5 things to watch for as football spring practice begins

Joel Lanning runs for a touchdown in Saturday’s 66-10 win over Texas Tech. 

Austin Anderson

Iowa State football will kick off the spring season Tuesday morning. Here are five things to keep your eyes out for. 

1. What will Joel Lanning’s role look like?

It’s hard to start anywhere else other than with Joel Lanning.

What position will Lanning play? He entered the 2016 season as the starting quarterback after holding off transfer Jacob Park. As the season continued, Park received more and more snaps under center before cementing himself as the starter midseason. Lanning didn’t go away, however, putting up dominant numbers in one of the largest wins in Iowa State history, a 66-10 beatdown of Texas Tech.

Lanning rushed for five touchdowns and 171 yards in that game as a quarterback, primarily out of shotgun. He could continue that role as one of the Cyclones’ top threats on the ground. A position switch could keep him on offense as a tight end, but an interesting move could be to put Lanning on the defensive side of the ball.

Tommy Birch of the Des Moines Register reported that coach Matt Campbell is expected to give the 6-foot-4 Lanning some snaps at linebacker this spring.

2. This will be a brand new defensive line

Iowa State had a solid defensive front last season but often found itself overmatched. The group was led by nose tackle Demond Tucker, but Tucker, along with two other starters, have graduated.

The Cyclones have some young talent waiting in the ranks, including JaQuan Bailey, who led the Cyclones in sacks last season with 3.5. Bailey could be the go-to pass rusher next season.

But the potential impact could come from guys who weren’t on the roster last season. Iowa State’s recruiting class was headlined by a few junior college defensive linemen who are expected to immediately contribute. 

Matt Leo, a 6-foot-7 Australian-born defensive end, recently arrived on campus and will be a participant in spring practice. Ray Lima and Kamilo Tongamoa are two big defensive tackles who will clog up a lot of space in the middle of the Cyclones’ defensive line.

3. Can Park take the next step?

Park was impressive in his first season as a Cyclone. He split time with Lanning early in the season but took the job solely for himself in the final three games of 2016. In 10 games total, Park was 133-for-226 passing with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.

There is no question Park is the starter heading into the season. So the question becomes: What can the former 4-star recruit do with a full spring practice regimen?

He has no shortage of weapons on the outside. Allen Lazard, who turned down a shot at the NFL for one final season in college, is a well-known commodity. The emergence of the team’s second-leading receiver, Deshaunte Jones, is also intriguing.

Iowa State hauled in a few top recruits as well. Josh Johnson, the team’s highest-rated high school recruit, and transfer Matt Eaton could make big impacts. 

4. The offensive line is new but seasoned

There is little denying the offensive line struggled for the Cyclones last season, but most of those guys have graduated.

Graduate transfers Dave Dawson from Michigan and Khaliel Rodgers from USC will be key contributors in 2017 and will arrive for summer camp. Those two will be pieces on the offensive line, but this spring will give Campbell a strong look at who should join them.

Dawson and Rodgers, along with the return of redshirt senior Jake Campos from a broken leg, will bring experience to an offensive line that will see redshirt freshman Sean Foster, a 6-foot-8 offensive tackle, compete for a starting spot.

5. Can Mike Warren get over his sophomore slump?

Mike Warren was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after a freshman season for the record books in 2015. But his struggles in 2016 were well documented and publicly challenged by Campbell.

True freshman David Montgomery finished last season as the starter and will hold that role as the spring season begins. Montgomery will look to avoid a similar sophomore slump to Warren’s.

The third piece to the running back puzzle was going to be sophomore Kene Nwangwu before he suffered an Achilles injury that will keep him sidelined throughout the spring and could potentially force Iowa State to redshirt him in 2017, according to the Des Moines Register.