‘Bad Intentions’: Iowa State’s new approach to the offensive line


Tyler Coe

Jake Remsburg is hyped up after a Cyclone touchdown against Texas Tech on Nov. 19, 2022

AMES — Iowa State faced fourth and goal, as the Cyclones attempted to capitalize on a desperately needed trip to the red zone against Texas Tech on Nov. 19.

For nearly three quarters, Iowa State struggled to pick up any sort of momentum on the offensive end, failing to muster up anything more than a field goal in the second quarter. Despite a drive down the field, Iowa State’s ground game was stuffed twice at the goal line.

The offense found a way to reach the two-yard line, but it required one grand push from up front to break the plane, and so far, that push was nowhere to be found.

On fourth down, quarterback Hunter Dekkers dropped back but was immediately pressured. After stepping up in the pocket, his scramble attempt was met with a wall of white and red jerseys.


It was the second time Iowa State’s offense was stopped on fourth down in the game. A lack of physicality and presence from the offensive line plagued the team all season, and it was a main component of Iowa State’s lackluster offensive performances.

The front five’s missing vigor was something head coach Matt Campbell needed to correct if the offense was going to improve. Enter: Ryan Clanton, whose addition to the staff has sparked a much-needed change in philosophy up front.

“Really getting those guys to be free, fly off the ball and have bad intentions when they’re playing the game,” Clanton said during his introductory press conference in February.

The concept of playing with “bad intentions” was a sticking point during Clanton’s introduction, and it’s a shorthand phrase that defines his change of direction. He caters his coaching style to generate speed, facilitate freedom and create violence – the final characteristic has garnered the most public attention.

(Link tweet: https://twitter.com/mikegolicjr/status/1646984503381082112 )

Clanton has a knack for fostering fierceness in his units and developing players with his desired bad intentions. Prior to his addition at Iowa State, Clanton produced two NFL draft picks at Northern Iowa, one of whom was Trevor Penning, who was drafted in the first round by the New Orleans Saints.

“He plays with bad intentions, very bad intentions,” Clanton said of Penning.

Over the past couple of years, Iowa State’s offensive line has lacked the bad intentions that have characterized Northern Iowa’s front five.

In 2022, Iowa State scored on 67.5% of its trips inside the red zone, ranking as the third worst (No. 129) in Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS). An ability to score at the goal line is partially based on how well the offensive line can force the defense’s front seven onto its back foot.

Iowa State struggled to physically dominate up front last season, and as the Cyclones wrap up their spring practice period, it’s something the unit has worked to develop.

“I believe in those guys really raging off the ball, getting after the defense and creating that competition level,” Clanton said.

The first step in creating a violent offensive line is the instillation of confidence. Clanton’s focus over spring has been to break down the unit’s understanding of football and simplify it so that information can be processed quicker.

“What’s been impressive is he is a great teacher,” Campbell said. “Great coaches are certainly great teachers, and [Clanton] has done a really great job of, I think from him, simplifying.”

Clanton has made it a point to simplify football for his players while also introducing a more comprehensive understanding of the sport. He wants his guys to know why a play is called and why they need to run a specific protection or scheme.

Fully understanding the sport, not just the duties of one player, helps Clanton’s line visualize defensive formations and schemes more effectively. It allows his unit to execute their sets at a faster rate, and even if someone makes a mistake, at least they’re moving quickly.

“They’re starting to truly understand football as a whole, and that creates confidence,” Clanton said. “That lets you play faster, and that allows you to come off the ball and be more violent.”

The approach is designed to work with all players, but it becomes more effective when applied to high-level talent. Players with a more complete skill set and greater understanding of the game can adapt to the speed of the position more quickly.

Campbell believes there is remaining individual talent in the room even if the unit as a whole struggled last season. If properly utilized, that talent could carry the offensive line a long way.

“There’s individual successes from a year ago. There are guys that are doing really good things,” Campbell said.

Although the Cyclones are a young team, there is returning experience on the offensive line. Among the most talented is senior Jake Remsburg, who has been plagued with injuries during his four years with the program.

Remsburg is a key focal point of Iowa State’s 2023 offensive line, and he is building toward a productive season that doesn’t involve injury setbacks. After his first spring with Clanton, Remsburg believes the unit is making strides.

“It’s been awesome. It’s probably been one of the most fun spring practice periods we’ve had,” Remsburg said.

Remsburg has seen growth from Iowa State’s group of veteran players like Darrel Simmons Jr. and Tyler Miller. He’s also witnessed flashes from Iowa State’s younger talent as the unit continues to improve.

While Clanton’s change in philosophy has encouraged a more active and productive spring, the group also values his experience in sending players to the next level. Remsburg said Clanton remains in contact with his former players in the NFL, relaying tips and drills from his newly developed NFL rolodex.

“He tells us drills all the time that you just can tell within [spring practice] that we’re just making all kinds of growth,” Remsburg said. “He’s really good at picking up little things that you may not think are a big deal, but it can change your whole trajectory as a player.”

In conjunction with Clanton’s hire, Iowa State also added Reid Kagy from Boise State as the new strength and conditioning coach. Remsburg said the partnership between Clanton and Kagy has helped the offensive line add some size and increase their speed, even adding new equipment in the weight room to help refine some offensive line techniques.

“It’s been, what, four months, and we’ve got these new equipment things specifically for offensive line, so they work really well,” Remsburg said. “They do a lot of things behind the scenes.”

Matchups where Iowa State is outmatched physically have forced the Cyclones to improve their size and strength. In its season finale against eventual College Football Playoff-bound TCU, Iowa State was completely outclassed from a physical standpoint, and the Cyclones dropped their final game 62-14.

The change has started up front, where the offensive line has transformed physically in a matter of months. Miller has added 25 pounds, and Clanton said the tackle is “moving like a deer.”

“You don’t usually see that much change, and they’re changing at a high rate,” Clanton said.

Plenty has changed since Iowa State’s last appearance on the field. The Cyclones are bigger, stronger and playing with a level of speed and confidence up front that hasn’t been seen in recent years.

The unit still has the summer and fall camp to make improvements, as the offensive line works to become a centerpiece of the offense, rather than a detriment. As the march toward the season continues, there is still more room for growth on the offensive line.

“[There is] a lot of room to continue to work to,” Campbell said. “It’ll be a big summer for that group as well, but they’ve made great growth so far. I think they’re bigger and stronger than they’ve been in a while here, and I think that certainly helped those guys have confidence.”

There will be moments during the 2023 season that are reminiscent of Iowa State’s matchup against Texas Tech. There will be times when the Cyclones need one grand push to score and change the whole dynamic of a game.

With Clanton’s new philosophical approach, Iowa State may have enough push to obtain that extra couple of yards necessary to pull ahead. It’s a philosophy the Cyclones need in their close games, and it’s something the program hasn’t seen in a while.

“[It is] just a whole different way of playing offensive line,” Clanton said.