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2008 Iowa State Preview - Defense
Iowa State CB Allen Bell
Iowa State CB Allen Bell
Posted Apr 28, 2008 2008 Preview - Iowa State Cyclone Defense

Iowa State Cyclones

Preview 2008 - Defense

- 2008 CFN Iowa State Preview | 2008 Iowa State Offense
- 2008 Iowa State Defense | 2008 Iowa State Depth Chart
- 2007 CFN Iowa State Preview | 2006 CFN Iowa State Preview 

What you need to know: Defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt didn't exactly turn the defense into a killer, but it held its own at times considering the offense provided a fat load of jack squat. There were times when things got ugly, really ugly, but the D did a decent job of keeping the team in several games it had no business being a part of. The secondary that got toasted by the good Big 12 quarterbacks gets everyone back, but it needs help from a pass rush that wasn't consistent or effective enough. Losing outside linebackers Ace Bowen and Jon Banks is a killer, so the spotlight will be on Fred Garrin, Josh Raven and Michael Bibbs to shine. The line should be the strength of the D even though new tackles are taking over.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: James Smith, Jesse Smith, 79
Sacks: Kurtis Taylor 6.5
Interceptions: Chris Singleton, 4

Star of the defense: Senior DE Kurtis Taylor
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior LB Fred Garrin
Unsung star on the rise: Senior LB Michael Bibbs
Best pro prospect: Junior CB Allen Bell
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Taylor, 2) Bell, 3) DE Rashawn Parker
Strength of the defense: Secondary experience, ends
Weakness of the defense: Consistent pass rush, pass defense

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
The strength of the line, and possibly the defense, is on the ends where junior Rashawn Parker and senior Kurtis Taylor are poised for big seasons. They each have to do more to get to the quarterback, but they have the potential be great after decent 2007 campaigns.

The 6-0, 258-pound Parker has been bothered by a wrist injury, but he came up with a good year with 27 tackles and two sacks with 5.5 tackles for loss. While he's not that tall, the former linebacker has a good motor and a quick burst to get into the backfield.

Taylor, at 6-2 and 252 pounds, has good size and an excellent burst into the backfield showing no ill-effects of a knee injury that cost him all of 2006. The team's best pass rusher, with 6.5 sacks to go along with 41 tackles, will be counted on to bring even more pressure after struggling a bit with his consistency.

There will be more of a battle for the starting tackle spots, but the jobs appear to be set. 6-1, 308-pound junior Nate Frere is the optimal-sized nose tackle with good strength and consistent play this off-season. He only made four tackles last year playing behind Athyba Rubin, but he's expected to become a rock for the next two years if he can finally stay healthy.

Sophomore Bailey Johnson will be a part of a rotation at tackle, but he's the best option to start the year replacing Bryce Braaksma. At 6-2 and 278 pounds, he's not a huge inside presence, but he's quick and he's active making nine tackles in a limited role as a freshman.

Projected Top Reserves: The major battles will be on the inside, but 6-3, 258-pound junior Christopher Lyle is looking to make a big push for time on the outside behind Parker. The former JUCO transfer made nine tackles and a tackle for loss last year, but he was a good, steady practice player this spring and will see far more playing time.

Looking to grow into more of a pass rusher will be Nick Frere, Nate's brother, on the end behind Taylor. The 6-2, 254-pound senior made 11 tackles and a sack, and while he's not a great athlete, he has a great motor.

