2007 Iowa State Preview - Defense

Posted Jun 20, 2007

Preview 2007 Iowa State Cyclone Defense

Iowa State Cyclones

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Iowa State Preview | 2007 Iowa State Offense Preview
2007 Iowa State Depth Chart | 2006 CFN Iowa State Preview 

What you need to know: A complete and total disaster last season, defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt has his work cut out for him with a mediocre collection of talents and few obvious stars to build around other than outside linebackers Alvin Bowen and Jon Banks. The defensive front should be more aggressive and better at getting into the backfield, but will the lack of size cost them in the running game? For a while, yes. The secondary is the bigger concern after giving up yards in bunches and without a true number one cover-corner to count on. Linebacker is the strength to build around, and it could be even better if Adam Carper returns ready to go from a knee injury.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Alvin Bowen, 155
Sacks: Rashawn Parker, 3
Interceptions: Chris Singleton, 2

Star of the defense: Senior LB Alvin Bowen
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior CB Chris Singleton
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Rashawn Parker
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Jon Banks (as a safety)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bowen, 2) Banks, 3) SS Caleb Berg
Strength of the defense: Linebacker
Weakness of the defense: Secondary experience

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
Several backups from last year have to quickly grow up and be productive starters. The most promising prospect up front is sophomore Rashawn Parker, a linebacker-like 6-0 and 249-pound speed rusher who made 25 tackles and three sacks in a limited role as a true freshman. With a quick burst, he'll be asked to grow into the team's top pass rusher early on.

On the other side of Parker will be junior Kurtis Taylor, who was all set to start last season before tearing up his knee. The 255-pound former linebacker looked the part in 2006 fall practices before the injury, and now he has to use his motor and quickness to replace leading sacker Shawn Moorehead.

Senior noseguard Athyba Rubin is the only returning starter up front after taking over the job early last year. Starting out as a reserve, he became too productive and too tough to keep out of the lineup. The 285-pound former JUCO transfer finished with 34 tackles and four tackles for loss showing good side-to-side quickness and a burst into the backfield.

Next to Rubin will be senior Bryce Braaksma, a smart honor roll performer in the classroom who made 17 tackles at defensive end. Not a great pass rusher, he'll move inside and be a small, quick 254-pound tackle.

Projected Top Reserves: While Braaksma's experience makes him the first option at tackle, 260-pound senior Nick Howe will get every shot at the job. A scout teamer and reserve, he has yet to get on the field. 309-pound redshirt freshman Bailey Johnson will be the big option on short-yardage plays.

Backing up on the nose will be 306-pound sophomore Nate Frere, who got the start as a true freshman before getting booted by Rubin. A fascinating prospect, he was a high school wide receiver who started out his Cyclone career as a linebacker and bulked up to become a tackle making five tackles.

On the outside, 234-pound redshirt freshman Patrick Neal will play behind Parker on the weakside. One of the team's top recruits two years ago, he has the raw talent to eventually grow into a factor in the rotation. 6-5, 250-pound junior Travis Ferguson will play behind Taylor after missing most of last year with a shoulder injury. With great athleticism, he has the potential to grow into a star if he can stay healthy.
Watch Out For ... pressure, pressure and more pressure. The coaching staff will use a rotation of ends to keep everyone fresh and get into the backfield far more consistently than last year's line.
Strength: Quickness. At all four spots up front, being able to move will take precedence over bulk size. Everyone on the line can get into the backfield.
Weakness: Proven production. While there are several players who've seen action, there aren't enough sure-things to count on, especially against the run. The coaching staff will find a way to get this group into the backfield, but they'll have to hope everyone can hold up against the bigger lines.
Outlook: The potential is there, but you don't get better by losing Brent Curvey and Shawn Moorehead. The tackles are way too light to last long when pounded on by the 300-pound Big 12 behemoths, while the ends haven't proven they can consistently shine. The pass defense was lousy last year, and it'll continue to have problems if this group doesn't camp out in opposing backfields.
Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters
While there are big concerns almost everyone on the team, outside linebacker is set with seniors Alvin Bowen and Jon Banks returning after combining for 254 tackles. "Ace" Bowen is a safety-sized 6-2 and 216 pounds, but he has tremendous range and is a phenomenal hitter after leading the nation in tackles per game and finishing with 155 stops. While he was expected to be a terror in the backfield going into last year from the weakside, he only ended up with one sack; he spent too much time cleaning up the messes from the rest of the run defense.

Banks started out last year at safety before ending up at strongside linebacker to get him even more involved with the run defense finishing with 99 tackles to go along with six broken up passes. A sure tackler, he's also like another weakside linebacker in pass protection.

217-pound sophomore Fred Garrin will be an undersized backup inside. A good tackler with excellent quickness, he should handle himself well whether he stays inside or moves out. For now he'll take over in the middle for Tyrone McKenzie who made 129 stops but decided to transfer to South Florida.

Projected Top Reserves: Will Adam Carper be back? Able to play on the strongside or in the middle, Carper made 39 tackles in five games on the outside before going down with a knee injury. While he won't replace Banks or Bowen at this point, he could end up starting in the middle if he's back healthy by fall and be a key pass rusher no matter where he plays.

