2010 Iowa State Preview - Defense

Posted Jul 31, 2010

CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Iowa State Cyclone Defense

Iowa State Cyclones

Preview 2010 - Defense

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What You Need To Know: Gene Chizik was supposed to be a defensive head coach and he didn't have any luck. Paul Rhoads knows defense and he didn't do much better. Now the Cyclones have to patch together a defense with three new starting linebackers, no pass rush, and a lot of hope that experience in the secondary and on the line can finally translate into production. The D did a nice job of keeping points off the board, for the most part, keeping the mediocre teams in place, with a lot of bending without much breaking. Talent-level is a problem, and while everyone hustles and everyone works hard, everyone has to be more disruptive. Score 24 on Iowa State last year, win the game. The defense has to keep points off the board to help on an offense with inconsistent firepower.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: David Sims, 88
Sacks: Ter'ran Benton, Rashawn Parker, 2
Interceptions: David Sims, 5

Star of the defense: Senior SS David Sims
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior LB Matt Tau'fo'ou
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore LB A.J. Klein
Best pro prospect: Sims
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Sims, 2) DE Rashawn Parker, 3) FS Michael O'Connell
Strength of the defense: Secondary Experience, Scoring Defense
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Pass Rush

Defensive Line

Projected Starters: The pass rush was abysmal last year, and part of the reason was the loss of senior Rashawn Parker , the team's most talented end who suffered a torn ACL in the fourth game of last year and finished with 13 tackles with two sacks. The 6-0, 250-pounder is a former linebacker and an aggressive pass rusher, but he has to prove he's back and ready to go so quickly after getting hurt. He's a key veteran who needs to be a star on the right side.

Back on the left side is veteran Patrick Neal , a 6-0, 227-pound junior who started out his career at tight end and ended up starting most of last year making 27 tackles and a sack. He's a non-stop worker who's always going 100 miles per hour with great effort, but he can be erased by any tackle who locks on.

In a very scary and very bizarre case, sophomore Jake McDonough got hit by a strange illness and dropped 50 pounds last year. Limited to just one game of action, and making just one tackle, it took him a full year to get back to 270 pounds on his 6-5 frame, and now he's expected to be an active producer once he gets used to the workload.

Working on the nose again is Bailey Johnson after starting eight times last year and making 22 tackles. At 6-2 and 279 pounds, he's a strong defender on the inside after getting healthy. He missed all of 2008 hurt after serving as a scout team star, and now he should be an active interior presence again. He might not be an anchor, but he can hold his own.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Austin Alburtis might be keeping the seat warm at tackle until Jake McDonough is 100%. The 6-2, 269-pound Alburtis is a plugger with decent athleticism and quickness on the inside making 18 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. Not big and needing to be part of a rotation, he'll battle when he gets his opportunities, but he can't be a three-down, every drive defender.

After becoming a scout team superstar two years ago, 6-1, 242-pound sophomore Roosevelt Maggitt got a chance to show what he could do last year and he was fine making 14 tackles with a tackles for loss. He has pass rushing skills and he showed off speed and burst over the last few years in practice, but it all has to translate into on-field production.

At 6-3 and 280 pounds, junior Stephen Ruempolhamer is a big factor on the nose and will be pushing Bailey Johnson for time in the rotation. He came up with 20 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss as a key part of the rotation and a spot starter against Army and Kansas State. From Holland, he's still learning the ins and outs of the game, but he has talent and athleticism.

Watch Out For … McDonough. Considered to be one of the team's rising stars before suffering his mysterious illness, now he's back to normal and he's expected to be a key part of the interior for the next three years.
Strength: The coaching staff. The teachers are there with Rhoads a top defensive head coach, defensive line coach Curtis Bray and up-and-comer, and a strong defensive coordinator in Wally Burnham, who made South Florida a terror a few years ago. They spent last year trying to piece together the front four, and if they have the players, they can do wonders, however …
Weakness: Talent. There isn't a sure-thing pass rusher in the lot, the tackle situation is fine, but hardly special, and there's a lot of hoping and praying for everyone to stay healthy. McDonough and Parker are back after missing most of last year, and they have to be great.
Outlook: The line hasn't touched a quarterback in a few years and finished last in the Big 12 generating just 16 sacks. This isn't a big line, so it has to be quick and active, and health can't be an issue. It might take a little time to mature the depth and there have to be a few surprises, but overall, the potential is there to be a wee bit better … but not special.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: The linebacking corps is starting from scratch with the biggest loss in the middle, leading tackler Jesse Smith. In comes JUCO transfer Matt Tau'fo'ou , after only making one tackle in his two games of action. The 5-10, 246-pounder was a JUCO All-American with tremendous range and skills, but he never got his chance to show what he could do. Now he might be the team's leading tackler.

