Peterson: Matt Campbell's 2023 Iowa State football puzzle is still a few pieces short

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AMES – Iowa State football’s puzzle pieces gradually are starting to fit into place. We know who’s on the 2023 roster, minus transfer portal comings and goings and a handful of February recruit signings. We know the identity of the new offensive coordinator, but not so much with other vacancies.

We know this and we know that, but we don’t know yet just how the new staffers Matt Campbell is assembling and returning players mesh to provide the right mix in recovering from a disappointing 2022 season.

More:Peterson: Iowa State recruit J.J. Kohl stayed true to his word. He explains why.

I suspect the moves to be positive, starting with Nate Scheelhaase replacing Tom Manning as the offensive coordinator. It’s the 32-year-old’s first coordinator role in five seasons of being a full-fledged assistant coach, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

If he brings a new approach to an offense that became as predictable as third-down passing completions ending up short of the sticks, then maybe Scheelhaase − a former Illinois quarterback − is the injection needed to prove that last season was just a hiccup.

Iowa State's new offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase (right) already has a connection with the 2023 recruits.
Iowa State's new offensive coordinator Nate Scheelhaase (right) already has a connection with the 2023 recruits.

I especially liked this quote from recruit J.J. Kohl, Iowa State’s highest-ranked quarterback pick-up since recruiting rankings became a thing:

“I saw some of Scheelhaase’s crazy highlights when he played at Illinois. He’ll be able to connect with me in that area.”

Let’s look at what 2023 signees and known new staffers might mean for the program’s immediate future, knowing also that there are still puzzle pieces yet to be found.

Will there be a quarterback competition?

There will be battles at all positions, especially here. Hunter Dekkers will go into the spring as the starter, based on starting all 12 games last season. He wasn’t perfect, but neither was the offensive line that was supposed to protect him.

Kohl will provide that competition, as will last season's backups Rocco Becht and Ashton Cook. If the rookie from Ankeny is as good as his resume suggests, then that competition could get real interesting.

Kohl will start attending Iowa State next semester. He’ll participate in spring practices.

“My expectations are to go in there and try and compete − give my best each and every day, and try to get better,” Kohl told me Wednesday. “I want to play somewhat early. If it works out that way, then great. If it doesn’t, I’m totally cool with developing and getting better each and every day.”

Who will be the quarterbacks coach? Who will oversee the program’s first QB competition since at least Kyle Kempt and Jacob Park in 2017?

I asked Campbell about Kempt. As a graduate assistant, the former Cyclone QB worked closely with all-time great Brock Purdy in 2020 and 2021. Kempt helped Scheelhaase last season with the receivers, which begs the question:

Did Campbell make that move to give Kempt another view of the quarterback position – this time, grooming from the perspective of the receivers? Could Kempt be elevated to quarterbacks coach?


More:Peterson: Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy has Kyle Kempt as a been there, done that positive influence

“We obviously love Kyle,” Campbell said. “Kyle, I think, will be a huge asset to our program moving forward in some role. But what that role is, and what those roles look like, I think you’ve got to take it one piece at a time, and put the puzzle together the right way for the betterment of the kids in the program.”

Does Kyle Kempt (left) have a chance to become Iowa State's new quarterbacks coach? Stay tuned to that one.
Does Kyle Kempt (left) have a chance to become Iowa State's new quarterbacks coach? Stay tuned to that one.

I don’t know if there’s a lot of reading between the lines needed there. Kempt will be on the 2023 staff, but in what role? Stay tuned.

Let’s look at offensive line. Jeff Myers no longer is coaching that position. Potential replacements are being interviewed.

I presume Campbell wants someone experienced in developing linemen into NFL draft choices. The Cyclones haven’t had someone at this position drafted since Carter Bykowski in 2013. During those nine following seasons, each Big 12 opponent has had at least one offensive lineman picked.

Northern Iowa has had two o-linemen drafted since Iowa State’s last pick. Just saying.

The Panthers' offensive line coach, Ryan Clanton, had players picked in the last two drafts – Trevor Penning in 2022 and Spencer Brown in 2021. Penning played at Mason City Newman High School. Brown played eight-man ball at Lenox.

Does Clanton have a chance to move southwest to Ames? That’s what I’m hearing, though it might be a week or so before we hear more about that.

“I think all the things for us are a puzzle,” Campbell said about the entirety of staff vacancies. “Whether it's offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, strength and conditioning coordinator – it’s your job as the head coach to do a great job of putting the right pieces around those coordinators to be successful.”

Keep an eye on the transfer portal for Cyclones-bound linemen. Only two signed with Iowa State on Wednesday.

New strength and conditioning coach Reid Kagy will have a major role in player development, and that certainly includes offensive linemen.

He was on Iowa State’s strength staff during Campbell’s early seasons. He most recently was the head strength coach at Boise State. Three offensive linemen were drafted when Kagy worked in the Oregon strength program.

He’s replacing Dave Andrews, gone after three seasons at Iowa State. I don’t know what happened to cause the breakup. Sometimes two strong-minded people just don’t mesh.

Asked about the strength coach situation, Campbell said: “Now that you've had some time to reflect on the season, what do you think are some of the things that held you back from getting to where you guys want it to be, and then what goes into the offseason to be able to correct some of those things?”

And what about the most-often-asked question when it comes to Campbell assistant coaches: Is he finally hiring a full-time special teams coach?

John Bonamego was as close to a special teams coach as it got last season. He was a special teams analyst, which meant he could work with coaches but not directly with players.

Iowa State appeared to need someone who could work directly with the kickers, considering field-goal kicking was problematic during a season that included consecutive losses against Kansas, Kansas State and Texas by three points or fewer.

“I think we're looking at every possibility, to make sure we can put the best coaching staff together and give our kids the best opportunity to have great success,” Campbell said. “So I don't think anything's off the table. It's making sure we align the program the right way.”

Iowa State columnist Randy Peterson is in his 51st year writing sports for the Des Moines Register. Reach him at, and on Twitter @RandyPete

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Iowa State's Matt Campbell still has work to do in finishing roster