Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has long talked about the importance of "the process."
The ideal vision of "the process" is pretty simple: players work hard, develop over the course of their careers and teach the younger players how fill their shoes when the time comes. That cycle repeats itself and the "the process" is born.
According to Campbell, that system is beginning to take place in Ames.
"When you look at our program right now and you talk about a Greg Eisworth coming back or a Braxton Lewis coming back, and Marcel Spears coming back and a Ray Lima coming back ... there’s leaders in this program already that are just scratching the surface," Campbell said. "That’s powerful. Those other guys, what our program’s starting to teach itself over the last two years is 'what does that mean to be a leader in our program?' That’s only grown and gotten better every year that we’ve been here."
Iowa State returns the vast majority of its roster from last year. All five starting offensive linemen return, as does starting quarterback Brock Purdy.
Defensively, Iowa State returns its starting defensive line and two of three starting linebackers.
Both starting cornerbacks are gone, but two young cornerbacks got reps a year ago.
"Datrone Young was playing at a really high level before he got hurt," Campbell said. "I think that aspect of it for us has been really, really good. Anthony Johnson, I don’t know if there’s a young corner that played any better than he did early on, but again those guys are young puppies."
Young and Johnson played extensively as the Cyclones tried to ease the load on senior cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D'Andre Payne.
With Peavy and Payne out of eligibility, Young and Johnson will have to step into bigger roles.
"Now they get an offseason and a spring and a fall where they can develop and grow," Campbell said. "Where do they take that? Do they take a step back and have a sophomore slump, or do they take a step forward and really take that next step?
"I think some of the leadership now transitions to, you had those two, but now you have a guy like Braxton and certainly a guy in Greg Eisworth that have great leadership ability and can empower others around them."
Iowa State's front seven loses linebacker Willie Harvey, but Marcel Spears Jr. and Mike Rose return in their spots.
On the defensive line, the majority of its production returns. Senior defensive end JaQuan Bailey has a chance to shatter the school sacks record, while interior lineman Ray Lima was a force inside last season as well.
"I think that’s really big," Campbell said of his front seven. "I think a year ago I had said it was really important for us to have the same foundational structure going in from year one to year two.
"Now having the guys within those structures going from year two to year three in this defense, I think that’s really big. And again, it allows, you can continue to grow defensively."