Preview 2009 - Defense
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What you need to know:
Last year's defense took its
lumps in a big way throwing several young players to the wolves. On the
plus side, this is now a veteran group with good depth all across the
board and with the potential to do far more index the new coaching
staff. Step one for the nation's 112th ranked defense is to find some
semblance of a pass rush. There might not be a ton of talent on the
front seven, but there will be more shooting of the gaps and lots more
aggressiveness across the board. The secondary might be the team's most
talented area, and after getting bombed on last season, it should be
better now that there should be more help from the front four./span>
Tackles: James Smith,
Christopher Lyle, 5
Interceptions: Leonard Johnson, 2
Star of the defense:
Sophomore CB Leonard Johnson
Player who has to step up and become a star: Junior DT
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Ter'ran Benton
Best pro prospect: Johnson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Johnson, 2) FS James
Smith, 3) LB Jesse Smith
Strength of the defense: Experience, Corner Talent
Weakness of the defense: Proven Production, Tackling
The strength of the defense was
supposed to be the ends, but senior Rashawn
Parker didn't do nearly enough with just
one sack with 21 tackles, but he led the team with
five quarterback hurries. The 6-0, 260-pounder has
to become a more aggressive pass rusher, but the
former linebacker hasn't done enough to use his
burst to be a factor. He's tough and he works hard,
and now the stats have to come.
start on the other side will be Christopher
Lyle, a 6-4, 252-pound senior who was
mostly known for a huge blocked field goal in a win
over Iowa a few years ago before becoming the team's
best pass rusher with a team-leading five sacks with
eight tackles for loss and 38 stops. The former JUCO
transfer was a backup last year, used as a pass
rushing specialist, and now he provides the best
hope for a line that needs to be far better.
6-1, 283-pound senior Nate Frere
has the perfect size for the nose with the
strength and experience to be a factor. But it
hasn't all come together even with 26 tackles and a
solid three sacks with 6.5 tackles for loss. Health
has been the big problem over the course of his
career, but he was a rock up front last season and
will be the the anchor the rest of the defensive
front works around.
Alburtis was a backup last year making
eight tackles, but he also came up with an
interception for a 61-yard return in the win over
South Dakota State. With decent athleticism to
potentially make up for the lack of size, the 6-2,
267-pound Alburtis needs to be active against the
run as a key part of a rotation.
Projected Top Reserves: Junior Bailey
Johnson will be a key part of the rotation
on the inside bring most size at tackle with a
little bit of experience. He missed all year hurt
after making nine stops in a limited roles as a
freshman, but he has been a scout team star and at
6-3 and 272 pounds is a needed factor against the
run behind Alburtis.
6-3, 290-pound sophomore
Stephen Ruempolhamer is the team's
biggest option on the inside, and while he's built
to play tackle, he'll work on the nose behind Frere.
He made eight tackles in his limited action last
year, but he also came up with three tackles for
loss. From Holland, he's still learning the ins and
outs of being a steady defender, but he's a good
athlete who should be decent in time.
team needs more of a pass rush, and it's hoping for
redshirt freshman Roosevelt Maggitt
to help provide it. A decent recruit, the 6-2,
237-pound speedster had a nice spring game with a
sack and two tackles for loss, and he'll try to grow
into a specialist on the outside working in a
rotation with Parker.
Watch Out For ... more of a pass rush. The coaching
staff is quickly changing how the defensive front is
going to operate. There will be more attacking, more
shooting the gaps, and more of an attempt to get
into the backfield. It's not going to always work,
but there will be times when this group will come up
with the big plays needed.
Strength: The coaching staff. Defensive
coordinator Wally Burnham comes in from South
Florida, while Curtis Bray, the line coach, is a
good one. Combining with a defensive head coach in
Paul Rhoads, the Cyclone line can't help but be
improved. At the very least, it'll be more active.
Weakness: Sacks and talent. The Cyclones, as a
team, came up with 20 sacks two years ago, and was
worse last season with just 17. The pass rush has to
start working, while there has to be non-stop motors
at all four spots to make up for a glaring lack of
talent. This group will have to make plays on
Outlook: Nothing worked last year as the Cyclones
were desperately missing a consistent pass rush and
didn't do much of anything against the run. Now
it'll be all about shooting the gaps and making
things happen behind the line, and while the ISU
front four won't be very good, it'll be far more
interesting to watch.