Senior Chris Weir hasn't quite made the impact expected on the inside, making just three tackles, he's a 6-1, 269-pound veteran who can be counted on to play a big role behind Johnson. He'll have to battle with Michael Tate, a 6-4, 295-pound former JUCO transfer who was supposed to become a major player last year but got hurt early on and missed the year. At his size, he'll be needed to bring more bulk to the inside.
Watch Out For ... a better end rotation. Parker and Taylor are the starters, but Lyle and Nick Frere showed enough this off-season to do far more. They're not going to push for the No. 1 jobs, but they can carve out bigger roles for themselves by getting to the quarterback more often.
Strength: Depth. The line isn't small, but it isn't huge, and it loses two great tackles who were rocks throughout last year. Fortunately, there's a good backup option at each spot who's talented enough to start if needed. The rotation will be better than it has been in years.
Weakness: Sacks. Taylor is good, Parker can do more, and there needs to be more of a push from the interior. The Cyclones came up with just 20 sacks last season and didn't do enough in key spots. The secondary isn't good enough to survive unless the quarterbacks are getting hit and hit often.
Outlook: The line wasn't bad last season against the run, but it was mediocre when it came to getting to the quarterback. There might not be any sure-thing all-stars to count on, but the coaching staff will work on wreaking more havoc and coming up with more big plays. With good depth, more experience, and some nice untested prospects to work with, the line should be even better despite losing Rubin and Braaksma on the inside.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
The defense has to replace the top two tacklers, Jon Banks on the strongside, who made 80 stops, and Alvin Bowen on the weakside, who was the star of the show over the last few years making 99 tackles with 12 tackles for loss and five forced fumbles last season. Bowen will be the tougher of the two to replace, but 6-1, 227-pound junior Fred Garrin will give it a try after making 19 tackles in a reserve role. While he's a bit undersized at 6-1 and 227 pounds he's a good tackler who's tough enough to play inside if needed.

Michael Bibbs could turn out to be an upgrade on the strongside bringing more speed and athleticism to the position (although not by much compared to Banks). With cornerback wheels in a compact 6-1, 223-pound frame, the senior should be all over the field and he should be more effective in pass coverage and pass rushing than Banks was. He made 19 tackles with two tackles for loss and two broken up passes.

The one returning starter, junior Jesse Smith, was overshadowed by the two stars on the outside, but he finished third on the team with 79 tackles. Not much of a pass rusher and not all that effective in pass coverage, the 6-0, 239-pound veteran gets by on his motor. He's a plugger who'll make the plays that come to him, but he's not going to show much in the way of range.

Projected Top Reserves: Looking for time on the weakside will be 5-11, 206-pound junior Josh Raven, a safety-sized backup who tore his ACL two years ago but came back to make 21 tackles last season. At the very least, he'll combine with Garrin in a steady rotation.

From out of nowhere, career special teamer Derek Schmidgall became a factor this off-season as he showed enough promise to potentially see time in the middle behind Smith. The 6-1, 223-pound junior could also be used on the strongside if needed. He's not all that big, but he's an inside linebacker.

6-2, 236-pound sophomore Cameron Bell made three tackles in a limited role, but with good size and excellent potential, and coming off a strong off-season, the coaching staff will want to get him more work to be ready to take over the strongside job from Bibbs next year.

Watch Out For ... Bibbs. He hasn't done a whole bunch so far, stuck behind Banks, but he has the speed to become one of the team's breakout players. It would hardly be a shock if he led the team in tackles.
Strength: Quickness. Bibbs is fast, Smith is serviceable, and everyone else can get to the ball. While this group will rely more on try-hard than talent, it should be able to swarm to the ball and get in on several gang tackles.
Weakness: Size. This isn't as huge a problem as it was last year, but there still isn't much in the way of bulk with most of the linebackers short and around 225 pounds. Considering two new starters need to be broken in, the jury is still out on whether or not this group can hold up against power running teams.
Outlook: It's hard to improve after losing talented producers like Bowen and Banks, arguably the two best players on the team last season, but the corps won't fall off the map. It's not a stretch to call Bibbs and Garrin the two keys to the season as they need to show they're ready for the Big 12 spotlight. If they're not terrific, the Cyclones won't improve.
Rating: 6

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
All four starters return with long-time veteran corner Chris Singleton leading the way. Back for his third year as the starting corner, he has made 108 career stops including 52 last year to go along with a team-leading four interceptions. He went from fighting for his job last year at this time to being a sure-thing going into this year, but while the 5-10, 194-pounder has good speed and experience, he has to be even better and more consistent.

Back on the other side is 6-0, 181-pound junior Allen Bell, who might not have the experience of Singleton, but is the type of No. 1 corner the team needs. He's not quite there yet as far as guy who can erase everyone's top target, but the former JUCO transfer came in right away and did what the team needed making 54 tackles with an interception. Now he'll be asked to make more big plays.

