LB coach: Lanning is the starting Mike linebacker

Joel Lanning stomps into the end zone in the Cyclones 66-10 win over Texas Tech. 

Austin Anderson

The last time Iowa State senior Joel Lanning suited up to play linebacker, he hadn’t yet stepped foot on a high school football field to compete.

Eighth grade was the most recent time Lanning patrolled the middle of a defense. Now, just seven practices into the spring football season, the guy who began last season as Iowa State’s starting quarterback is penciled in on the depth chart as the starting Mike linebacker.

“He’s the No. 1 Mike linebacker for us right now,” linebacker coach Tyson Veidt said. “[He is] doing a great job running with the ones and it’s certainly his job to lose right now.”

Lanning was far from a conventional quarterback last season. As it progressed, Lanning became one of the Cyclones’ top threats on the ground, so he’s used to the contact he’ll become well accustomed to as a linebacker.

“You got to get used to it,” Lanning said. “Running up in the trenches, there is still 300-pound dudes there trying to kill you. I kind of got used to that a little bit. It’s kind of like running the ball too, you just have to go hit someone.”

Lanning said the coaching staff approached him about two weeks before spring practice started and asked him about potentially playing linebacker.

In the few scrimmages the team has had, Lanning said he’s “made a few tackles,” including sacking backup quarterback Kyle Kempt on Tuesday.

He’s considered the starter now, but roughly six months stand between now and the season opener on Sept. 2 against Northern Iowa.

“It would not shock me [to see Lanning as a starting linebacker],” Veidt said. “I don’t think it would shock any of the coaches on the defensive side. He’s not making many mistakes. Naturally he’s still learning and he is making mistakes, but he learns from mistakes, so he’s not making the same one over and over again.”

Lanning said the move “hasn’t been that big of a challenge,” comparing it to a switch in an offensive playbook as a quarterback.

Lanning sees the same possibilities on defense next season but plans to get thrown in on offense as well.

“If everything works out, hopefully I’m the starting Mike and getting my reps on offense when they call me in there,” Lanning said.

Lanning has also been working on special teams during the spring.

“Coach Campbell told me, ‘If everything works out, you’ll probably be throwing up after all the games because you’ll be playing so much,’” Lanning said. 

Redshirt freshman linebacker Tymar Sutton is the No. 2 player at the Mike position. Willie Harvey holds down the other linebacker spot in the Cyclone defense. Both have been there to help Lanning get acclimated to the other side of the ball.

“The first day he came out knowing a lot,” Harvey said. “A lot more than I thought.”

Harvey said the teaching hasn’t all been one sided. 

“He’s like a coach to me sometimes,” Harvey said.

The real debate between the two might be who gets to wear the No. 7 jersey on defense next season. Last season, Lanning wore it on offense, Harvey on defense.

Lanning said the strength coach suggested a competition in the weight room. The player who can squat more gets to keep the number.

“[Harvey] says he’s not switching,” Lanning said. “We’ll just have to see.”