AMES — As Iowa State’s fall camp began, the coaching staff knew what it had in linebackers Mike Rose and Marcel Spears.
Rose was expected to play middle linebacker and Spears was expected to play Will linebacker, like they did last season.
O’Rien Vance and Robbie Hummel were expected to be their backups and the coaching staff planned to find a third starter to play alongside Rose and Spears from a pool of other players.
In seven-on-seven drills early in fall camp, the coaching staff shuffled linebackers between all three spots, so they could get used to playing in different spots in case the situation arose.
But as camp went on, it became harder and harder to keep Vance, a Cedar Rapids native, off the field. At the tail end of camp they let Vance, a sophomore, play at middle linebacker and tried Rose, also a sophomore, at Sam for an extended period of time.
Rose, a first-team Freshman All-American middle linebacker, moved outside to make way for Vance.
Matt Campbell preaches that he wants the best players on the field, and Rose, Vance and Spears were the best three linebackers.
In Iowa State’s first game against UNI, all three played exceptionally.
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Spears led the team in tackles with nine. He also had 1.5 tackles for a loss and three quarterback hurries. Vance had eight tackles and led the team in sacks with two. Rose, in his first game as an outside linebacker, also had eight tackles and he led the team in tackles for a loss with 3.5.
Vance missed a few plays in the middle of the UNI game with a minor injury, so while he was out, Rose slid back inside and didn’t miss a beat until Vance returned.
“I thought Mike had a really good football game week one,” Campbell said. “What we asked Mike to do — kind of bouncing back and forth at times between Sam and Mike isn’t easy. But again, I think Mike’s a guy that the more he’s played the more we’ve put on his plate, and he’s a guy that I almost feel relishes that opportunity to have more on his plate.
“Mike is a guy that from a physicality standpoint can play in the box, but I think it shows you how talented he really is with his ability to go out of the box at times and play in space. He had some huge plays for us — a couple of tackles for loss and did a really good job in the pass game out there for us.”
Rose said it wasn’t too much of an adjustment to move outside.
“The biggest difference is not looking over a center or a guard every play, really,” Rose said. “Moving outside is exactly what you’d think it’d be. You’re out in space and not always in the box.”
Two-time captain amd defensive lineman Ray Lima couldn’t feel more confident in the three linebackers behind him.
“(Rose) is great,” Lima said. “He’s so young, but even I look up to him with the way he approaches the game. And having O’Rien Vance step up and play that middle linebacker spot was huge. All our guys are great in that room.
“With Marcel, Rose and O’Rien, I’ve never felt more confident turning around seeing those three back there. I’m really happy those three are on the field at the same time.”