Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell watches from the sideline during an NCAA college football game in the Cheez-It Bowl against Clemson, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
Iowa State’s 2022 spring football practices start Friday and it’s sure to be 15 interesting practices with a bunch of new faces to learn over the next month.
Here are three thoughts and questions on my mind before reporters spoke to Matt Campbell via Zoom on Monday.
1 – The heir apparent takes center stage
Welcome to the spotlight, Hunter Dekkers.
It’s time for Iowa State to finally replace four-year-old starter Brock Purdy and the 6-foot-3, 235-pound redshirt sophomore from Hawarden, Iowa, is the clear favorite to clinch the post.
We’ve seen his talent in flashes over the past two seasons, mostly in garbage time, but is he ready to take the reins and lead the show?
The West Sioux High School product is one of the most prolific prep passers in Iowa history and largely performed well when given the opportunity to relieve Purdy, completing 20 of 31 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns in four games in 2021.
He also carried the ball four times for 61 yards and two touchdowns last season, and this quarterback game looks likely to be a bigger part of the offense with Dekkers behind center.
Aidan Bouman enters the spring as a clear No. 2 behind Dekkers with Rocco Becht, a true freshman, as well as favorite extras Ashton Cook and Nate Glantz, who are also vying for that backup role.
The man of the hour will be Dekkers, however, and it will be interesting to see how coaches and players discuss evolving the attack to suit Dekkers’ talents rather than an attack focused on Purdy.
2 – New faces to watch in defense
Mike Rose, Jake Hummel, Enyi Uwazurike, Zach Petersen, Greg Eisworth and Datrone Young are all gone. These are big shoes to fill for the next generation of Cyclone defenders.
Thankfully, senior linebacker O’Rien Vance and senior defensive back Anthony Johnson return as the veteran voices of defense while All-American defensive end Will McDonald takes over as the face of Jon Heacock’s squad. .
Vance will be tasked with providing stalwart support Gerry Vaughn, Delaware transfer Colby Reeder and a host of talented young linebackers that Matt Campbell called the best linebacker lineup from top to bottom during his tenure at Ames.
“It’s probably going to be the most competitive group of positions we’ve had,” Campbell said in the program’s spring training flyer.
Johnson, who is expected to get safe reps after four years at cornerback, will lead another young group led by late 2021 breakouts Craig McDonald and Beau Freyler. This trio could very well be Iowa State’s starting safety for the season opener against Southeast Missouri on Sept. 3.
Veterans TJ Tampa and Tayvonn Kyle are expected to lead cornerbacks if Johnson’s stint at safety becomes permanent, but second Myles Purchase and senior DJ Miller will also be factors in earning significant playing time.
Keep an eye out for speedster Darien Porter, who is moving to the defensive end after spending his first two seasons on the program as a wide receiver.
The Bettendorf native and one of the best high school track and field athletes in Iowa history stood out on special teams in his first two years on the court. He will be a factor at the corner if he quickly takes over the defensive side.
Finally, McDonald’s will get almost all the attention on the defensive front, but Iowa State’s all-time sack king is expected to lead Eli Rasheed’s chamber alongside veterans JR Singleton and Isaiah Lee.
This duo of Singleton and Lee will hold the nose guard spot, but the defensive position opposite McDonald looks totally open with a host of talented players expected to compete for snaps.
Blake Peterson, a highly touted former rookie, remained in reserve last season while totaling six tackles and two sacks. Joey Petersen, Zach Petersen’s younger brother, could fit into that conversation as a sophomore after burning his red shirt playing on special teams last season.
3 – Who surprises with a flared spring?
Every year there’s someone who unexpectedly solidifies themselves as a contender for major playtime.
Could one of the talented tailbacks in the 2021 class challenge Jirehl Brock to be Iowa State’s Game 1 starter? Where does Cartevious Norton, the precocious enlistee, fit into this equation?
Deon Silas showed his abilities by appearing in five games as a rookie last season and Eli Sanders was called one of the fastest players in the program.
Brock will play a lot regardless of what those two do, but this trio plus Norton have the program in good hands for running back despite the departure of all-time great Cyclone Breece Hall.
We all know what Iowa State has in Xavier Hutchinson, and it will be interesting to see new areas of his game unlocked with a bigger arm like Dekkers’ behind center. Who slips in alongside Hutchinson and sophomore Jaylen Noel to be Dekkers’ top targets?
Sean Shaw is finally back to full health after battling injuries during stretches each of the past two years. Darren Wilson and Daniel Jackson are experienced players with a chance to raise their stock, but also keep an eye out for true rookie Greg Gaines, signed up mid-year.
“Greg Gaines III is a true freshman who is here and ready to go,” Campbell said. “There’s a lot of competition and a lot of excitement in this group (of receivers).”