Veteran Cyclone offensive line emerging in spring

Head coach Matt Campbell warms up with the offensive line before a game against the Baylor Bears, Oct. 1 in Jack Trice Stadium. After having a seven point lead at halftime, the Cyclones would go on to give to lose off a last second field goal, 45-42.

Aaron Marner

Iowa State’s offensive line wasn’t exactly the strongest point of the team a year ago, but the weapons at running back, receiver and quarterback made up for what the line sometimes lacked.

This spring, the focus is on the offensive line. Coach Matt Campbell said the line will determine how far Iowa State goes during the 2018 season, and after practice Friday, members of the line agreed.

“Last year, we couldn’t run the ball in the fourth quarter,” said redshirt junior guard Bryce Meeker, who started seven games last season. “I think that’s huge in the gameplan and I think that’s gonna be our biggest progress this year — running the ball all four quarters, controlling the game.”

The Cyclones often had to let running back David Montgomery improvise, since the line wasn’t creating holes like it was supposed to do. While he’s good at making people miss — Montgomery led all FBS players in missed tackles forced in 2017 — that’s not a skill Iowa State wants him to need behind the line of scrimmage.

The good news for the Cyclones? Iowa State returns a combined 51 career starts on the offensive line between Sean Foster, Julian Good-Jones, Josh Knipfel and Meeker.

“It’s come a long way,” Good-Jones said. “I think we had to kinda scramble some stuff together in the past. I think now we’ve got a lot of good guys we can really rely on, and a lot of depth with some young dudes.”

While the 51 combined starts shows a lot of experience for members of the offensive line, one of the most exciting things, the players said, is how good the newcomers have been.

“They’re all looking really good,” Good-Jones said. “They’re really coming along nicely. I kinda got thrown into the fire and I don’t know if I was necessarily ready to play as a freshman but I think those guys are up to it and they’ll be ready.”

Meeker and Good-Jones agreed that the current freshmen and redshirt freshmen are much further along than the current upperclassmen were at that age.

New offensive line coach Jeff Myers made it clear that nobody has a spot locked up. With how strong the younger guys have been so far, every spot is open.

Good-Jones, for example, started all 13 games last season at the center spot. In Friday’s practice, the coaches slid him over to left guard and gave the center reps to redshirt freshman Colin Newell. Redshirt freshman Jacob Bolton also got first team reps.

“We’re mixing and matching right now,” Myers said. “We say that we have a left guard position open but in my opinion we have five spots open. Is there a clear cut two? No. Is there a clear cut top seven? Not in my mind.”

Of course, injuries on the offensive line are commonplace. Meeker missed three games due to injury a season ago, and senior Oge Udeogu missed the entire year with an injury. The year before, Jake Campos got hurt and missed the season.

At the end of the day, depth might be just as important as top-end talent.

“I think we’ve gotten our bearings,” Good-Jones said. “Now we’re focusing on things like details to really help us be successful.”