Week 1 of the college football season is less than three weeks away. With so little time left, each practice can make a difference and kickstart careers.
Sure, it sounds dramatic, but college football is never lacking for drama. However, on the Iowa State side, there's been a distinct lack of drama during fall camp, with the Cyclones fully settled in under Matt Campbell and in the best shape the program has been in for some time.
With that relative security comes small storylines, such as the backup quarterback's growth or the impression newcomers have made in the defensive backfield. Not necessarily less important stories but ones that, in many situations, could go under the radar.
Mitchell one snap from action
There's no quarterback competition happening in Ames this fall. Not even for the backup spot.
Passing game coordinator Joel Gordon made it clear Monday that Re'al Mitchell, the redshirt freshman who is the Cyclones' longest-tenured quarterback on the roster, is firmly second-in-line for snaps should injury befall sophomore star Brock Purdy.
"Re'al has done a great job so far in camp, and I don't see that changing," Gordon said. "He's getting better every day."
Mitchell has tantilizing athleticism and was lightly used in a non-quarterback role at the end of last season as he sat behind Purdy and then-senior Kyle Kempt after his return from a knee injury. This year, as the clear backup, his route onto the field is always one play away. Does that mean the Cyclones will be more careful with how they utilize Mitchell? Or will they do what Campbell said led to him getting on the field last season and look to use his speed in any way they can?
Mitchell wasn't sure.
"I see myself having whatever role coach Campbell wants me to have," Mitchell said.
But, he did say he's grown in his understanding and comfort in the Cyclones' offense, even as returning offensive coordinator Tom Manning makes sutbtle changes to the team's scheme.
After having incredible quarterback depth the previous season, Iowa State is left with young and experienced options behind incumbent Brock Purdy.
As for the starter, Purdy said his comfort level with the team and offense has grown exponentially since his first year ended. Purdy has had to get used to new contributors at the running back and wide receiver positions, and it sounds like the Cyclones are making a concerted effort to spread the ball around during camp.
"Everybody's getting a shot with the ball to make plays," Purdy said. "Comapred to last year I think we're using the ball, spreading the ball a lot better."
Heacock and Caponi impressed by freshmen corners
The cornerback position — and specifically, depth behind presumed starters Datrone Young and Anthony Johnson — has been a cornern for the Cyclones since the start of fall camp, with Campbell saying competition for the position was wide open.
Hell, a story about it was written this past weekend.
But cornerbacks coach Matt Caponi and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock were cautiously optimistic this week on the state of the secondary, particularly bullish on a crop of freshmen (with redshirt freshman Jaeveyon Morton earning praise as well).
D.J. Miller, who came in as a three-star cornerback from O'Fallon, Missouri, and Kym-Mani King have stuck out to Heacock.
Iowa State football has—on paper—one of the best defenses in the Big 12 lined up for the 2…
"I think we're slowly finding some guys that are coming along," Heacock said. "Really excited about our young group that came in this summer.
"Feel like those guys have some skills, some size and some different things that allow us to have a little bit of depth."
With such uncertainty in their position, is there a chance for these freshmen to make an instant impact and see playing time in 2019?
It sounds as though Heacock and Caponi are at the very least willing to consider it.
"I'm slowly gaining confidence," Caponi said. "There are some guys in there that I feel comfortable they can go probably 15-20 snaps."
Amechie Walker and Morton are still in play for time as well, and Heacock described the competition for playing time as "fierce."
But he also expressed that the team was more optimistic about the position than they were heading into fall camp.
Wirtel adjusting to Rivera
Joe Rivera is the leader in the clubhouse for starting punter, and that means that it's been a time of adjustment for senior long snapper Steve Wirtel.
Wirtel was one of the first in a growing trend of scholatship specialists, as special teams have become more critical to the success of power conference teams. Starting off with just punts and moving to all special teams, he's had to adjust in this offseason after Corey Dunn suffered a season-ending injury.
"The only difference is now having a guy who's a lefty instead of Corey who's a righty," Wirtel said. "The biggest thing is just getting comfortable, and that's what we're doing right now."