Notebook: Iowa State prepares for Jackrabbits

Iowa State wide receivers Allen Lazard and Hakeem Butler celebrate a touchdown during the 59th Annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl on Dec. 30, 2017, in Memphis, Tennessee. The Cyclones defeated the Tigers 21-20.

Aaron Marner

With just four days until kickoff, coach Matt Campbell held his first weekly press conference of the 2018 season on Tuesday. Players such as redshirt junior wide receiver Hakeem Butler and redshirt junior defensive lineman Ray Lima also spoke with the media.

Offense replacing key parts

Butler, the second-leading receiver from a year ago by yards and touchdowns, returns to Iowa State. But other than Butler, the receiver corps is untested.

Allen Lazard (first on the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns), Marchie Murdock (third in receptions, yards and touchdowns) and Trever Ryen (second in receptions, fourth in yards) are all gone from last year’s team.

Butler has taken on a leadership role within the receiver room.

“You just gotta keep encouraging [the younger players],” he said. “When you’re young, any little thing can make you lose confidence. In this game, confidence is everything.”

Butler, redshirt senior Matthew Eaton and junior Deshaunte Jones will likely get the majority of targets this season.

Butler has also worked with the tight ends, since his 6-foot-6 frame is similar to that of current tight ends Chase Allen and Charlie Kolar. Allen caught four passes last season for 39 yards.

“They ask me so many questions,” Butler said about the tight ends. “They’ve gotten so much better, it’s incredible… I’m a big body but they’re a lot bigger than me.”

Lima anchoring the defense

When Lima stepped onto the field last year, he was almost always facing a double team from the opposing offensive line.

His strength and physicality allowed more room to work for Iowa State’s defense, freeing up players like former linebacker Joel Lanning and redshirt senior Willie Harvey to make plays behind him.

“I just expect something from myself every day,” Lima said.

Lima is now a team captain, so his duties on the team go beyond just what he can do on the field on Saturdays.

Iowa State showed an ability to be versatile on defense last year, moving from a 4-3 front to a 4-2-5 at times and even rolling with just three down linemen in a 3-3-5 defense.

The team will still experiment with multiple fronts this year, and a large — literally — reason for that is Lima. His versatility allows the team to contain the run even with just three linemen, but also gives the defense more flexibility in the passing game by using a fifth defensive back.

Linebackers still shuffling

Redshirt junior Marcel Spears will take one linebacker spot. Harvey will take another.

That leaves one opening, which will be filled by three different players.

Freshman Mike Rose will get some playing time. So will redshirt junior Bobby McMillen and redshirt freshman O’Rien Vance.

Regardless of who’s in the game Saturday, Spears and Harvey will be ready.

“Marcel’s a guy in our locker room who just has an infectious personality,” Campbell said. “He was a guy that I think was a spark plug for our football team.”

Playing alongside Harvey and Spears should benefit whoever takes the wheel as the third linebacker.

Campbell was asked Tuesday about how good Rose is, and he had an interesting response.

“We’re gonna find out probably pretty soon,” Campbell said. “For a freshman to be able to compete right now says a lot about how good he is early in his career.”