2011 Iowa State Preview – Defense
Iowa State LB Jake Knott
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Iowa State Cyclone Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: Iowa State has had some excellent defensive coaches, but none of them have been able to generate a strong brick wall of a D. Last year the Cyclones weren't awful finishing seventh in the Big 12 in yards allowed, but they were inconsistent. There's no pass rush, not enough big plays from the secondary, and the overall athleticism isn't quite up to snuff, but there are positivess. The corners are experienced and lightning quick, the defensive tackles are promising, and the linebacking corps has the potential to be fantastic with A.J. Klein and Jake Knott big, tough, and active. They should combine for well over 200 tackles.
Star of the defense: Junior LB Jake Knott
Tackles: Jake Knott, 130
Sacks: Jacob Lattimer, 4
Interceptions: Jake Knott, 4
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior DT Jake McDonough
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore FS Jacques Washington
Best pro prospect: Junior LB A.J. Klein
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Knott, 2) Klein, 3) NG Stephen Ruempolhamer
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, Corner Quickness
Weakness of the defense: Pass Rush, Consistency
State of the Unit: Considering the defensive coaches at ISU over the last several years, it's been forever since the line touched a quarterback on a regular basis. The Cyclones only registered 11 sacks last year and the linebackers contributed to part of the total. ISU was 115th in the nation in sacks and 106th in tackles for loss, and it struggled against the run allowing 186 yards per game. With plenty of experience returning, there's hope for an improvement … finally.
Senior Jacob Lattimer was going to get a shot at linebacker going into last year, but he was moved to the defensive front and became the only Cyclone who got to the quarterback with a team-leading four sacks with 6.5 tackles for loss and 39 tackles. He got the starting nod in five games and turned in a whopper of a game against Texas, making two sacks and seven tackles with a forced fumble earning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week honors. At 6-3 and 245 pounds he has decent size and the quickness to be the pass rusher the line revolves around.
Working at right end will be junior Roosevelt Maggitt, a decent part of the rotation making 30 tackles with two tackles for loss, but he hasn't done enough to get to the quarterback. At 6-1 and 243 pounds he's not all that big, but he's extremely quick and has the speed and burst to make plays. Now he has to start doing it, while 6-0, 247-pound sophomore Patrick Neal will be a factor again in the starting mix after making 29 tackles and a sack starting seven times. While he bulked up over the last few years, the former tight end isn't huge and can get pushed around, but he's a non-stop worker who's always going 100 miles per hour. He makes up for his problems with effort, but he has to be more of a pass rusher.
Senior Stephen Ruempolhamer doesn't have the raw bulk for a Big 12 tackle, but at 6-3 and 288 pounds he has decent size and a good frame. While not built to be a true nose guard, he's a veteran who came up with 33 tackles with 2.5 sacks and six tackles for loss as the team's best interior pass rusher. From Holland, he's still learning the ins and outs of the position, but he has the talent and athleticism to be even better now that he has two years of experience.
6-5, 289-pound junior Jake McDonough was a key part of the rotation last year seeing time in every game and making 17 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. In a very scary and very bizarre case, he got hit by a strange illness a few years ago and dropped 50 pounds. It took a year to get back to form and two years to bulk up to his current weight, and now he should finally be ready to handle more of a workload in the middle. He'll combine with 6-4, 282-pound junior Cleyon Laing in a rotation with the hope of one of the two being more disruptive. Lang made 15 tackles with a few quarterback hurries, and he has the quickness to do far more.
Watch Out For … McDonough. He was able to get back after his illness and produce last year, but now he's bigger than before and should be a force at times on the inside. There's a chance that he and Ruempolhammer could form a night-and-day better tackle pair.
Strength: Experience. Considering there's going to be a good rotation on the right side, there's a good foursome to look at with just enough depth to get by. It might take a little while to form the right rotation, but there's a good base to work around.
