Peterson: Observations from Iowa State's spring football workouts – Des Moines Register

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GILBERT, Ia. — The most significant spring session since Iowa State football became relevant ended Friday pretty much the way it started.
No major injuries. No position controversies. No surprises. No new concerns heading into what will be an important continuation of a sport in which there is no off-season.
Sure, there’s work to be done over the summer months, or as Matt Campbell said after Friday’s workout at Gilbert High School:
“With Iowa State football, you feel like you’ve always got something to prove. This group has that edge, that niche about them.”
“We’re going to have something to prove in the summer, and by the time we get to August, I still hope we have something to prove.”
More: Peterson: Iowa State’s Jirehl Brock, who could have transferred but didn’t, is the definition of loyalty
That’s Campbell. He likes practices more than games. His deal is developing players. He loves breaking down the video.
So, what’d we learn this spring?
From the first open workout three weeks ago, to last Friday night at Gilbert High School, Ashton Cook looked to be No. 2, and Rocco Becht next. Aidan Bouman started spring no higher than fourth, and ended spring unsurprisingly in the transfer portal.
Dekkers ran about 25 yards for a touchdown during the scrimmage. Becht hit Daniel Jackson perfectly in stride around the 5-yard line on what was a 41-yard scoring pass. Cook and Greg Gaines had a nifty 25-yard hookup that ended with Gaines making a spectacular corner-of-the-end zone grab.
The quarterbacks looked solid — not great — but that’s to be expected.
We know all about Dekkers, who receiver Xavier Hutchinson said has “superstar” potential in him. Whether it was because he played well during the spring, or because the others are new to the program, separation happened.
Cook, a walk-on from Iowa City Regina, is the son of former Iowa star tight end, Marv, who spent the first five of his seven NFL seasons with the New England Patriots.
Becht is a true freshman early-enrollee from Zephyrhills, Florida. He’s a four-star recruit by Rivals, and a three-star guy by 247Sports. His dad is Anthony Becht, a former first-round NFL draft pick in 2000 (tight end) who will be an XFL head coach in 2023.
No. 2 on the depth chart when Iowa State opens the Big 12 season Sept. 24 at home against Baylor? Wouldn’t surprise me, but that might depend on Iowa Western Community College transfer Nate Glantz.
A walk-on, Glantz completed 159 of 301 passes for 2,147 yards and 18 touchdowns in 10 games last season, and 290 of 508 passes for 3,958 yards and 41 touchdowns during an 18-game Iowa Western career. He was National JC player of the year in 2020.
There’s no question, however, who’s No. 1.
“True superstar is, ‘Can you handle being what a starting quarterback in a Power Five school looks like?” Campbell said Friday. “Quarterback is a different animal. … Can you handle the grind of playing Power Five football, and handling the success and failures that come with it?
“Hunter has competitive excellence. You see talent and ability in him.”
There’s no question this position has improved during Campbell’s six Iowa State seasons. It’s been built through high school recruiting, which has resulted in mostly balanced recruiting classes, and solid depth.
From what it was to what’s become is significant. But after six seasons, is it where you’d expected it to be?
“At times we underachieved, at times it’s been good,” veteran Trevor Downing said. “Inconsistent,’ I would say.”
That may not change a lot this season; depth isn’t as prominent as in the past. The expected five starters — from left to right Tyler Miller, Jarrod Hufford, Downing, Darrell Simmons and Jake Remsburg — have a combined 66 starts. Potential backups have none.
“That group has made great strides,” offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. “Certainly, there’s a long way to go.”
Hutchinson and Jaylin Noel can be deep threats, if Dekkers can get them the ball. Arm strength has never been a problem, so all’s good in that respect. Having time for longer passing plays to develop is a bigger question. Dekkers must prove he can successfully and consistently hit deep receivers without forcing them to break stride.
“Hunter’s that guy,” cornerback Anthony Johnson said Friday night. “He can make every throw on the field. He’s got a big arm, (but) I’ve picked him off, don’t forget that.”
More: With stalwarts gone, Xavier Hutchinson becomes new leader of Iowa State offense
Iowa State had just six passing of 40 yards or longer last season, including a 68-yard hookup between Brock Purdy and Tarique Milton.
“(Dekkers) certainly does a very good job throwing the ball down the field,” Manning said. “Hunter is very capable of doing that. That’s one of the things (in which) he has a chance.”
That’d take some mighty doing, considering losses of such players as linebackers Mike Rose and Jake Hummel; linemen Enyi Uwazurike and Zach Petersen; and defensive backs Greg Eisworth, Datrone Young, Kym-Mani King, and Isheem Young, among others.
Repeating that success could be tough; however, I still like the position’s chances to be among the Big 12’s best.
After all, with returnees like All-American lineman Will McDonald, linebacker O’Rien Vance and multiple veterans in the back end — this Cyclones’ defense should continue ranking among the Big 12’s upper echelon. It’s been in the top five since Campbell’s second season. That’s quite an improvement from where it was pre-Campbell.
It’s not as comfortable a go-to position as it was when Charlie Kolar and Chase Allen were catching balls.
That’s not to say the same won’t happen, it could take a while, considering Kolar and Allen combined for 88 of the 96 receptions that went to tight ends last season.
Jared Rus is a veteran starter, but he’s caught just seven career passes. Easton Dean has one. DeShawn Hanika has none.
Could the comfort-zone tight end be redshirt freshman Tyler Moore, a four-star recruit from Johnston? Possibly. His resume is impressive, and at 6-5 by 255 — so is his size.
“As of right now, you feel really positive where this team is, yet you know there’s a lot of work to do,” said Campbell, whose team opens the season Sept. 3 against Southeast Missouri State at Jack Trice Stadium. “This is going to be a critical summer for us, and a really critical fall camp.”
Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson embarked on his 50th year of writing sports for the Des Moines Register in December 2021. Reach him at rpeterson@dmreg.com, 515-284-8132, and on Twitter at @RandyPete.

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