Taking over on the strongside is sophomore A.J. Klein , a nice reserve who made 17 tackles with a tackles for loss and a forced fumble. At 6-1 and 237 pounds, he's a strong defender who could end up working in the middle if he doesn't settle in on the outside. Very smart and very active, he was able to handle himself well as a true freshman, he was a nice pickup for the program and he should be a fixture for the next few years.

6-2, 237-pound sophomore Jake Knott stepped in as a true freshman and was a decent reserve in his limited time making 23 tackles with two tackles for loss. Very smart and able to handle himself well in space, he's a good baller with the toughness to hold up against the run. He might not be a special all-around athlete, but he should put up big-time numbers with an expanded role.

Projected Top Reserves: The coaching staff is looking for someone to step up and surprise, and junior Jacob Lattimer could be the guy. The 6-2, 244-pounder got in a little bit of work and made three tackles, but he's being given every chance to be a big part of the rotation on the strongside. If he's great, he might step in and take over and allow A.J. Klein to move to the middle.

5-11, 233-pound senior Preston Kaufman is a decent veteran reserve who made seven tackles. A hard worker who'll make the stop that comes his way, he'll get a shot to see a little action in the middle and could get some time on the strongside.

Among the most athletic of the team's linebacker prospects, sophomore Kevin Hamlin could turn out to be a perfect fit for what the coaching staff wants to do. Built like a safety at 6-3 and 197 pounds, he has the range to be good in pass coverage and used in nickel situations as well as on the weakside.

Watch Out For … a 4-2-5. By far, this might be the team's thinnest area, and while the coaching staff has tried to recruit linebackers, there aren't the Big 12 stars in place to make a big difference. The defense might work in more nickel packages as the year goes on.
Strength: Want to. Of course it would be nice to have a slew of NFL caliber monsters roaming around, but the Cyclones don't have them in the linebacking corps. Players like Klein and Knott were good recruits, but it's not like they were being courted by Oklahoma and Texas. They have great motors and they'll run through a wall to make something happen. However …
Weakness: Talent and depth. There's little to count on from the reserves and there's a hope that Tau'fo'ou can be strong enough in the middle to be a major factor right away. This will be a serviceable group that needs a big surprise to come from somewhere.
Outlook: Undergoing a total overhaul, the linebacking corps will likely be the team's biggest question mark. There aren't any sure-thing veterans, and while the stats will be there just because everyone will fight to make plays, some luck will need to be involved against the better offenses.
Unit Rating: 5.5


Projected Starters: Could junior Leonard Johnson rediscover his freshman success? Yup. The 5-10, 194-pound Freshman All-American made 47 tackles with two interceptions in 2008 and followed it up by making 64 tackles with two picks and seven broken up passes. A big hitting corner, he has forced five fumbles over the last two years and has been a sure tackler who doesn't miss plays in the open field. However, he's not an elite coverman and gives up too many big plays. He has the athleticism and the skills, but now he has to become a strong all-around defender and do more in coverage.

Working on the other side, 6-0, 197-pound junior Ter'ran Benton started out the year well, but he broke his leg against Nebraska and didn't get back on the field until the bowl game. A good tackler, he made 41 tackles with two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss, but the starting left corner isn't a natural in pass coverage and didn't come up with a pick or a broken up pass last season. He has good size and he moves well, and he has the experience to be a better defender.

Former Oklahoma Sooner David Sims went the JUCO route to get to Iowa State, and he made a big impact right away finishing fourth on the team with 88 tackles along with a team-leading five picks. The 5-9, 209-pound senior was a tremendous pick up at strong safety earning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year honors, and now it'll be a shocker if he's not a top tackler and a fringe all-star performer. He's the one the rest of the secondary will work around.

Senior Michael O'Connell served as a solid backup last year making 43 tackles with an interception and two broken up passes. The 5-11, 207-pounder is smart veteran with good range, but he has to do more when the ball is in the air. A top special teamer, he also has to be steady in the defensive backfield and he has to show that he can be a big helper for the corners. He has been around long enough to know what he's doing.