In a perfect world, everything flows
through the middle of the ISU defense and into
Jesse Smith. The 6-0, 231-pound
senior was the team's second leading tackler with 84
stops, to go along with five tackles for losses, and
he also showed he could be a factor against the pass
breaking up a team-leading six passes. While the
former walk-on isn't that great a pass rusher and
he's not an elite athlete, he's a tough try-hard
defender with a motor that's always running.
Back on the weakside is Fred Garrin,
who had the unenviable task of replacing Alvin Bowen
and came through with a nice season. He wasn't the
surest tackler, but he finished third on the team
with 63 stops with two interceptions and a sack with
six tackles for loss. While he's not awful against
the run, he's better in open space against the pass.
Up to 230 pounds on his 6-2 frame, the senior should
be stronger against the more physical teams.
Strongside starter Josh Raven
has the potential to be the team's best linebacker
in the attacking system, but he has to stay healthy.
The senior tore his ACL to start out his career and
was out for almost half of last year hurt. When he
was on the field, he produced with 22 tackles, but
he didn't do much as a pass rusher. The 5-11,
230-pounder has the range, but he has to show he can
be counted on for a full season.
Projected Top Reserves:
Combining with Raven on the strongside, and getting
every shot at the starting nod this fall, will be
Justin Rumple, a safety-sized
defender who has been a decent practice player but
has yet to do anything on the field. At 6-3 and 212
pounds, he has to be steady at getting into the
backfield and against the pass when he gets his
6-2, 230-pound Derek
Schmidgall has been a strong special teamer
throughout his career and was a playmaker whenever
he was on the field for the defense. He only
finished with 11 tackles, but he forced a fumble and
he scored the team's only defensive touchdown with a
pick-six against South Dakota State. He'll work in
the middle behind Smith.
Watch Out For ... Raven.
If he can stay healthy, he has the potential to be
one of the team's top three tacklers. He's built for
the strongside and he has the ability to be a top
Strength: Veterans. Three starters are back, even
though Raven missed most of last year, and this
group of seniors is just experienced enough in Big
12 play to be able to take what the new coaching
staff is giving them and apply it to a better
Weakness: Tackling. The numbers aren't all that
bad, and there will be more sacks and tackles for
loss, but there were too many missed stops or
tackles made down the field. Being a bit more secure
will be a bit step to helping out the poor run
defense of last year.
Outlook: This group was serviceable last season,
but now it should be solid with more responsibility
and more room to work. The linebackers will get a
chance to be more aggressive and active, and with
the returning experience, there should be more big
plays to make up for the missed ones. Depth is a
major problem with reserves needing to see early
time while some young players have to be developed
for next year.
Sophomore Leonard Johnson
took over the starting nod on the left side halfway
through last season and will be the team's lock-down
corner for the next three years. The 5-10,
189-pounder hits like a safety, finishing fifth on
the team with 47 tackles, and he forced two fumbles
and recovered three. Decent against the pass in his
first season, he made up for getting picked on, at
least a little bit, with two interceptions and four
broken up passes. Known more for being one of the
nation's elite kickoff returners, he should make
more noise in the secondary once he gets back
healthy from knee and hamstring problems.
Back on the other side is Ter'ran Benton,
a starter throughout the first half of the season
before serving as a key backup. He made 24 tackles,
but didn't do nearly enough against the pass and got
beaten too routinely. At 6-1 and 196 pounds, he has
nice size, and the sophomore has enough experience
to not make some of the same misreads and mistakes
he made as a freshman.
Smith has been one of the team's top
tacklers over the last few years making 79 stops two
seasons ago and leading the way with 85 tackles last
year with two broken up passes. At 5-9 and 191
pounds he's not all that big, but he's arguably the
team's surest tackler and has some of the best
wheels on the team. The only concern will be his
durability, and his notoriety. He's good enough to
deserve all-star recognition, but at his size he has
to make sure he doesn't knock himself out. He missed
all of 2006 with a broken leg.
