Notebook: As fall camp finishes and season approaches, Cyclones still have questions to answer

Iowa State Coach Matt Campbell thanks the Cyclone fans in attendance during the pep rally held Dec. 27, 2018.

Matt Belinson

With Iowa State wrapping up fall camp and the regular season less than 10 days out, Matt Campbell still has plenty of questions remaining for who will be starting at key positions for the Cyclones come Aug. 31 against the University of Northern Iowa.

Most of those questions still remain after Campbell spoke with the media Friday afternoon, as the topic of who will be starting at running back, linebacker and wide receiver came up often. 

But the Cyclone’s head coach did offer up his mindset when it came to evaluating the crowded room of running backs on the team. 

Starting running back will take time to emerge

Campbell didn’t break the script he and his coaching staff have repeated all throughout fall camp when the question of running back was the first question asked.

“We are really confident in that running back room right now,” Campbell said.

Campbell said all five running backs on the Cyclone’s depth chart performed well during camp and the starting running back will probably not emerge until a few weeks into the season.

Campbell values the adversity and live defense Iowa State will face, rather than running by coaches and players without contact. 

The reps will go around equally for now, Campbell said, but once the tests of playing against real competition come into play there is only so much stock one can put into running backs on an empty practice field.

Despite Campbell giving no hint as to who would be the week one starter for the Cyclones, he did offer up what the coaching staff is looking for in the starting running back.

“We are looking for consistency and trust,” Campbell said. “Consistency to do the job you are expected to do and also the trust to do your job on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday practices before game day even gets here.” 

Wide receivers growing fast during fall camp

Running back was not the only big position battle that Campbell had to address Friday.

With the loss of Hakeem Butler and Matthew Eaton to the NFL this offseason, the Cyclones will look to lean on a couple seniors in the wide reciever room in Deshaunte Jones and La’Michael Pettway, as well as sophomore Tarique Milton, who had a breakout freshman season for the Cyclones last year.

Besides Jones, Pettway and Milton, Iowa State will look to a wide receiver group with limited experience and playing time.

Landen Akers, Sean Shaw Jr. and Joe Scates round out the rest of the wide receiver depth chart.

While in limited roles last season for the Cyclones, that didn’t stop them from standing out to Campbell during fall camp.

“I think that group has grown the most this camp,” Campbell said. “The first week they looked rusty but by the second week, they were really starting to show who they really are.”

Campbell sees lots of talent in the wide receiver room but he said talent isn’t really what makes one wide receiver stand out over another at this point of the evaluation process.

It all comes down to who can do all of the routes, assignments and big catches when the lights come on. Campbell said right now — on a practice field with coaches playing defense sometimes — wide receivers can only show so much to the coaching staff.

“We don’t waste days,” Campbell said. “This was our 16th practice and you haven’t seen these guys tail off — actually, they have grown and gotten better.”

Campbell mentioned Scates and Akers specifically as players who had a good camp. 

Ray Lima to carry on tradition of wearing No. 58 for defensive linemen

One question that was answered quickly by the Cyclones during fall camp was who would carry on the tradition of wearing the No. 58 jersey on the defensive line. 

The number honors former Iowa State defensive line coach Curtis Bray, who passed away in 2014. Bray wore No. 58 during his collegiate career at Pittsburgh from 1988-92.

Lima’s defensive line coach Eli Rasheed spoke on the honor Lima would receive earlier in the week.

“We talk about what Coach Bray meant to Iowa State daily in our meeting room, and it’s important to keep his memory alive,” Rasheed said. “Ray signifies everything we want out of a student-athlete and will wear No. 58 with pride.”

Campbell echoed Rasheed’s sentiments about Lima’s charcter and impact on the culture of Iowa State. 

“We know what kind of character [Lima] is and what he stands for,” Campbell said. “I know he is really honored to wear that number this season for us.”