By Ben Viser, Gazette Correspondent
AMES ? Ahead of Iowa State football media day Tuesday, here are five questions for the Cyclones? 2018 season to ponder.
1. Who takes over at middle linebacker?
Last season, Iowa State had a quarterback, Joel Lanning, as its ?quarterback of the defense,? and it worked better than Matt Campbell could?ve hoped for.
After Lanning?s graduation, Campbell has to fill the spot again. The three main options are redshirt freshman and Cedar Rapids native O?Rien Vance, redshirt senior Reggan Northrup and redshirt senior Willie Harvey.
Vance has impressed Campbell throughout Vance?s time in Ames. After spring practices, Campbell said Vance put himself in the lead to take over the middle linebacker position.
?He?s a great blitzer, he sees the field really well,? Cambpell said. ?He can run sideline to sideline. It?s been really fun as he?s settled in. He understands the defense. He understands what is being asked of him. He?s a physical, strong, really talented football player.
?His end potential is maybe as good as anyone?s in our program. How fast can we get him there and how fast can he be that guy and how consistent can he be at that spot??
Northrup is a small linebacker, but he uses his speed to fly around the field. Last season, Northrup mostly played the star, which is a hybrid linebacker-safety position. Campbell said during the spring that Northrup has the ability to play in the middle, but he needed to bulk up.
Campbell?s final option is moving four-year starter Harvey from the outside to the inside and have Northrup move into Harvey?s vacated outside linebacker position.
Who are the five offensive linemen?
Campbell has said since day one that he will start the best five offensive linemen.
Throughout spring and into fall, three guys have all but solidified themselves, leaving two spots open.
Cedar Rapids natives Bryce Meeker and Julian Good-Jones will be starters, along with Josh Knipfel. Meeker will be the right tackle and Knipfel will be the right guard. Good-Jones has played right tackle and center during his time in Ames and Campbell said he has the ability to play any of the line spots.
So, it comes down to Josh Mueller, who plays left guard, Collin Newell, who plays center, and Sean Foster, a left tackle.
Campbell was very impressed with redshirt freshman Newell in the spring and Foster saw the field last season, so they seem to have a leg up. But Mueller has inserted himself in the conversation in the fall.
Can the receivers be as productive as last season?
Iowa State?s receiving corps last year was one of the best in school history. But it graduated the likes of Allen Lazard, the best receiver in school history, Marchi Murdock and Trever Ryen.
Hakeem Butler needs to maintain his productivity as he moves to the outside. He proved he could be a legitimate deep threat down the seam last season, but he?ll need to adjust to a slightly different route tree and the go-to guy.
Guys like Deshaunte Jones and Matt Eaton will also have to step up for Campbell.
Jones was on the All-Big 12 Freshman Team, but took a step back last year as Ryen inserted himself.
Eaton, on the other hand, dealt with injuries at the beginning of last season, but by the end of the season, he seemed to find a rhythm and become a reliable target for quarterback Kyle Kempt.
Who backs up David Montgomery?
David Montgomery burst on the scene last year as one of the best running backs in the nation.
But who backs him up when he needs a breather ? something he didn?t get much of last season?
The Cyclones seem to have a stable full of capable backups. Mike Warren was a 1,000-yard rusher as a freshman. Kene Nwangwu is widely regarded as the fastest player on the team, but dealt with an Achilles tear last season. Sheldon Croney was productive when both Warren and Montgomery dealt with injuries last season. Johnnie Lang also took on his share of injuries, but Montgomery said Lang is so shifty that he can make defenders miss in a phone booth.
Campbell has options, and it could come down to what the situation calls for.
Who?s calling the plays?
Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning left for the NFL?s Indianapolis Colts.
Matt Campbell never replaced him.
Campbell, a former offensive coordinator for Toledo, said he?s comfortable calling plays and he?ll take in input from the other coaches on the offensive side of the ball.
But as of now, it appears Campbell will forego having an offensive coordinator and assume the play-calling duties himself.
?I?m still doing a good job, so right now I?m not going to fire myself,? Campbell said in the spring. ?We?ll keep going how we?re going and we?ll see what transpires. It?s been such a team effort, that I don?t know if there will be a definitive (offensive coordinator). All the things that happen offensively ? positively and negatively ? roll through me right now.?