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Zac Sandvig was expected to become a starter throughout last year, but he was a reserve in 12 games and got the start against Texas A&M. At 5-10 and 192 pounds, he's not all that big for a strong safety, but he's extremely quick as a good special teamer and a decent reserve making 11 tackles with two fumble recoveries. He has the athleticism and the experience, but he's not pushing David Sims out of a job.

Used as a true freshman, sophomore Jeremy Reeves was a decent reserve last year making 13 tackles as a nice corner option. Small at just 5-7 and 167 pounds, he gets by on his tremendous speed and athleticism with leaping ability making him play bigger than he is. He needs to learn how to handle himself against the more physical receivers, but he has the skills to stay with anyone in man coverage.

Arguably the team's top recruit, JUCO transfer Anthony Young is only 5-8 and 175 pounds, but he can jump out of the stadium and can be an instant factor as a corner or a nickel back. Great at tracking the ball and with good instincts, he could be the playmaker against the pass that the team has been looking for over the last few years. He made six interceptions last year for Palomar CC.

Watch Out For … Young. Johnson is a lock at one corner and Benton has the experience to be a regular at the other corner spot, but Young has the skills and the upside to be far better and be an upgrade. The team needs playmakers, and he's one.
Strength: Experience. This is one of the team's deepest areas with three returning starters and a free safety in O'Connell who knows what he's doing. There isn't a lot of concern about what everyone can and can't do considering all the key parts are back.
Weakness: Defending the pass. That would be a problem for a secondary. With no help from a pass rush, the secondary has to do a little more than most and it didn't come through last year allowing 250 yards per game and getting beaten way too easily. The Cyclones were last in the Big 12 in pass efficiency defense.
Outlook: The experience is there and the athleticism and hitting ability aren't a problem, but now it's time for it all to come together for a secondary that hasn't stopped anyone in years. The Cyclones gave up 236 yards per game in 2006 and haven't gotten any better since. However, if it's going to happen and a corner is going to be turned, this will be the year with Sims and burgeoning all-star and Johnson and Benton two decent corners.
Unit Rating: 6

Special Teams

Projected Starters: While not a special kicker, junior Grant Mahoney has a good leg connecting on a 52-yarder in the win over Nebraska and hit three of his five attempts from beyond 50 yards. However, he missed five attempts from 30-to-49 yards and he finished hitting 13-of-20 field goal attempts. The coaching staff is looking for more consistency, but the two-year starter with 30 career made field goals will keep getting his chances.

Iowa State was 12th in the nation in punting last year, and now it needs senior Daniel Kuehl to replace Mike Brandtner, who averaged 40.8 yards per try and put 24 kicks inside the 20 and forced 23 fair catches. Kuehl has been a career backup, and while he should be fine, it's asking a lot to be as consistently solid at pinning the ball deep.

Safety David Sims had a great year taking over on kick returns, averaging 23.4 yards per try, while corner Leonard Johnson , who averaged 26.4 yards per try two years ago, averaged 20.4 yards per try. Johnson will get the first look, but Sims will see time, too.

Receiver Josh Lenz got every hot on punt returns, but he wasn't very good at it averaging 4.8 yards per shot. Sims was far more dangerous averaging 11.3 yards per attempt. Both will be used again.

Watch Out For … Sims to be the main man on returns. Johnson was special two years ago, but Sims is the more talented option on both kick and punt returns. He'll get more of a chance to shine.
Strength: The coverage teams. They were fantastic last season allowing just 2.2 yards per punt return and 18.1 yards per kickoff return. Field position is a must for the Cyclones, and they should be ahead of the curve here.
Weakness: Mike Brandtner. Forcing 23 fair catches and putting 24 inside the 20 made for a special year for the punting game. It's asking way too much to expect the same sort of production.
Outlook: The special teams came through with a big year and turned out to be a major strength at times. With the attention paid to them again, the Cyclones should be able to hold their own, even though the return game has to show a steadier pop after finishing 99th in the nation in punt returns and 71st in kickoff returns.
Unit Rating: 7

- 2010 Iowa State Preview | 2010 Iowa State Offense
- 2010 Iowa State Defense | 2010 Iowa State Depth Chart
- Iowa State Previews  2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006