Until then, sophomore Jesse Smith will be the key backup after only making seven tackles in a limited role. At 233 pounds he has good size, but he's untested.
Behind Banks on the strongside, 6-1, 223-pound sophomore Derek Schmidgall has to get his feet wet after making one tackle being used primarily on special teams.

Redshirt freshman Matt Leaders, brother of former ISU great, Nick, will backup Bowen on the weakside. While he's only 210  pounds, he's tough and has good speed.
Watch Out For ... this to be the team's strength if Carper returns back at close to 100%. Bowen and Banks will combine for at least 200 tackles, and Smith will be fine early on in the middle, but the linebackers will be fantastic with last year's rising star back in the fold.
Strength: Tackling. This might not be the biggest group around, but they can all tackle. Bowen and Banks simply don't miss and are great at getting in on every play.
Weakness: Size. There's a problem when your linebackers are built like defensive backs, they can get plowed over. The Cyclone linebackers made far too many plays down the field. They can all tackle, but they don't always stop the ball cold.
Outlook: Bowen and Banks are excellent and will be among the Big 12's most productive outside linebackers. It would be nice if they could get into the backfield more, but it might be enough to have them make tackle after tackle in all phases. Having McKenzie back would've been nice, but as long as Smith can be a rock in the middle against the run and doesn't make too many mistakes, and as long as Bowen and Banks stay healthy, this will be one of the team's most productive areas.
Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The one certainty will be senior strong safety Caleb Berg, a decent tackling veteran who led the secondary with 76 tackles to go along with three broken up passes. Able to play either safety position if needed, he'll need to be the rock of a relatively young unit. Being the leader and the quarterback among the defensive backs isn't a problem; he's a three-time First Team Academic All-Big 12 performer.

Taking over the full-time spot at free safety will be sophomore James Smith, who was all set to start at strong safety last year before breaking his leg. One of the team's fastest players, range isn't going to be a problem. Don't be shocked if he turns out to be the most productive playmaker in the secondary.

The corner spots are a little more unsettled. Junior Chris Singleton is back after starting every game in 2006 making two interceptions and 48 tackles, but he's not a lock to keep his job after having way too many problems getting burned. He has good size and decent speed, but he needs to be more consistent to be a true number one corner.

Sophomore Drenard Williams is an interesting prospect on the other side with 6-1, 223-pound size, tremendous speed, and a little bit of experience making 19 tackles in a limited role. He has all the measurables, now he has to cover someone and start making plays when the ball is in the air.

Projected Top Reserves: Singleton is neck-and-neck with junior Chris Brown for the starting right corner job. Brown, a former quarterback who hasn't been able to break through yet defensively, still needs work, but has the potential to be a key player in the rotation.

On the other side, redshirt freshman Devin McDowell is a future starter with tremendous athleticism and quickness. The brother of former ISU star DeAndre Jackson isn't that big at only 5-9 and 174 pounds, but he can play.

At free safety, sophomore Steve Johnson is a bigger option than Smith, but he still needs more time after making 11 tackles in seven games. He has good size and smarts earning a spot on the Big 12 Honor Roll. 5-11, 201-pound junior Brandon Hunley has spent most of his time on special teams, but he got a little time in at safety making 11 stops. He'll back up Berg to start the year.
Watch Out For ... the overall production to be far better. It can't be any worse. The corners might not be anything special, but the safeties can play and should do a good job as long as they don't have to spend all their time dealing with the run.
Strength: Depth. While the reserves are hardly developed veterans, the second-teamers aren't light years behind the projected starters. However ...
Weakness: Talent. The second-teamers aren't light years behind the projected starters. The coaching staff will be trying to work miracles with this group all season long (but the secondary should be stronger in 2008).
Outlook: The Cyclones allowed a whopping 239 yards per game and were 115th in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The coaching alone should make the numbers a bit better, but unless Singleton, Williams and Brown start make more plays on the short to mid-range passes, this could be another long year.
Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Senior Bret Culbertson is a rock of a midrange kicker connecting on 28 of 37 career field goals while hitting 15 of 17 inside the 40 over the last two seasons. The rail-thin 6-6, 179-pound former walk-on has nailed all 74 of his extra point attempts and should be one of the team's steadiest weapons. His only problem is his range without a big-time deep leg. However, he nailed a 52 yard bomb against Texas Tech last season. Sophomore punter Mike Brandtner had a nice first year averaging 41.2 yards per kick putting 12 inside the 20. While he can boom the ball, he could stand to get a bit more air under his kicks.
Watch Out For ... the kicking game to be among the best in the Big 12. Culbertson won't miss more than two in a row, and Brandtner is growing into a potential All-Big 12 performer.
Strength: Culbertson. He's all but automatic inside the 40 and doesn't get rattled.
Weakness: Kickoff returns. The Cyclones struggled averaging a mere 18.4 yards per return last season. Milan Moses was good averaging 21.7 yards per return, but no one else did much of anything. That has to change considering the average offense will need good field position more than most teams.
Outlook: The coaching staff doesn't have to worry too much here. The return game will be fine in time, and the kicking game will be a rock. The coverage units were good last year and needs to be a strength again from the start.
Rating: 8


Related Stories
2007 Iowa State Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 19, 2007
2007 Iowa State Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 19, 2007
2007 Iowa State Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jun 19, 2007

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