190-pound junior Zac Sandvig
started the season opener last year but was
relegated to backup duty the rest of the way. Very
quick, he could be used as a punt returner if needed
and has shown just enough to get a long look at the
starting strong safety job. To keep the gig, he'll
have to be a playmaker against the pass and will
have to be a bigger hitter against the run after
making 19 stops.
Projected Top Reserves: Looking to take over the
starting strong safety job right away is
David Sims, one of the team's top recruits
coming in from the JUCO ranks. Originally an
Oklahoma Sooner, the 5-10, 212-pound junior is a
ready-made defender who has seen enough time over
the last few years, making 72 tackles for Butte
C.C., to know what he's doing early on.
Pushing for time at the left corner spot as well as
in a nickel and dime role is Devin McDowell,
the brother of former ISU star, DeAndre Jackson. The
5-9, 177-pound junior is a fantastic athlete, but he
needs more playing time making 16 tackles with an
interception last year and 16 stops and a pick in
2007, too. He'll start out working behind Johnson.
Senior Kennard Banks made 18
tackles and broke up two passes in a spot-starter
role. Able to be used in a variety of ways, the
former JUCO transfer will see time at corner in a
rotation with Benton and will see time in nickel and
dime packages. The 5-10, 189-pounder has good
hitting ability and could even move to free safety
6-0, 210-pound junior
Michael O'Connell is a smart veteran with
nice range at free safety. He came up with a good
year as a backup making 22 tackles, but he didn't do
much with the ball in the air. He could end up
playing a little bit at strong safety if needed just
to get him on the field; he's not going to push
James Smith out of a job.
Watch Out For ... more production. After taking the
lumps past year, the new scheme and more of a pass
rush will help the cause. This won't be an elite
secondary, but there should be more picks and more
broken up passes.
Strength: Experience, and no more Gene Chizik. Not
only are six players back with starting experience,
but there's even more solid depth to count on.
Chizik, the former ISU head man and Texas defensive
coordinator, always left his defensive backs out to
dry. His Longhorn teams gave up big numbers and last
year's secondary didn't have much of a chance.
Weakness: Proven production. Things couldn't be
any worse, right? That's what the prevailing wisdom
was last year and the secondary gave up 277 yards
per game after allowing 254 yards per outing in 2007
and 239 per game in 2006. 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: There should be more of a pass rush,
which will help the secondary immeasurably, and
there's good experience after so many players were
thrown to the wolves. The overall talent level is
far higher here than it is in the rest of the D, and
there will be times when the coaching staff does as
much as possible to get five and six defensive backs
on the field. If the tackling can be better, this
could be the strength of the team, even if the
numbers don't always show it.
Sophomore Grant Mahoney
took over the kicking job early on and was solid
hitting 17-of-25 field goals. His range tops out at just below
50 yards, but he missed makeable kicks. He got better as the
year went on hitting seven of his last eight kicks, and is
expected to be a plus after his year of experience.
Senior Mike Brandtner is a good, reliable
kicker who might not make any all-star teams, but he'll be a
good one to rely on after averaging 41.6 yards per kick and
putting 19 inside the 20 for the second straight year.
Leonard Johnson is one of the nation's top
kickoff returners averaging 26.4 yards per try. He set the NCAA
record with 319 return yards against Oklahoma State and has been
good enough to be avoided by opposing kicking games.
Michael O'Connell averaged 8.6 yards per try and has
the quickness and ability to do even more.
Watch Out For ... the special teams to be the team's
biggest plus. The coverage teams need work, but the kicking game
is rock-solid and the return game is special.
Strength: Brandtner pinning the ball deep and
Leonard Johnson. Brandtner can air it out, but he's at his best
when he can pop it up and put it inside the 20. Johnson will get
his share of chances to return kicks, for good and bad.
Weakness: Punt coverage. As good as Brandtner is
at hanging the ball up in the air, the coverage team should be
better after allowing 12 yards per try. The kickoff coverage is
fine, but nothing special.
Outlook: The special teams went from among the
worst in America to a strength thanks to the emergence of
Mahoney and Johnson. With so many areas of concern across the
board for the Cyclones, winning the special teams battle will be