Weakness: Pass rush. The Cyclones simply don't get to the quarterback. They finished last in the Big 12 two years ago registering just 16 sacks, and last year they managed just 11.
Outlook: The defensive front might not have a sure-thing killer, but there are several nice veterans who should be stronger now that they know what they're doing. There's little developed depth to rely on, and it's asking a lot to suddenly be good to get into the backfield, but the line will be better.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: The linebacking corps underwent an overhaul and was supposed to struggle. Instead, the outside defenders were tremendous and there's enough talent across the board to hope for one of the best years from a Cyclone linebacking corps in a long, long time.
The biggest boost in production came from the emergence of Jake Knott, a 6-2, 243-pound junior who was everywhere on the field leading the team with 130 tackles with a sack, six tackles for loss, and four interceptions. An elite playmaker from the weakside, and with great size for the position, he's a smart, tough defender who's a better football player than an all-around athlete. Tough as nails, he broke his arm this offseason but isn't expected to have any problems to start the season.
Back on the strongside is junior A.J. Klein, a great running mate for Knott who finished second on the team with 111 tackles with eight tackles for loss and three picks. While not the hitter that Knott is, he's a big 6-1, 244-pound tough guy against the run and could work in the middle if needed. Very smart and very active, he's showing why he was such a great recruit a few years ago.
Working in the middle will be former JUCO All-American Matt Tau'fo'ou, possibly the team's best linebacker with the range and skills to potentially be the team's leading tacklers. The 5-11, 243-pounder came up with 20 tackles in a limited time after having problems with a leg injury. He hasn't quite been able to make the impact expected, but if stays healthy he'll be a 100-tackle performer who'll eat up everything against the run.
5-11, 222-pound sophomore Jeremiah George saw time as a reserve last season making four tackles in a limited role. A good recruit out of Florida, he's not all that big, but he's a sure tackler and is terrific on the move. He'll work in the middle, while true freshman Jevohn Miller got to school early and is looking to make an impact early. He's not going to push Knott out of a job, but he's built to shine on the weakside. 6-2, 185-pound redshirt freshman Adrian Bennett came to ISU as a safety and will work on the strongside. The Houston native can fly and could be a situational pass rusher.
Watch Out For … Tau'fo'ou. He was never quite right last year, but if he's healthy he should be a monster against the run and a major help on the outside. He'll lead the team in assisted tackles.
Strength: The starting three. Knott and Klein form one of the Big 12's most productive outside linebacking tandems, while Tau'fo'ou, if healthy, will put up big numbers on the inside.
Weakness: Plays behind the line. The Iowa State linebackers are active, big, and athletic, but they don't do too much to get into the backfield. Knott and Klein combined for 14 tackles for loss and a sack, but they were better roaming around against the run.
Outlook: The Cyclone linebackers will put up a ton of tackles and the stats will look great, but they have to be even more disruptive and have to make more plays at the line. Too many tackles came after good gains and there weren't enough plays in the backfield. Even so, Knott and Klein are terrific and Tau'fo'ou will be a star if he can stay on the field.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The Cyclone secondary wasn't all that bad considering there was absolutely no help whatsoever from the defensive line, which couldn't get to the quarterback. Three starters are back and there are enough options to hope for good nickel and dime situations, but now more big plays have to be made. Out of the team's 13 picks, eight came from linebackers and defensive linemen.
The biggest key will be to find a replacement for David Sims, the former Oklahoma Sooner who finished third on the team with 96 tackles at safety. 6-0, 207-pound senior Ter'Ran Benton has seen time at free safety and nickel back, and now he'll shine at strong safety after making 58 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss. While he's a good hitter, he didn't make enough plays when the ball was in the air. He broke his leg two years ago and missed most of the year, but he was fine last season and now has the experience to be more of a factor. Backing up Benton will be 5-10, 196-pound senior Earl Brooks, who saw time in every game mostly working on special teams making just one tackle.
