Notebook: Campbell previews defensive ends, offensive line and receivers for 2020 season

Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell speaks to fans packed in the Pointe Orlando Plaza during the Camping World Bowl fan pep rally Dec. 27, 2019. 

Zane Douglas

Iowa State Head Coach Matt Campbell sat down to talk with the Iowa State Daily football reporters Feb. 6 after the season had come to an end to talk about next season and some of the position groups, players and storylines that will be prominent for next season.

Campbell discussed offensive and defensive lines, a surprise contributor in the defensive backfield and, in his eyes, one of the most talented position groups on the team.

Offensive line troubles

Campbell noted the improvement in his tenure from the offensive line, but the conclusion of the 2019 football season marked the end of the careers for four of the starters in the trenches for Iowa State.

“When we got here, the hardest thing, the area that we were the absolute farthest behind, was the offensive line,” Campbell said. “It’s been a long process to rebuild the talent and that whole area of the offensive line, and that’s not anything you can ever shortcut because offensive line is the most developmental position that you have in football.”

Despite the upending of the line, Campbell was positive about the rebuilding the Cyclones have done in that area and specifically noted two offensive linemen — Colin Newell and Trevor Downing — as reliable starting options for next season.

Newell was benched early in the season after an injury gave Downing the chance to slide into the lineup at left guard with Collin Olson moving to Newell’s position of center.

Olson faired so well at center that Newell wasn’t brought back in until an injury to one of the linemen.

The Cyclones will have those two and many new faces in 2020 on the line, but Campbell talked about how recruits and old starters could be the story with recruit Joey Ramos and old starter Sean Foster figuring to make an impact.

“My expectation is we can only continue to get better,” Campbell said. “I don’t see us taking a step back, just because of how far we were behind on the offensive line.”

Confidence in the wide outs

The wide receiver room is in need of another big step forward by some of its players in 2020 as the Cyclones, once again, lost some of their biggest producers with Deshaunte Jones and La’Michael Pettway leaving.

Campbell is confident that the group led by Tarique Milton, Sean Shaw Jr. and Xavier Hutchinson is one of the better cores that he has had in his time.

“Probably, we’re more talented at the wide receiver position than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here going into this season,” Campbell said. “Now that’s talent, and until they’re developed, until they grow, can we get them developed to be the best version of themselves they need to be by the fall?”

Milton expanded his role as a deep threat and over the middle guy last season and saw games with huge touchdown receptions, while also seeing games with little to no production.

Shaw Jr. showed a little bit of his 6-foot 6-inch frame by reeling in five touchdowns on only 15 receptions and becoming a solid red-zone threat as the fourth receiver.

The biggest possible upside is the arrival of Hutchinson, who comes to Ames as one of the top junior college recruits in the nation.

Hutchinson is 6-foot 3-inches, but he’s an unknown commodity at the moment, so next season will be a trial test for the transfer.

“The nice thing for Brock [Purdy] is you got tight ends and you got tail backs that have great experience that will help kind of usher in the youth of some of that wide receiver group until they’re ready to be where they need to be.”

Tayvonn Kyle looks for consistency

Someone who left that wide receiver room in 2019 was Tayvonn Kyle, a defensive back that came in to play a lot of snaps toward the end of the season for the Cyclones last season.

The cornerback had a solid first year at his new position, but Kyle lacks some size at only 176 pounds, causing some troubles, most notably, the stiff arm he allowed in the Camping World Bowl on the touchdown by Notre Dame.

Campbell likes what he’s seen so far with Kyle, who was thrust into an important role as one of the three main cornerbacks.

“Tayvonn’s really talented,” Campbell said. “Probably, he’s got as much talent as maybe as a lot of the guys in our program. He’s one of the most talented players in our program, but he’s also probably one of the most inconsistent guys that’s been in our football program too.”

That talent has shown in spurts for the young cornerback as adjusting to a new position can come with some growing pains, but with Datrone Young having a down year for Iowa State, Kyle is a welcome surprise in one of the more questioned position groups heading into next season for Iowa State.

While Kyle adds a level of talent, he is also playing one of the positions where inconsistency can play a huge role in a football game because one mistake could result in a game-altering play.

He and Young will need to prove something next season as the two strive for more consistent play behind solid Anthony Johnson.

Defensive end depth

With the medical redshirt of JaQuan Bailey and the emergence of Zach Petersen, Iowa State’s exterior defensive line is looking to have a monster year in 2020.

Bailey was a few games through what would’ve been his final season as a Cyclone — a season where he was likely going to become Iowa State’s all-time sack leader — but a broken leg sidelined him for the rest of the campaign.

In his place came Petersen, who filled the role exceptionally well and became one of Iowa State’s best defensive players last season.

On the other end, Iowa State has Eyioma Uwazurike, who has proven himself as a solid run stuffing end in a three-rush system.

As depth, Iowa State has Will McDonald, who started last season as a linebacker but was moved back to his original position of end before showing flashes at the end of the season with some highlight sacks.

The Cyclones only rush three people unless it’s a blitz, but with Latrell Bankston coming in as a nose tackle, there is nowhere to put a lot of the depth for Iowa State as it welcomes Bailey back from injury.

“It’s gonna be really fun to watch that competition unfold, and it’s also gonna be really fun to say, ‘How do we use these guys and their skill sets to the best of our advantage on the defensive side of the football?'” Campbell said.

The depth at that position was already going to be tough with all the solid recruits that the Cyclones picked up, but with Bailey back, Bankston in the fold in the interior and all the players bringing different strengths, Iowa State’s defensive end position in 2020 will be one to watch.