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Spring primer: Matt Campbell era begins at Iowa State

New Iowa State coach Matt Campbell has several position battles to sort out this spring. AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Iowa State is kicking off spring practice today.

Below is a preview of what to look for from the Cyclones this spring:

Offensive returner ready to take next step: After taking over for Sam B. Richardson, quarterback Joel Lanning shined at times down the stretch for the Cyclones to finish with the sixth-best QBR in the league. He will have to prove himself again with the new coaching regime, but he has the tools to develop into one of the better quarterbacks in the conference.

Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Two seasons ago, safety Kamari Cotton-Moya was a freshman All-American and the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. But last season, he was knocked out of Iowa State's final six games with a hamstring injury. Having had time to heal his hammy, Cotton-Moya should return as one of the leaders of the defense, and, potentially, one of the top safeties in the league.

Redshirt freshman to watch: At 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, Allen Lazard is among the Big 12's most physically imposing receivers. Denver Johnson (6-3, 220) has the measurables to give Iowa State another physically imposing wideout. With D'Vario Montgomery having been dismissed last month, there is an open slot now in the rotation. Johnson will have a chance to make a move on that spot this spring.

Most significant position battle: With four starters gone -- including standout guard Daniel Burton, who left because of injuries -- offensive line will be the position to watch this spring. The Cyclones have left tackle Jake Campos and his 23 career starts returning, though even he will be out this spring, recovering from an offseason procedure. The rest of the unit is an unknown.

Key midterm enrollee: Junior-college transfer D'Andre Payne could give the Cyclones a major boost in the secondary. Payne originally signed with Tennessee out of high school and was a four-star, ESPN 300 recruit. Iowa State has two experienced cornerbacks in Nigel Tribune and Brian Peavy. But Payne has the talent to bolster the depth.

Question that could be answered: There could be some position battles won this spring. Offensive line will be one place that could happen. With Levi Peters giving up football, linebacker will be another. And even though Lanning seems to be fairly entrenched at quarterback, he will need to play well this spring to keep it that way. Given that this will be the new staff's first opportunity to watch the players in person on the field, the depth chart could begin to crystalize some by the end of the spring.

Question that won't be answered until fall: There is no way for Matt Campbell and the new staff to be measured in a spring. That will come in the fall when the Cyclones begin playing games and attempt to return to bowl eligibility after a couple of dry years. Given Campbell's first recruiting showing, there is plenty of excitement in Ames -- and rightfully so. But the first real test won't arrive until September.