Most college football teams use the spring to experiment with schemes, initiate position battles and work on fundamentals.
Coming off the best season in program history, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell sees no need to tinker with the offense or defense, and with 20 starters returning, competition for jobs is limited.
Fundamentals? That’s what the spring was all about for the Cyclones. That could have meant offensive linemen working on their footwork, defensive backs focusing on backpedaling, linebackers brushing up on taking on blocks.
“When you talk experience, how do you get your great players to be the best they can be? Obviously, that’s fundamental and technical work,” Campbell said. “How do you get the young players to become good players you can trust to play? I think it always starts with fundamentals and technique.”
Iowa State won nine games for the third time in program history, played in the Big 12 championship game for the first time and beat Oregon in the Fiesta Bowl. At No. 9, the Cyclones had their highest ranking in a final Associated Press poll.
The positive vibe around the program is apparent with seven of the 2020 starters choosing to use the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA because of the pandemic.
The Cyclones will have super seniors in tight end Chase Allen, offensive lineman Sean Foster, defensive lineman Enyl Uwasurike, linebacker Jake Hummel, safety Greg Eisworth, kicker Connor Assalley and punter Corey Dunn.
An eighth starter, tight end Charlie Kolar, passed on entering the NFL draft as an underclassmen.
Campbell said the players who came back when they could have left did so because they believed they hadn’t reached their potential as college players.
“The opposite end of it is, ‘Man, can those guys raise the level of the young players around them to be at their level?’ ” Campbell said.
Campbell hopes addressing fundamentals and attention to detail help the Cyclones build on what they accomplished last season and avoid costly breakdowns in execution.
Remember, the Cyclones lost their opener to Louisiana after giving up kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns as well as a 78-yard TD pass. They survived against a 1-3 Baylor team despite Brock Purdy’s three interceptions on the first five possessions. Purdy was picked off three more times in the conference title game against Oklahoma.
“You have to continue trying to get better,” Campbell said. “There are a lot of areas we need to improve on.
“Where can that starting point come? Man, a lot of it was in the fundamentals and details to technically respond in the heat of the moment, and how do we do a better job of that? Even those veteran players can be much better in that area, some of the situations we failed to do it a year ago.”