INSIDER: Who passes the “eye test” following summer workouts?

Hakeem Butler vs. Brian Peavy. Photo by Rob Gray. 

AMES — The most anticipated Iowa State football season in recent memory kicked off on Friday as fall camp opened for the Cyclones. We will hear from Matt Campbell later today but Friday morning’s practice was open to the media. Here is what I observed along with other inside nuggets with camp kicking off in Ames. 

The Eye Test

“Win in the dark” was the theme of Iowa State’s offseason. Once August rolls around, the darkness is gone and everybody can see what you’ve been up to. I quizzed three Iowa State assistant coaches on the players whose bodies, in their opinion, have popped during the important summer workouts. 

Hakeem Butler, WR, Jr. – He is the one guy who was brought up by all three coaches. After watching No. 18 for about five minutes, I see why. He was huge last year but just fills out the uniform better these days. David Montgomery gets a lot of love for being a guy who could go pro after his senior season, but Butler could too. 

Datrone Young, CB, Fr. – At 5-9, 171-pounds, he’s still really small. I’ll tell you though, Iowa State’s coaching staff is in love with this redshirt freshman cornerback out of Florida. “Future star,” one coach told me. “You will absolutely love this kid. He will be one of your favorites.”

Josh Mueller, OL, So. – Take this for what it is worth (the first day of camp, no pads), but Mueller was taking reps with the first-string on Friday morning. From left to right, Iowa State’s starters were Julian Good-Jones, Mueller, Colin Newell, Josh Knipfel and Bryce Meeker. 

Jamahl Johnson, DT, Jr. – A guy who if you ask Campbell, really came on at the end of last year. Go back and watch the tape. Johnson was the unsung hero of Iowa State’s Liberty Bowl win over Memphis. He’s at an ideal weight of 295 pounds and is at that time (four year) when developmental interior linemen usually begin to pop. 

De’Monte Ruth, CB, Sr. – He’s currently listed as Iowa State’s starter at Star, and apparently had a big offseason. 

Tarique Milton, WR, Fr. – This name strongly carried over from spring ball, where he was one of the biggest standouts, surprisingly, on Iowa State’s offense. I don’t expect Milton to start at any point in the season (he’s No. 2 behind Deshaunte Jones in the slot), but am starting to get the idea that he will be used in some gadget situations offensively. 

O’Rien Vance, LB, Fr. – The momentum with this name has carried over since the day he stepped on campus. At 6-foot-1, 235-pounds, Vance is in a battle to start with senior Reggan Northrup, but both will play extensively in 2018. To the eye, Vance has looked like a “dude” since arriving in Ames. 

Chase Allen, TE, So. – So much progress compared to last August. He looked like a great prospect then. Now, at 6-foot-7, 240-pounds, he looks like a man.

Brock Purdy, QB, Fr. – I would love to not be hyping this young man right now but I just keep hearing good things. He apparently took well to the weight program over the summer. 

Iowa State’s fall camp practice strategy 

I don’t know how I missed this the last two years but found it to be fascinating. 

For the first three days of camp, Iowa State now splits up its roster into two sessions. The morning session features the first and third strings. This afternoon, the second and fourth strings will go.

I’m told this happens for two reasons. 

The first is the most obvious: It’s more one on one time with guys early in the season where things like terminology and “process” are important. 

The second one was really interesting: I’m told that Campbell pairs the twos and fours (who are mostly true freshmen) to stack the young guys up with the backups. Seeing those groups next to each other helps the staff evaluate which newcomers are going to be more likely to be promoted and play early on in their careers. 

The more you know…

Other observations…

I saw Hakeem Butler make a catch that was impressive even by non-padded fall camp standards. In a game, he would have been called for offensive pass interference. Butler stiff-armed Brian Peavy and in mid-air made a one-handed catch over his left shoulder.

The entire group of tight ends really stood out to me. Charlie Kolar, a 6-foot-6, 250-pound freshman, looks the part already. Throw Dylan Soehner into the mix and I really believe that Iowa State has three guys that Iowa State feels not only comfortable, but confident playing this year.

Iowa State has never had a deeper group of receivers than it does right now. Throw a guy like Matthew Eaton, who is in a dogfight for a starting spot with Landon Akers, on any team in the last 20 years and he’s a star.

I asked three or four other guys just to make sure I wasn’t overthinking this and they all agreed. We’ve never seen an Iowa State team look like this in August. There are some real dudes out there. It doesn’t always translate to wins, but it sure does help. From scholarship one to 85, Iowa State is as deep as it has been – perhaps ever.

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