Matt Campbell has said since day one that nobody’s position is safe. That he guarantees no starting spots on this roster.
That he loves competition.
These words resonate throughout the Jacobson building and Bergstrom indoor practice facility day in, and day out.
The foundation was laid with the current crop of returning players, and while ISU lost a few of those cornerstones from a year ago to graduation, this staff has made transcendent moves to get top notch talent into Ames – ala the highest rated class in school history in 2017.
Not only are we going to touch on some names from that class that could make some noise for playing time this year, but we will also look back to the 2016 class and that group of redshirt freshman who are chomping at the bit to make an impact in 2017.
First of all, it’s very difficult for an 18-year old to make the transition from Friday Night Lights in high school to Saturdays in college. The speed of the game is hard to handle, the playbook is difficult to grasp in a short period of time, and not many athletes are built physically to withstand the rigors of Power-5 competition.
That is why you mostly see skill players on the field as freshmen, as opposed to linemen, linebackers and quarterbacks, who gain a season (or two) of experience on the bench with a redshirt. A perfect example of this is Jeremiah George, who came in as a touted recruit, but his light didn’t really turn on until his junior and senior years.
Here are some of the impact freshmen that could make a difference in 2017.
OT Sean Foster
This behemoth of a man was nearly called upon to tear off his redshirt for an injured and depleted offensive line, but Tom Manning and company knew the long-term vision of this program needed four full years from this 4-star recruit. Foster now is listed at 290 pounds and will most likely be protecting QB Jacob Park’s blindside in ’17.
TE Chase Allen
A year ago, Cyclone tight ends caught all of SEVEN balls, and only had SIX the year before that. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Chase Allen catches seven or more passes in one game this year. This top-25 tight end coming out of high school fell into bad luck last year – first getting hit by a car and getting over 100 stitches, then coming down with a case of viral meningitis, forcing the son of former tight ends coach Terry Allen to redshirt his freshman year. Allen is hungry and will allow this offense to add a new wrinkle, as the Campbell offense loves to split out tight ends and utilize their ability to stretch the field.
WR Jalen Martin
Martin hails from Michigan, and will most likely step into the big shoes of Allen Lazard’s spot once he graduates. He stands 6-foot-3 and can flat out jump, as he snagged 16 touchdowns his senior year of high school. This offense needs another deep threat opposite Lazard, and it could be Martin this year.
LB Tymar Sutton
If it wasn’t for a broken hand last season, Sutton may have made his way onto the field, but instead had to settle for a redshirt in 2016. Although undersized at 5-foot-10, this Pennsylvania native can hit with the best of them. He also has sideline to sideline speed, and will most likely back up Joel Lanning at the middle linebacker spot.
CB Arnold Azunna
Azunna takes over after the Cyclones lost three contributing defensive backs from a season ago, and is vying for a spot at the corner position. Even though we will most likely see all-conference studs Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne at opposite ends, Azunna will most definitely see the field, as Jon Heacock loves to utilize speed and coverage corners all over the field.
DL Josh Bailey, Eyioma Uwazurike and Carson Lensing
All of these redshirt freshmen have been given every opportunity to make the starting roster this year, as ISU is desperately lacking a pass rusher from their front four. Uwazurike is a freak of an athlete, standing 6-foot-6 and weighing in at 250 pounds. Lensing is an Iowa born and bred product, and his name has continued to be mentioned by the coaching staff. Lastly, Josh Bailey, twin brother to DE Jaquan, has a spot waiting for him at defensive tackle and has all the physical tools to master it.
It’s difficult to play in the Big 12 conference as a true freshman, but with the way spread offenses are trending, the apple is ripe for the picking if you’re a young defensive back or receiver.
ISU has a few of those players at the skill positions that can make an impact in 2017.
LB O’Rien Vance
If it wasn’t for Vance verbally committing so early, he would have picked up a plethora of big-time offers. Vance is just too good to stay off the field this year, and the staff loves his tenacity and ability to get to the quarterback. Playing at a weak spot in this defense (outside linebacker) will allow this Cedar Rapids product to turn some heads.
CBs OJ Tucker and Richard Bowens III
Bowens has been on campus since January as an early enrollee, and has a slight head start on most of the freshmen. The track star from Michigan stands 6-foot-1 and should be given every opportunity to play. Meanwhile, Tucker hails from Florida, and picked the good guys over Louisville and Georgia Tech, as he was a top-75 corner in his class. Just like Bowens, Tucker has the build and body to play right away.
WR Josh Johnson
One of the most loyal recruits in the class, Johnson blazed a pipeline trail for future prospects from the south, as he hails from Arkansas. This 5-foot-11 receiver displays a knack for making big plays, and also has the wheels (and moves) to fight for a spot on Iowa State’s loaded receiving corps.
S Keontae Jones
Another speedster who is dangerous with the ball in his hands, Jones is the younger brother to WR Deshaunte. He was the headliner of this class, and in my opinion the position of star/nickel was made just for him. He has the body to shed blocks and make tackles in open space, but also the speed to stick with receivers in the slot. I have no doubt both Jones brothers will be make an impression this year.
In years past at ISU, it would take freshmen a few years to understand the speed of the game, and, to be honest, our recruits weren’t ready to cut their teeth right away. This staff has done things differently, by going out and getting skill players with bigger bodies, speed, and of good character.
Coach Campbell understands if he wants to take that next step, he has to develop his young players the right way. He’s done that so far by getting the studs in the stable.
Now, it’s time to let them run.