Where does the Iowa State offensive line go after the loss of offensive tackle Jake Campos to a broken leg? Sports editor Bobby La Gesse explains what's ahead for the Cyclones.
The news is bad. Real bad.
The Cyclones will be without junior offensive tackle Jake Campos indefinitely after he broke his leg on Sunday. The Ames Tribune first reported the injury, which could see Campos miss the entire season, on Sunday night.
It’s made the hardest job at Iowa State that much harder. Instead of finding four new starters up front, offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Tom Manning must find five.
He did it last year at Toledo. He’ll be asked to do the same at ISU, where the success of the offense could likely hinge on what Manning can do with the offensive line.
The offensive line was the biggest question mark for the Cyclones entering camp. Any path to success seemed to start at Campos being the anchor up front. He had 23 starts the last two seasons at left and right tackle.
Losing Campos is about as worst of a worst case scenario as there is. Now, only one start returns across the entire offensive line. It’s from Nick Fett. Graduate transfer Brian Bobek does bring starting experience from Minnesota, but he is still learning the offense.
There are playmakers in place for ISU skill players to make an impact. Running back Mike Warren and wide receiver Allen Lazard are as good as any player at their position in the league. Quarterback Joel Lanning showed promise at the end of last season.
But they won’t be able to make plays if the line doesn’t open up holes and give Lanning time to find Lazard. It was a concern before this past weekend. It’s a significant one now.
ISU fans have walked down this road before. Inconsistent offensive line play was a problem in 2013 and 2014. The offense stalled because of it.
There is not an ideal solution for replacing Campos. To be fair, there was no ideal answer in filling the other four starting spots before Campos went down.
Junior offensive tackle Jaypee Philbert must play at a Big 12-caliber level. There is no other choice at left tackle now. He’s the only tackle on the roster with experience, having played in 10 games last season.
ISU does find itself with options at right tackle. Shawn Curtis is a candidate. He impressed in spring and over the summer. Coach Matt Campbell said he was entering camp in a three-way battle with Campos and Philbert to start.
Redshirt freshman centers Julian Good-Jones and Bryce Meeker are intriguing options. The staff believes both possess the size and athleticism to play tackle. Campbell and Manning have each said in the last several months they want offensive linemen to know multiple positions and the backup at one position may be someone else at another spot, not the next tackle on the depth chart. ISU could move either Good-Jones or Meeker and still potentially be fine at center with Bobek still there.
True freshman offensive lineman Sean Foster is putting together a strong camp and could be an option if the Cyclones don’t want him to redshirt. So is Breion Creer, who opened camp as the second-team left tackle before switching to the defensive line.
There are more questions than answers on the line. It was going to be that way until the first game regardless of the Campos injury. It’s on Manning to find a way to make this work.
The only good news is Manning knows how to operate in this environment. He was named the Football Scoop national offensive line coach of the year because of how he replaced the entire Toledo offensive line last season. The Rockets finished second nationally in sacks allowed. They gave up only five.
“You have to find out what you have, what you really have, and you have to find out what are the young man’s strengths,” said Manning to the Tribune in December about what he learned last season, “what are his weaknesses and what can we do offensively that will highlight the strengths, and we will work really hard to take their weaknesses and develop those into strengths.”
This is different than what Manning did before. Those players spent years in the Toledo system before being asked to start. Manning didn’t arrive in Ames until December. Everyone is still getting to know each other and learning the offense.
Now, it doesn’t matter. ISU must move on without Campos. It’s on Manning to make it work. It’s on the offensive line to ensure the playmakers can make plays. There is no other choice.
A tough task just became tougher, but one thing remains the same. ISU must find a solution up front if the offense is to find its potential.