Nothing has been set in stone, but the expectation is that come Aug. 30, Alton Meeks will start at middle linebacker for the Cyclones.
“He’s got good speed, he’s a smart kid that picks up things pretty fast — not as fast as we’d like, but he’s getting there,” defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “He’s got all the physical traits that you need there. We just feel like he’s the guy that will blossom there hopefully and he stayed ahead of the posse so to speak and [has] done a few more things [and] been more productive.”
Depending on formations, though, backup middle linebacker Kane Seeley will see playing time with Meeks shifting over to the SAM linebacker position in the same way the Cyclones once used linebacker A.J. Klein.
“Both of those guys are going to play the North Dakota State game,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. “Both of them might play the bulk of the game when we’re looking at tight end types of sets.”
Jordan Harris is also expected to see playing time, Burnham said. Harris has proven to play best against the run, which will put him on the field at times in the season-opener next week.
Expect to see both Jevohn Miller and Luke Knott at weakside linebacker when North Dakota State arrives in Ames next weekend.
While Miller has long held the edge since fall camp began, that gap has closed in the last week, Burnham said. Knott, who started five of the season’s first six games last season before suffering a season-ending hip injury that required surgery, is now getting back up to speed.
“It was pretty evident who was the best for a while,” Burnham said, alluding to Miller holding that spot. “Luke hadn’t been in football since the middle of last year. He’s missed a lot of reps and that has kept Jevohn ahead. Now, the reps are coming back and he’s coming back, so we’ll probably use both of them. It’s not as wide as it was last Saturday, today.”
Much like the linebackers, there is still much to be decided about the team’s personnel at the safety positions.
The work will be divided among a very inexperienced bunch with five different players competing for playing time. Rhoads said if the season were to start today, T.J. Mutcherson would be the Cyclones’ starting strong safety with Kamari Cotton-Moya at free safety.
“I don’t know if we’ve got one snap — not a start — one snap out of anybody at the safety position,” Rhoads said.
Darian Cotton will get playing time at strong safety behind Mutcherson and Rhoads said they would ‘see how the free safety goes,’ with Kamari Syrie and Qujuan Floyd backing up Cotton-Moya. For now, the focus is on improving before Game 1.
“Still making too many mistakes in the safety positions, so we’ve got to keep working,” Burnham said. “Still a long ways away. We’ve got to get there by Saturday, I don’t know how.”
Kickoff duties for now rest in the hands of redshirt sophomore Cole Netten, but there is a chance a walk-on could see time on the field this season.
Rhoads said Chris Francis, a freshman walk-on from Dubuque, has ‘hit some good balls,’ on kickoffs during fall camp. Francis had 34 touchbacks as a senior, which accounted for 83 percent of his total kickoffs.
“If in the next week as he focuses on that he booms some kicks and we feel he gives us a great chance for touchbacks in certain situations or if Cole doesn’t remain consistent once the year starts, yeah, there’s a chance it could be an open deal,” Rhoads said.
One option that isn’t on the table is using freshman punter Colin Downing for kickoffs. Downing did get reps early in camp before Rhoads quickly pulled him from practicing those duties.
“We’ve got a freshman that I’m relying on to be our punter, I don’t need him doing both,” Rhoads said. “Two completely different swings and so-forth.”
Mark Mangino has seen the game from many angles, and this season he’ll look on from the pressbox above the field.
When Mangino was an offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, he also served as the offensive line coach and had no choice but to be on the sideline. As run-game coordinator at Kansas State he coached from the box.
The decision in this instance came from a gut-feeling, and Mangino said there is no better place to be as each has its pros and cons.
“When you’re calling plays from the [box] you don’t have much interaction with players, which is something I value during the game. But we’ve got good coaches downstairs that will give me good information,” Mangino said. “Upstairs you can see the whole field, you can see all 22 guys and the interaction there.
“With the dynamic of our staff, the way it’s set up, for right now the best place for me to be is upstairs.”