Junior James Smith is back at free safety after tying for third on the team with 79 tackles with two interceptions and three broken up passes. At 5-8 and 191 pounds he's not all that huge, but he's one of the team's fastest players and packs enough of a wallop to be used as a strong safety if needed. He showed no ill-effects of the broken leg that cost him all of 2006.

Former quarterback and wide receiver Chris Brown is back strong safety after making 43 tackles with an interception. He didn't start the season but he took over early on and became decent when the ball was in the air and proved he could be a big hitter. Mostly a special teamer early on his career, he's ready to take a step up in his senior season.

Projected Top Reserves: Trying to see time at corner to make a push for a starting job next year will be sophomores Devin McDowell and Zac Sandvig. The 5-9, 180-pound McDowell was a good reserve making 16 tackles and a pick as he saw time in every game. The brother of former ISU star, DeAndre Jackson, has tremendous quickness and athleticism playing behind Bell.

Sanvig was a top scout teamer who was going to be used a bit as a punt returner, but he got hurt early on and missed almost the entire year. He's back to play behind Singleton.

Junior Steve Johnson is good enough to start at either safety job, and will start out at strong safety behind Brown. The 6-0, 205-pounder made 22 tackles, but he didn't do enough when the ball was in the air. A smart player, he's due to be a bigger part of the rotation.

5-11, 205-pound senior Brandon Hunley made 14 tackles and will work behind Smith at free safety. Mostly a special teamer throughout his career, he has seen enough defensive time to be used in a variety of formations. Defensively, he's been a mop-up player, for the most part.
Watch Out For ... the corners to be better. They need more of a pass rush, but Bell is growing into a top-shelf corner and Singleton, well, Singleton is a veteran who knows what he's doing and became more of a ball-hawker last year.
Strength: Experience. All four starters return, and while they weren't all that productive last year, the coaching staff seems confident that with experience brings production in this case. Cohesion won't be a problem.
Weakness: Production. The overall production will be far better. It can't be any worse. Those were the exact same words written last year here, and the Cyclones went from allowing 239 yards per game to giving up 254 yards per game and 24 touchdowns.
Outlook: The knock on Gene Chizik defenses at Texas was that the secondary gave up way too many big plays and way too many passing yards. That's sort of why the Longhorns' NFL-caliber secondary of 2006 was among the least productive in America. There will be more of a pass rush and the DBs are more experienced, and better, but it'll be a shock if any passing game with a pulse can't flick its wrist and go for 200 yards.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters: Bret Culbertson was an occasionally decent midrange kicker who struggled last year missing eight of 13 shots from beyond 30 yards. In other words, he's replaceable. True freshman Zach Guyer needs to be a rock star right away, and while he has a good leg, it's not a top-shelf one. He should be decent from around 45 and in.

Junior punter Mike Brandtner's average went down from close to 42 yards per kick to 39.4, but he did a much better job of placing the ball with 19 put inside the 20. While he's not going to make any all-star teams, he's good enough to be counted on as a reliable weapon to get the team out of trouble.

R.J. Sumrall averaged 21.8 yards per kickoff return last year, but the team needs more help on punt returns after averaging just 3,9 yards per try.
Watch Out For ... Guyer to be better from long range than Culbertson, but miss a few big kicks because of his age. Guyer hit 11 of 14 field goals as a high school senior. Welcome to the Big 12.
Strength: Brandtner pinning the ball deep. Field position will mean everything to the Cyclone defense, and the more Brandtner can put the ball inside the 20, the better.
Weakness: Everything other than Brandtner. The ISU special teams were abysmal last season. The coverage units, especially a kickoff coverage team that allowed 24.3 yards per try, were horrible, while the return teams were worse.
Outlook: The special teams were supposed to be among the best in the Big 12 going into last season, and they were supposed to be one area the new coaching staff didn't have to worry about. Instead, outside of Brandtner, and Culbertson inside 30 yards, the special teams were among the worst in America. There's nowhere to go but up, and while things should be better, there's a lot of uncertainty.
Rating: 5.5