Lanning making strides as spring practices near a close


Jack MacDonald/Iowa State Daily

Joel Lanning runs for touchdown in the second half of Saturday’s 66-10 win. 

Aaron Marner

This time a year ago, Joel Lanning sat at the top spot on Iowa State’s quarterback depth chart. Zeb Noland, a true freshman, was the most likely candidate to be Lanning’s backup and Jacob Park had yet to arrive on campus.

A lot has changed in one year.

Lanning still stands atop Iowa State’s depth chart, but not at quarterback. Since transitioning to MIKE linebacker earlier this spring, Lanning has taken plenty of steps in the right direction and has earned a spot with the first-string defense.

Now, as spring practices wind to a close before the long summer offseason, Lanning is poised to play a prominent role for the Cyclones’ defense.

Iowa State defensive coordinator Jon Heacock said there’s plenty of work left to do, but Lanning is making good progress.

“He’s improving all the time,” Heacock said. “There’s just lots of little things that he has to learn, but you’ve got to appreciate his attitude and his effort.”

The defense as a whole is very young. Even some of the older players on the defense are new to Iowa State, thanks to Iowa State’s decision to bring in a number of junior college players.

Lanning, who will be a fifth-year senior when the 2017 season rolls around, makes for an interesting piece in Iowa State’s defensive puzzle.

On one hand, Lanning has been described as a leader within Iowa State’s locker room. He’s been with the team just about as long as anyone else and has overcome adversity as he has stuck with Iowa State through multiple offensive coordinators and head coaches in his college career.

On the other hand, Lanning has not played linebacker since the eighth grade. In many ways, Lanning is just as young and inexperienced as the rest of Iowa State’s defense.

Heacock called Lanning a “good football player and great leader,” and those are traits that give him an edge. Head coach Matt Campbell has alluded to a philosophy of wanting the best 11 players on the field, regardless of position, and Lanning seems to fit into that mix.

There have also been questions about Lanning’s availability as a two-way player. Heacock said he hopes Lanning will be available every snap as a No. 1 MIKE linebacker, but that may not be an option if Lanning is to play a large role for the offense.

Campbell said Lanning’s experience on the offensive side of the ball has helped him adjust to playing defense.

“I think him playing on offense for three or four years and really having the understanding of what the offense is doing allows him to be really active,” Campbell said. “You’re only going to see him continue to get better and better and better.

“That’s why these practices are so important for a guy like Joel Lanning, because he’s really starting to settle in and understand what he’s doing.”

Campbell said to “count on seeing him in some other spots,” but the focus this spring has been on linebacker.

This summer will be huge for Lanning and the rest of the young defense.

“He’s not where he needs to be yet and he knows that,” Heacock said, “but he’s doing a good job.”