Peterson: Spring football is a time for experimentation – DesMoinesRegister.com

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Veteran says these Cyclones defensive linemen are extremely motivated to succeed

AMES, Ia. — It’s late March, so anything you read or hear about college football should be inhaled with the disclaimer that, in Iowa State’s case at least, almost everything is subject to change until the Sept. 2 season opener against Northern Iowa at Jack Trice Stadium.

Joel Lanning to linebacker? So far, so good … except what happens if backup quarterback Zeb Noland hasn’t fully recovered from a knee injury that sidelined him in 2016?

D’Andre Payne moving from what Matt Campbell calls a “star” position – essentially someone who defends the player lined up in the slot – to cornerback? Sure, as long as Evrett Edwards can handle being the “star.”

I could go on with examples, but the bottom line is that this is spring football we’re talking about. It’s when coaches sometimes motivate players with very temporary depth-chart moves that everyone figures can and/or will change a time or few before September.

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The Iowa State quarterback is recovering from a torn ACL in 2016.

Like Tuesday, when ISU defensive line coach Eli Rasheed told reporters that, if the opener were today, his starters would be J.D. Waggoner, Vernell Trent, Ray Lima and Spencer Benton — and not seven-game starter (and sack leader) JaQuan Bailey.

“He’s been up and down,” Rasheed said of last season’s true freshman regular. “Inconsistent. We’ve got to challenge him to come to every practice and be great every day.”

That’s either being motivational with the defensive end with wonderful potential, or it’s an indication that this defensive line will at least have more depth than some Cyclone lines of the past.

It’s probably a little – or a lot – of both.

“We have more driven guys this year,” said Waggoner, a senior and seven-game career starter. “That’s no knock on guys in the past. Effort is a lot more significant than it was in the past. There’s a lot more competition.

“Guys really want to be great. This is a group I want to help lead.”

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Joel Lanning goes from starting quartetback for the Cyclones to starting middle linebacker.

Rasheed didn’t forget to mention newcomers Matt Leo and Kamilo Tongamoa when he went down his penciled list of starters. They’ve still got some learning to do, Leo during spring ball, and Tongamoa after he arrives sometime during the summer.

“Leo is behind a little bit, not physically, but with football reps,” Rasheed said of the Australian and former rugby player who starred last season at Arizona Western Community College. “We’re playing him at an end. Things are happening a lot faster for him. We’re taking him slow.”

Put Leo in the status-likely-to-change-by-September column. Ditto Tongamoa, No. 28 among available junior-college defensive linemen last recruiting season, according to 247sports.com.

“Kamilo is 315, and 6-5,” Rasheed said. “If he can come in and get himself ready for the conditioning part of it — we’ll play him.”

Bet on Tongamoa playing a lot. Bailey, too. And Ray Lima, And Waggoner. And Benton. And Trent. And others.

Especially Lima.

“He’ll be a great inside presence for us,” Waggoner said.

Iowa State football 2017 has a wonderful offense. Campbell’s second Cyclones team has lots of defensive line options, too.

“We have a lot more focused guys than we did last year, I think,” Waggoner said. “We’ll definitely have more depth. I’m not too worried.

“We’re trending up. We’ll be ready to go by UNI.”

So back to the beginning:

Don’t get too hung up on stuff right now. Don’t go to the bank on what you see after Saturday afternoon’s closed scrimmage – if you’re among the fortunate to sneak a peek.

What you see then might not be anything like you’ll see next September – especially among defensive line starters.

Who starts when the footballs fly for real?

Waggoner, Lima, Tongamoa and Bailey. That’s a guess, like a lot of other things during spring football.

Randy Peterson, senior sports reporter, has been with the Register for parts of five decades. Randy writes opinion and analysis of Iowa State football and basketball. You can reach Randy at rpeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter at @RandyPete

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