Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads, himself a former defensive coordinator, doesn’t hedge on what he wants from his defense, which has so ably been led by coordinator Wally Burnham since 2009.
“I would like to see us get more pressure on the opposing teams’ quarterbacks,” Rhoads said. “In order to do that, we are going to have to inject more five- or six-man pass rushes. We are going to be good at rushing with a standard three- and four-man pass rush, but that’s not going to be good enough overall at producing sacks or plays where the quarterback gets into a desperate situation and has to leave the pocket and feel uncomfortable.”
Rhoads hired former North Carolina assistant Troy Douglas as secondary coach during the off-season.
“Throughout the interview process in finding a secondary coach, one of the things we tried to gain is what teams are doing from a pressure standpoint,” Rhoads said. “I think we have accomplished that and are looking forward to putting those schemes on the field this spring.”
Step-by-step, rung-by-rung defensive ends coach Curtis Bray has helped rebuild the Iowa State defensive line. A mix of young and old has manned the Cyclone defensive trenches, leading Rhoads to feel the position is on the cusp of Big 12 quality.
“Under defensive ends coach Curtis Bray and defensive tackles coach Shane Burnham, the defensive line has grown immensely from the time we arrived and went through spring drills in 2009,” Rhoads said. "We want to put guys out on the field that understand what the Big 12 is all about and play at that level."
“At the same time we are going to inject some new guys that bring in an abundance of talent and we are excited to see their skills to continue and develop as we go through drills,” Rhoads noted.
Gone at defensive end are Patrick Neal (29 career starts) and Jake Lattimer (19 career starts), who combined for 84 tackles and 6 ½ sacks last season.
“We lose two different defensive ends who took a lot of snaps and were very productive for Iowa State in Jake Latimer and Patrick Neal,” Rhoads said. “They will be missed, but we are looking ahead and there is talent there.”
The future of the program at defensive end is 6-7, 262-pound sophomore David Irving. Playing as a true freshman, Irving saw action in nine game last season. Behind Irving is Rony Nelson. The Haitian sat out the 2010 campaign and then saw action in every game last season. At the other end is Willie Scott. Scott had a strong sophomore season in 2011, making 34 tackles with one sack.
“David Irving was good enough that we put him on the field as a
true freshman,” Rhoads said. “I think Willie Scott has a chance to
really develop in our scheme that is making plays on a
consistent basis. Rony Nelson is a guy that showed flashes of playmaking
ability in 2011 and we look forward to him rushing the passer in 2012."
Roosevelt Maggitt, a senior, missed last season with a knee injury and could be a major player in the line this fall. He will miss spring practice. Redshirt freshman Nick Kron will have plenty of time this spring to demonstrate his progress at end.
"Roosevelt Maggitt comes back off a knee injury and we will benefit from his leadership," Rhoads stated. "The cast of challengers has players, including sophomore Cory Morrissey and redshirt freshman Devin Lemke."
Cleyon Laing is another returnee battling for a starting spot at defensive tackle. Rhoads is banking on the senior to have a strong final collegiate season. Henry Simon, another senior who made 10 tackles in 10 games last season, also returns.
At nose guard, Jake McDonough is the most experienced of the interior returnees. McDonough has 13 career starts, 53 career tackles and three sacks. Walter Woods III is competing with McDonough for playing time.
“Our two starters will be Jake McDonough and Cleyon Laing,” Rhoads said. “Jake is a guy who has heavy hands. You are going to feel his presence. Cleyon has made the transition to this position, I think he made it successfully and we really need him to turn into a playmaker for us as we head towards the fall of 2012. Henry Simon has one year of eligibility left and is having a great off-season. We are expecting an improved level of play from him. Brandon Jensen has had a stellar off-season and will also be a major contributor along the defensive front.”
Defensive Line: Spring Depth
87 *David Irving, 6-7, 262, So.
85 Devin Lemke, 6-4, 225, Fr.#
31 *Rony Nelson, 6-1, 249 Sr.#
90 **Cleyon Laing, 6-4, 290, Sr.#
93 *Brandon Jensen, 6-5, 280, So.#
98 *Henry Simon, 6-3, 289, Sr.
94 **Jake McDonough, 6-5, 290, Sr.#
95 *Walter Woods III, 6-0, 308, Jr.#
99 Quinton Pompey, 6-3, 303, Fr.#
38 (**Roosevelt Maggitt, 6-3, 246, Sr.#)
50 *Willie Scott, 6-2, 231, Jr.#
69 Nick Kron, 6-2, 237, Fr.#
48 Cory Morrissey, 6-4, 242, So.
In A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, Iowa State possesses the most physical, toughest linebacking duo in the country and Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads had more than a little to do with it. Rhoads sold Klein on staying with his verbal commitment after the departure of former Cyclone head coach Gene Chizik for Auburn. It was Rhoads, who after watching film of Knott just days after taking the Iowa State job, had the Waukee native stop by Ames on the way home from a visit to another school.
Rhoads then delivered the duo into the hands of defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Wally Burnham. Burnham has seen it all, back to the days when he worked for Bear Bryant at Alabama. He has coached some elite college linebackers, among them Derrick Brooks and Marvin Jones at Florida State.
“These guys are going to be three-year starters and have played in every game going into their senior seasons,” Rhoads said. “They are great leaders, great workers and continue to develop as football players under Wally Burnham’s watchful eye.”
Both have blossomed into greatness at Iowa State. It was difficult for the league’s coaches and writers to choose between the two Cyclones for Big 12 postseason honors. Klein earned Big 12 Conference Co-Defensive-Player-of-the-Year honors. Knott was a first-team All-Big 12 honoree. Neither honor was a surprise. Klein ranked second in the conference with 116 tackles. Knott was third with 115 stops.
