed in a three-way competition for the primary place-kicking position. Keegan Shackford — who injured his hamstring last season — and former Nebraska kicker Chase Contreraz are squarely in the mix, as well. Campbell didn’t rule out having specialists for kickoff and field goals of varying lengths either. 

 “The test of time will tell, but I feel, again, completely different spot than a year ago,” Campbell said of that trio. “A year ago, I would say (it’s) as much on me as anybody. You just felt like, with some injury standpoint, you end up with a true freshman in some tough situations. I don’t feel like we’re that football team this year. You’ve got some guys that have done it, (who) have kicked in critical moments and I think that competition is hot and heavy right now.”

 That’s apparently the case at most positions — including quarterback, where redshirt Rocco Becht, true freshman J.J. Kohl and junior college transfer Tanner Hughes are splitting snaps.

 The competition at that position is so tight, Campbell said, that if ISU were playing a game today, all three would play.

 “Now, is that where we’re at as we continue to move through camp?” Campbell said. “That’s why you have practice and camp and continue to watch it, but I think those are things, for us, that we would certainly look into.”

 Just as Langs is looking into carving out that “edge” on special teams — via reps, film study, and extensive evaluations.

 “Every yard matters,” Langs said. “We really want to be a positive force for our football team. We don’t want us to look back on a Saturday and say because of special teams there (were) negative things that kept us from winning. We want us to look at special teams as a whole — and that’s more than a long snapper, kicker and a punter — and for us to say the special teams helped the Cyclone offense and defense go win the game.”