AMES, Iowa – When Matt Campbell’s Iowa State’s staff arrived at Iowa State, they found a disjointed, beaten down and oft blamed offensive line room.
Campbell – a former offensive line coach, offensive coordinator and former offensive line coach Tom Manning and current offensive line coach Jeff Myers have worked diligently to transform that room into a strength for Iowa State.
“They were looked at as the reason why Iowa State didn’t have success,” Myers said. “I felt like that was something that we really needed to get out of them and build the right mentality. You can see the positive mentality spreading through the room and they’re believing it and believing in each other and holding each other accountable.”
The Cyclones return every one of their starters from last season, including four seniors. That continuity alone helps build and manifest the right mentality and chemistry.
Right guard Josh Knipfel was the one who helped spearhead the charge for change. He saw how close the defensive line room was and how closely they worked together, and he wanted the same thing.
Before fall camp started, all of the offensive linemen went up to center Colin Newell’s lake house in Minnesota. It was an eight-hour drive from Ames and they took Trevor Downing’s bus, which they took turns driving.
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Spending eight hours one way in a vehicle with people will either make you love or hate the people you’re with. It had a profoundly positive effect on Iowa State’s linemen.
They spent three days on the water, boating and having a good time.
When they came back, Myers noticed an immediate difference.
“The offensive line room, when I first got here, we weren’t that close,” Downing, a redshirt freshman, said. “But that trip, that trip brought us all together. We spent three days together and we all had a great time.”
Downing is actually pushing for a starting spot on a line that returns all of its starters. If he wins a spot, he’d likely be taking Collin Olson’s left guard spot or Josh Knipfel’s right guard spot and Knipfel would move to Bryce Meeker’s right tackle spot.
“He’s been really, really impressive,” Myers said of the 6-foot-4, 300-pound Downing. “He’s made a lot of growth through the spring and it seems that he’s approached each day with a purpose. He knows there’s work still to do and he needs to clean some things up, but he’s a guy you want to see on the field because he lines up and move anybody off the ball. He’s shown that consistently throughout fall camp.”
Campbell said it’s a little too early to say that Downing will start, but by the sounds of it, they’re going to have a hard time keeping him off the field.
“That’s a hot competition right now,” Campbell said. “Until we get to Tuesday or Wednesday I think it’s too early to tell. Right now, there are six guys fighting for five spots. … Trevor has certainly had an outstanding camp.”
Newell was in Downing’s shoes last season as a redshirt freshman pushing for a starting spot. Newell didn’t start the Cyclones’ first game against Iowa, but every game after that Newell was Iowa State’s starting center.
“With Colin’s wrestling background, he’s able to do some things with his hands and footwork and maneuver inside,” Myers said of the Iowa state wrestling medalist. “The biggest thing I see from him this year is that his footwork is much cleaner and quicker. He’s also a lot stronger, he gained five to six pounds of good weight.”
Newell replaced Cedar Rapids native Julian Good-Jones at the center position and when that happened Good-Jones moved outside to left tackle. This is the first season Good-Jones, a redshirt senior, will play the same position two years in a row – started at right tackle as a freshman, then moved to center as a sophomore and then to left tackle.
“Julian has gained 20 pounds since last season and you see that difference in his game,” Myers said. “We saw it in the spring and he’s been able to maintain that weight. He’s up to about 312 pounds right now and there is just a different power behind his footwork, behind his strike.
“He is purely moving people off the ball and not straining to move people like he had to before.”