Offensive line, linebacker depth and injuries: Notes from Iowa State’s final spring practice presser

Teammates celebrate a touchdown made by Brock Purdy at the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 28, 2018. The Cyclones fell to the Cougars 28-26.

Noah Rohlfing

Long live spring practice, and long live the endless speculation about the Cyclones’ offense.

Apart from the obvious questions still left to be answered — such as the state of the wide receiver and running back positions — what does Iowa State need to figure out on both sides of the ball as spring practice draws to a close?

Coach Campbell addressed what those trouble areas are in his final press conference of spring practice, with some injury news and odd opinions about dating mixed in.

Offense full of optimism

The Cyclones head into the season hoping that, for once, there won’t be midseason attrition at the quarterback position. Brock Purdy is still the clear starter, but Campbell said that hasn’t changed his work ethic in the slightest.

“He’s special,” Campbell said. “It’s really fun to watch great quarterbacks start to take ownership of their craft.”

Purdy has focused on improving as a leader in the spring, with redshirt freshman backup Re-al Mitchell holding the title for longest tenure in the Cyclones’ quarterback room. With Purdy developing, the rest of the offense has shown optimism, Campbell said, despite uncertainty surrounding key positions.

Campbell also mentioned the offensive line, which has been the weak link of the team over the past few seasons. He wants to see more growth and said the offensive line might not have the same starting five it did at the end of the 2018 season.

“We’re bigger, we’re stronger, we look like we’re a real offensive line,” Campbell said. “We still got work to do.

“We’ve tried some different combinations out there together.”

Linebacker depth improving

With four linebackers returning — and a starting spot up for grabs — the Cyclones have a selection problem that likely won’t be solved before fall practice begins.

It’s the depth behind the top four that has caught Campbell’s attention during spring practice. Despite having a strong defense in his second and third seasons with the team, the Cyclones have been short on depth for much of that time, relying on starters to play high numbers of snaps each game.

Heading into his fourth season, there is a lot of unproven talent at the position, but Campbell said he’s excited to see what they can do — especially in the case of redshirt freshmen Will McDonald and Chandler Pulvermacher.

“I think [Will’s] a special football player,” Campbell said. “He’s a difference maker in a lot of ways. We’re trying to find a proper fit for him in what we do defensively.”

Injury updates and a Breece Hall observation

Iowa State did not escape spring practice without incurring minor injuries to a couple of starters from last season. Senior offensive lineman Bryce Meeker was classified as “week-to-week” with a knee injury early in spring ball, but Campbell had encouraging news on his status, stating that Meeker had participated in non-contact work Thursday.

More secretive heading into Thursday was the availability of JaQuan Bailey, the Cyclones’ star defensive tackle who many project to be an NFL Draft pick if he has a solid senior year.

But after being seen with a cast on his foot after a practice earlier in the spring, Campbell clarified his status and mentioned that it wouldn’t be a long-term injury.

“JaQuan kind of tweaked his foot early in spring,” Campbell said. “[JaQuan] will be full go here in the next two weeks, a lot of it was just precautionary from our end of it.”

Breece Hall has been making waves in practice, Campbell said. The freshman running back is in a competition for playing time at the position with the loss of David Montgomery, and Campbell was thrilled with how he’s progressed from his arrival in January.

The Cyclones coach had an interesting description of his commitment to the sport, using a high school dating analogy in the process.

“You should be going probably on a date to Pizza Hut with your girlfriend, and instead you’re out there and all of the sudden Ray Lima’s at nose tackle and JaQuan Bailey’s at one end and Enyi’s on the other end,” Campbell said. “You’re like ‘holy smokes, that’s my first day of practice.’”