Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell is healthy. Is he the next breakout star for the Hawkeyes?

With nearly half the season over, Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell got his chance. It was enough to leave a lasting impression. 

Mononucleosis kept the rangy linebacker out of the first three games of the COVID-shortened 2020 season. In the last five, all games he started, Campbell recorded 29 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, one forced fumble and one interception. 

He believes those starts laid the foundation for what's to come. 

"I was definitely excited to get in there last year," Campbell said. "Every game I felt like I took a step. I credit that to just working on my day-to-day things and then taking feedback from (linebackers coach Seth Wallace)." 

This year, there isn't anything hold Campbell back. He entered the offseason with a clean bill of health, successfully completed spring practice and summer workouts. Now, he figures to play a starring role on Iowa's defense as starting weakside linebacker. He is a junior with up to three years of eligibility rem

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But he isn't just limiting himself to that role. He, and the other Iowa linebackers focused on increasing position versatility during the off-season. 

"That was a big thing during spring ball," Campbell said. "Being able to move guys around is so beneficial. I'm just continuing to learn and develop myself at other positions so I can bounce around." 

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell speaks to reporters during a Hawkeyes football summer media availability, Wednesday, July 14, 2021, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

Campbell has fully embraced the developmental process at Iowa. When he arrived as a freshman in 2019, he weighed about 208 pounds. Today, he's around 245 pounds. 

"It's hard to not get stronger when you come here," Campbell said. "I've seen that in all my lifts, my jumps, the way I run has all improved dramatically. That day-by-day mentality and controlling what you can control and doing things away from the facility that will benefit you." 

Wallace likened his size to another position on the defense. 

"In a lot of ways, Jack Campbell is a defensive lineman at the second level," Wallace said. "With his physicality and his presence." 

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With that said, it's clear the Iowa coaches believe Campbell is a multi-purpose weapon for the defense.

"I see myself as a guy that's willing do to anything," Campbell said. "I'd describe as fearless when I'm on the field. Also as a player I've been trying to work on taking mental break on the sideline and kind of reset, then next time go out and really hone in on the smaller details that'll help me in the game." 

Campbell's mentality and attention to detail is allowing him to take on a leadership role at the center of the defense. Offensive players like tight end Sam LaPorta, who regularly lines up against the linebackers, has taken notice of Campbell's progression. 

"Jack is definitely a vocal guy," LaPorta said. "He's physical, strong and fast. He commands the defense very well. If he talks, people listen and I think that's what you need when you're the starting middle linebacker." 

At the center of the Hawkeyes defense, Campbell is in control very much like a quarterback is on offense. He'll be leading an experienced back-seven unit that will need to support a defensive line that's replacing three starters. 

He hopes that they can build off of their momentum from the last season's six-game winning streak. During that time, the Hawkeye defense surrendered only 13.8 points per game, a near 10-point drop-off from the first two games. 

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"The only someone has success is if everyone does their job," Campbell said. "I think everyone took steps as a defense (last season). I think it showed in the (Wisconsin) game, our defense played really well. You can look back from the Minnesota game to there and say we made major strides." 

For now, Campbell's abilities are well-known within the Iowa facility but are relatively unknown on a national scale. The Iowa defense has been defined in recent years by breakout stars: Daviyon Nixon and Josh Jackson both went from relative obscurity to national college stardom. 

Could Campbell be the next Hawkeye to breakout? 

"I feel like I have to just keep doing what I'm doing," Campbell said. "All of the things that the coaches are telling me and that I see for myself, I'm trusting that. As long as you buy into the program with (strength coach Raimond Braithwaite), coach Wallace and coach  (Kirk) Ferentz's overall program, things will work out." 

Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com