Soehner’s versatility, safety depth and competition for the SAM position: Takeaways from the week in fall camp

Noah Rohlfing

Fall camp is in full swing with the start of the college football season three weekends away. The Cyclones had their first full week of fall camp, and from it came plenty of storylines that could have an impact on the team’s ceiling. From a newcomer making a case for playing time at safety to the battle for the final starting position at linebacker, these are some of the standout moments from the week that was in Bergstrom.

Soehner adjusting to ‘F’ position

Sam Seonbuchner was not only a cult hero among Iowa State fans and coaches during his career under Matt Campbell, but the former Cyclone was critical to the power running game Campbell set out to establish in the early years of his tenure. Playing the ‘F’ position — a sort of hybrid fullback/tight end role heavily focused on run blocking — he was often a lead blocker and a strong presence for an offensive line in the midst of a long overhaul.

With Seonbuchner gone, the shape of Iowa State’s running game in some ways rests on the development of Dylan Soehner. The redshirt junior was heavily involved on special teams last season, but when he did play on offense, it was often in a similar role to Seonbuchner. Now, that ‘F’ position is all Soehner’s.

But the position is constantly changing, according to Soehner. 

“It’s changing kind of day-to-day right now,” Soehner said. “I’m still learning today.

“It’s really skill-specific.”

Soehner’s combination of size and speed could be a fun wrinkle for offensive coordinator Tom Manning to use, especially with talk that the Cyclones oculd trot out formations with three tight ends on the field at once. Soehner may be following in Seonbuchner’s footsteps, but Campbell’s mantra of “Players, Positions, Plays” means that the definition of his role may shift from play-to-play.

Rice grad transfer learning on the fly

The smartest guy in the Iowa State safety room might just be the new kid. A graduate transfer from prestigious (for education, not as much for football) Rice University in Houston, Justin Bickam has been studying Iowa State’s defensive playbook nonstop over the summer months.

In getting a quick grasp of the team’s system, he has also impressed safeties coach D.K. McDonald with his play and put himself firmly in the mix for playing time at the strong safety position.

“When guys were ocming to him and asking questions and he’s able to teach other guys, that’s when you knew he really had it, “McDonald said.”It’s exciting to have him.”

Bickam said that competing with Braxton Lewis, Greg Eisworth and Lawrence White from the start has been beneficial to getting comfortable.

The Pflugerville, Texas, native added that he picked the Cyclones to play in his final collegiate season for two reasons: potential to play and the chance to compete for a conference championship.

“I just feel like this team fit me,” Bickam said. “I try to take things day by day.”

SAM position battle in a dead heat

Willie Harvey’s production at the SAM linebacker position in 2018 was a big part of the Cyclones’ strong foundation. But the competition to see who takes his place has given linebackers coach Tyson Veigt hope that Harvey won’t be missed too much.

Three young players — converted defensive end Will McDonald, Jatairis and special teams player CHandler Pulvermacher — are all making a strong case to get game time, so much so that Veigt said they’re taking the same amount of snaps on the practice field.

“They all three have a little bit of a different skill set,” Veigt said of the battle. “[We’re] working them all in with a bunch of different groups.”

McDonald has been learning the position and could be a rush-down option for the Cyclones, while Grant has experience at both linebacker and defensive back and Pulvermacher has good speed for the position, Veigt said. 

The three-way race is indicative of the increased depth the Cyclones have on the defensive side of the ball, with Veigt saying up to seven players could see regular time in the three linebacker spots as the season progresses.