Knott fought through a shoulder injury throughout the season, magnifying his top-shelf performance level. He dislocated his shoulder twice during Iowa State’s game at Baylor last season. After the second time, he had Klein squeeze it back into place on the field. His stat sheet in that game – 18 tackles, 12 solo stops.
As Knott fought through his injury challenges Klein was all over the field. When Iowa State beat No. 2 Oklahoma State, Klein had 14 tackles and Knott 13. Each broke up a pass. Knott’s PBU came in the second overtime and resulted in an interception that set the stage for Jeff Woody’s heroics in the Cyclones’ 37-31 victory.
Knott will miss spring practice, recuperating and getting ready for the fall. Rhoads must replace Matt Tau‘fa’ou, who was a force against the run last season, finishing the year with 72 tackles.
But there are other linebackers that are building the future of the Iowa State defense.
Jevohn Miller had a strong season as a true freshman. The sophomore actually enrolled at Iowa State in January 2011, graduating early from high school. Miller impressed the coaching staff, and a decision was made to play him as a true freshman. He played in every game and affirmed the decision with his play, being an important member of multiple special teams units. Matt Morton brings experience to the position and the fifth-year senior also has played extensively on special teams. Jeremiah George already has two years of game day experience and will see his playing time increase this season.
“Jevohn Miller played last year as a true freshman,” Rhoads said. “Jeremiah George played his freshman campaign as well in 2010. These guys really need to make great leaps forward to give us added depth and the flexibility of moving A.J. out to the SAM linebacker position where we don’t have our nickel packages on the field. Matt Morton has proved to be a steady player on special teams and he will get a chance to prove himself. There will be a lot of opportunities this spring as Jake Knott heals from shoulder surgery.”
The nickel position returns two players who stepped up in 2011. C.J. Morgan made 17 tackles as a redshirt freshman. Deon Broomfield had 23 stops and they both will see more action this season.
“At the SAM linebacker/nickel position, C.J. Morgan has a chance to come into his own this spring and we really see Deon Broomfield developing at that position, as well as at safety,” Rhoads said.
Linebackers: Spring Depth
27 *C.J. Morgan, 6-3, 213, So.#
26 **Deon Broomfield, 6-0, 196, Jr.#
47 ***A.J. Klein, 6-2, 244, Sr.
52 **Jeremiah George, 5-11, 225, Jr.
20 (***Jake Knott, 6-3, 239, Sr.)
55 *Jevohn Miller, 6-1, 242, So.
39 **Matt Morton, 6-1, 209, Sr.#
There are significant losses at defensive back from last season to address this spring. Gone is two-time second-team All-Big 12 honoree Leonard Johnson. His 43 career starts, 50 games played, 247 tackles and six interceptions will be missed. Safety Ter’Ran Benton, who had 189 career tackles and three interceptions, has also exhausted his eligibility.
“In the back end in our secondary we lose two really proven players in Ter’Ran Benton and Leonard Johnson,” Rhoads said. “They are guys that I think will have an opportunity to play on Sundays in the National Football League. We got a lot of bodies back there to compete. Competition is what it is all about, especially during spring practice.”
Jeremy Reeves has the most playing time at corner among the returnees. His spring practice will be limited, but the veteran will return this fall, bringing in 145 career tackles and three interceptions.
“We have a returning starter at corner in Jeremy Reeves who is not going to be as active this spring as we would like as he comes off of surgery on his wrist,” Rhoads said. “We are going to keep him really limited and protect what was done by the physicians this winter.
“With that being said, it gives guys like Jansen Watson and freshmen coming off their freshman redshirt season Kenneth Lynn and Sam Richardson a real chance to develop," Rhoads added. "A guy like Matt Thomas who saw some action as a special teams player, has a chance to get involved and compete as well.”
Watson has made 21 tackles in 22 career games and has extensive special teams experience. Lynn and Richardson are redshirt freshmen who will get significant attention.
“Then we got Cliff Stokes who joins us in January from Trinity Valley Community College,” Rhoads said. “He is also a guy that we certainly brought in to compete for a starting job and a lot of playing time. We are anxious to see him at the corner position as well.”
Stokes has promising credentials. In 2011 at Trinity Valley, the 6-1 corner recorded 35 tackles, five for loss, 16 pass-breakups and a team-high two interceptions to help lead the Cardinals to Citizens Bank Bowl.
There is veteran leadership at the safety position. Jacques Washington was a strong performer at free safety in 2011, despite
battling a groin injury late last season. Starting every game,
Washington was third on the team with 90 tackles. He made one
interception and broke up a team-high eight passes.
“We have one starter back at the safety position in Jacques Washington,” Rhoads said. “He is a very intelligent football player that is continuing to develop his skills from a physical standpoint. That veteran leadership and intelligence he brings is what you want out of a general back there. Durrell Givens will make a move from backing up Jacques to trying to replace Ter’Ran Benton at strong safety."
Givens made 31 tackles, broke up two passes and forced and recovered a fumble last season. Rhoads also likes freshman T.J. Mutcherson, who will be considered for playing time at safety. Broomfield, who played significantly as the nickel back, will also see time at the position. Jared Brackens, a 6-1, 205, a sophomore who played in 12 games last season, will also be in the mix.
“T.J. Mutcherson is a player we brought in this spring and we will see what safety position he is best suited for whether that is strong or free safety,” Rhoads said. “Jared Brackens is a guy that played as a true freshman on special teams more than safety, but we look forward to what he brings to the table. Darian Cotton had an excellent December and maybe the biggest ball hawk we have back there in the back end.”