The team's most experienced defensive back is speedy senior Leonard Johnson, who has started 30 times and has 175 career tackles. The 5-10, 196-pound senior finished fourth on the team with 64 stops with a pick and seven broken up passes, and now he has to play the role of a No. 1 lockdown corner. A big hitting outside defender, he's a sure tackler who doesn't miss plays in the open field. 5-8, 169-pound senior Anthony Young is a veteran backup who got a start last season and finished with 17 tackles. Arguably the team's top recruit a few years ago, he's quick and can jump out of the stadium. While he didn't make any picks, he came up with six a few years ago at Palomar CC.
Working at the other corner spot will be veteran Jeremy Reeves, a lightning-quick 5-7, 165-pound junior who finished fifth on the team with 62 tackles with two picks and six broken up passes. He took one of the picks 94 yards for a score against Texas Tech, and he needs to make more big plays. He has problems against the bigger receivers, but he's quick enough to stay with anyone.
The one new starter to the mix is sophomore Jacques Washington, a 6-0, 209-pound high school running back who's ready to become a regular in the defensive backfield. He came up with 12 tackles as a key reserve, and now he has to show off the range and the hitting ability to shine at free safety. 6-0, 192-pound sophomore Deon Broomfield was a part of every game making eight tackles with a fumble recovery. He moves extremely well.
Watch Out For … Benton to start making more big plays. He's the main man at safety now that Sims is gone, and he should be a factor more being all over the field.
Strength: Quick corners. Reeves and Johnson aren't all that big, and backups Matthew Thomas and Anthony Young aren't exactly huge, but they can all move and they can all cut on a dime.
Weakness: Stopping the pass. The Cyclone secondary was destroyed in the middle of the season giving up 344 yards or more in four straight games while allowing 13 touchdowns. The team came up with just one pick in the final four games.
Outlook: There's enough experience to expect a better season, but unless the front four can start to get to the quarterback on a regular basis the results won't be too much better. The corners are small, quick, and tough, the safeties can hit, and there's decent depth, but the good passing teams will be able to throw at will.
Unit Rating: 6
State of the Unit: Senior Grant Mahoney has a good leg and plenty of experience, but now he has to be better. However, while he only made 8-of-17 field goal attempts, four misses came from beyond 50 yards and seven came from beyond 40. He has a good enough leg to nail a 52-yarder against Nebraska two years ago, and a 57-yarder against the Huskers last year, he has to be far more consistent.
The Cyclones finished 25th in the nation in punting with sophomore Kirby Van Der Kamp averaging a whopping 45.2 yards per kick putting 22 inside the 20 and blasting 19 bombs of more than 50 yards. The big 6-4, 198-pounder is on the verge of big things and will start getting more national recognition.
The return games were solid last year and should be solid again. Shontrelle Johnson led the team averaging 23.4 yards per kickoff return, and he'll combine with Leonard Johnson, who set the NCAA record with 319 kickoff return yards in Oklahoma State. Receiver Josh Lenz is a veteran who had a nice year averaging 10.4 yards per punt return with a 62-yarder for a score against Kansas, improving after averaging 4.8 yards per pop two years ago.
Watch Out For … Johnson as a kickoff returner. Will he really get a ton of work considering he needs to be such a factor for the running game? Yes … he might be that good.
Strength: Punting. The Cyclone special teams are strong in a few areas, but Van Der Kamp is the key and he might be the team's best weapon. He's able to get the team out of jams.
Weakness: Coverage teams. Mahoney is mediocre, but the inability to cover kicks is the biggest issue after allowing 26.9 yards per kickoff return and 12.3 yards per punt return.
Outlook: The special teams are fantastic in some areas, rough in others. Van Der Kamp is a special punter, but Mahoney needs to do more. The return game should be strong, but the coverage teams are lousy. Overall, the Cyclone special teams are a net positive, but they can be better.
Unit Rating: 6
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