AMES, Iowa (AP) Iowa State senior quarterback Joel Lanning worked his entire career in hopes of helping the Cyclones reach a bowl game in 2017.
Lanning might end up doing so on the other side of the ball.
In a surprise move, Lanning took snaps at linebacker during the first practice of the spring on Tuesday.
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Lanning is still primarily listed as a quarterback. But the emergence of Jacob Park – and Lanning’s combination of size, speed and athleticism – has left second-year coach Matt Campbell and his staff working to find ways to get Lanning on the field.
Lanning made nine starts at quarterback in 2016 for the Cyclones (3-9, 2-7 Big 12).
”He’s one of the best athletes we have,” Campbell said. ”He can do so many things for us. I think Joel is probably going to get more reps than he ever has in his life here in the next year, to be honest with you. I think you’ll see us be really creative with Joel.”
Lanning, who is 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, first emerged as Iowa State’s starting quarterback in 2015 under former coach Paul Rhoads. Lanning finished with 10 touchdown passes and four rushing touchdowns and entered 2016 as the perhaps the only certainty Campbell had when he took over the program.
But Lanning struggled with his accuracy early last season, so the coaching staff developed packages for both he and Park, a transfer from Georgia. As the season wore on, Park emerged as a more complete passer while showing enough elusiveness to make big plays with his feet.
Lanning still played, most notably breaking the school record with five rushing touchdowns in a late-season 66-10 blowout of Texas Tech. But it was clear that Park was the program’s future.
Rather than take his chances elsewhere as a graduate transfer with starting experience, Lanning stuck with the Cyclones. The Cyclones, fully aware of Lanning’s skill set, stuck with him.
Campbell first broached the subject of working out at linebacker at the end of 2016, and Lanning was open to the possibility. Campbell even said Tuesday that Lanning already looks the part of an NFL prospect at linebacker – and that’s an area where the Cyclones could use the help.
”His physicality and his ability to run sideline to sideline is maybe as good as anyone we’ve got on our team. So we’re certainly going to explore all options,” Campbell said.
The best-case scenario for the Cyclones will be for redshirt freshman Zeb Noland, who missed last season after hurting his knee in fall camp, to show enough this spring that they can move Lanning around without wondering who’ll step in as the backup quarterback should Park get hurt.
Iowa State also looks prepared to put all its faith in Park.
Park, who’ll be a junior, didn’t really join the Cyclones until last fall. Still, he completed 59 percent of his passes and averaged 264 yards in his last five games.
”Literally he went into football games and played on sheer talent alone,” Campbell said. ”Now did he work hard to learn the offense and some of those things? Yes. But the discipline that it takes, and the habits that it takes, and the ability to be the CEO of the offense, he had none of that. So it tells you what type of talent Jacob has.”
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