Iowa's Jack Campbell is finally healthy. He's set a bar high for himself, linebackers
Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell isn't taking anything for granted during summer conditioning.
The All-Big Ten Conference selection missed all of spring practice due to a knee injury but returned as a full participant in June.
He did all he could to contribute off the field, and now he's making up for lost time on the field.
"I wish I could have worked every single day in (the linebacker) room," Campbell said. "Due to the fact that I was just trying to get some things fixed up, that wasn't an option. But for me, personally, I can't take a day for granted. I just worked my butt off in the film room and also just talking to other linebackers about football stuff. But ultimately, I'm here now. I feel great so I'm ready to go."
Campbell passed on the 2022 NFL Draft to return to Iowa for his senior season. The Hawkeyes linebacker corps is the only position group on the team to return every starter from last season. Campbell is joined by fellow All-Big Ten selection and senior Seth Benson as well as junior Jestin Jacobs, whose athleticism could make him an intriguing 2023 draft prospect.
What are the expectations for this group? Campbell, who is racking up preseason All-American honors, has challenged the room to be second to none in 2022.
"I feel like obviously our next step is we want to be the best," Campbell said. "The best unit to step foot on the field every single day, day in and day out. It all starts with a mindset and if everyone in the room doesn't carry that mindset, we're not going to be that. I feel like we have a really good great group of veterans and young guys that do carry that mindset. And that's something that I'm excited to see develop throughout this summer (and) fall camp (and) into the season."
Campbell's individual improvement started with a self-evaluation process that began in January and carried over through spring. A tough critic of himself, Campbell said he's "never going to be satisfied with any single play" and is looking to get better in every facet.
He described the summer period as "vital" for development. He credited former teammate and current Baltimore Raven Kristian Welch for teaching about the importance of summer work early in his career. In addition to getting back in physical shape, Campbell is focusing on mastering the nuances of linebacker.
"Once you get older you can just start noticing little things that you wouldn't notice as a freshman," Campbell said. "Maybe eyes of a guy, the way a guy gets out of his stance or how he leans in his stance, the splits of receivers or a tight end. What's the situation? The down-and-distance, stuff like that."
As a group, the linebackers were most affected by injury during spring workouts. All three starting linebackers missed practice time, but it opened the door for backups to get valuable experience.
Names that stuck out most were senior Logan Klemp, juniors Kyler Fisher and Jay Higgins, and redshirt freshmen Jaden Harrell and Karson Sharar. Harrell worked at middle linebacker only, where Campbell is the starter, and Sharar is working at all three linebacker positions.
Klemp, the No. 2 outside linebacker behind Jacobs, got first-team reps there and also worked at weakside linebacker, where Benson starts. Fisher is Benson's listed backup but is also worked at outside linebacker and "Cash," Iowa's linebacker/defensive back hybrid position. Higgins has made the biggest impression of all, stepping in for Campbell at middle linebacker while also working outside.
Perhaps the biggest benefit for those players, besides more snaps, was experiencing offensive looks that are usually seen only by starters in practices and games.
"They need to see the fastball, curveball, the change-up," linebackers coach Seth Wallace said during the spring, using a baseball analogy. "There's a lot of different variables that your young guys, your backups need to see. And if they can see it in the spring, then it isn't new and it isn't catch-up in the fall."
Using another baseball analogy, Wallace added: "And that's what you're trying to do right now — not so much the bottom of your depth chart, but that midsection, you're trying to move from a middle reliever to a starting role."
With proven front-line starters and experienced backups, Iowa is primed to have one of the Big Ten's top linebacker units. Campbell noted that while the season is a marathon and not a sprint, he's emphasizing to the group how important it is that they improve rapidly during this period.
Taking the next step and becoming a dominant unit will go a long way in helping the Hawkeyes repeat as Big Ten West champions.
"I'm excited to see. We got a deep room," Campbell said. "A lot of guys that have been contributing a lot of ways, you can even see it last year with all the guys that contributed on special teams. So it should be a good year. (We) just need to continue to work and stay hungry."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.