Iowa State could move forward in Matt Campbell’s third season behind offensive line’s growth

AMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa State coach Matt Campbell finally had some nice things to say about his offensive line as spring practice came to an end.

Consider it an encouraging sign, though Campbell acknowledged he tends to be hardest on the guys up front on offense.

The Cyclones (8-5 in 2017) concluded spring ball Saturday with a closed scrimmage after their annual April game at Jack Trice Stadium was canceled because of weather. Iowa State will bring back four offensive linemen with starting experience in 2018 after spending Campbell’s first two seasons mixing and matching with talent that was often underwhelming at best.

“At least we’re starting to create an identity. There has been zero identity for the last two years,” said Campbell, now in his third season in charge in Ames. “Now you’re seeing a mindset of trying to be physical and a mindset of doing the little things that it takes to be a really good offensive line.”

The lineman who made perhaps the biggest jump this spring was the first player Campbell talked with after taking the job in December 2015.

Former Ames High standout Colin Newell, a redshirt freshman, appears to have won a starting job at either guard or center. That initial meeting with Campbell convinced Newell to stick with the Cyclones, and now he is in position after a strong spring to start for the team he followed for as long as he can remember.

“It was a really cool opportunity for (Campbell) to come over and visit me right away just saying, ‘Hey, I’m starting something special here. Come be a part of it,’ ” Newell said.

Perhaps the most important player Newell and his linemates will be charged with protecting next fall, senior quarterback Kyle Kempt, was also finally able to go through a set of 15 spring practices as a starter.

Kempt was thrust into the starting job last October when Jacob Park left the team. Kempt seized control of the job during conference play, though he’d been a career backup who’d never taken many repetitions with a starting unit in either a spring or fall camp.

“I think for Kyle, understanding who he is (was crucial this spring),” Campbell said. “When Kyle has played at his best, here are the qualities that Kyle (has), and working through that this spring was really good for him. You saw a lot of growth.”

The Cyclones will start the offseason Monday with a three-hour coaches-only meeting that Campbell likened to a “state of the program.” Campbell said that meeting in 2017 was a key factor in Iowa State’s five-win improvement a year ago.

Iowa State will open Sept. 1 against South Dakota State — followed by a trip to rival Iowa and a home game against Oklahoma in back-to-back weeks.

“Last year we were able to capitalize on that and make some really important moves within the roster to help ourselves,” Campbell said. “We’re going to have to do the same thing this year.”

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