NEW YORK - DECEMBER 30: In previous years, the cheerleading squad would often have to sub in for injured players. Not this year. (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Yesterday saw a way-too-early look at the offensive side of Iowa State's first depth chart of the 2012 season. Today, a glance at the defense.
Iowa State's 2012 defense has two outsized stars in A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, while a bunch of minor planets revolve around their core. That sounds like a shitty metaphor, but it is very much the truth for Iowa State's defense this year. The defense has two proven, NFL-caliber players at linebacker, surrounded by unknown entities and role players.
It will also likely be the best defense Paul Rhoads has had in his time at Iowa State.
The main reason? Depth, and a good amount of it at key positions. The defensive line will be able to use three proven players at every position. Same with safety and cornerback. And while this year's defensive backfield loses Leonard Johnson and Ter'ran Benton, it could be better overall by allowing Wally Burnham to substitute players into packages as needed. After the jump, a look at which players have the early lead to claim starting spots this fall.
Defensive Line: Roosevelt Maggitt returns from a season-ending leg injury to reclaim his starting spot at right end, while redshirt senior Jake McDonough takes back his spot at defensive tackle. Tiny-yet-mighty Willie Scott appears to have an early lock on the left end position, but due to his size, Scott will probably split a lot of reps with sophomore David Irving and redshirt freshman Devin Lemke. Redshirt freshman Cleyon Laing has spent his time at Iowa State as a career backup (apparently it takes awhile to learn the difference between American and Canadian rules football), but is penciled in as the early starter at defensive tackle.
But honestly, the defensive line has been the weak link on the Cyclone defense for years. They've ranked near the bottom of the NCAA in sacks since Ahtyba Rubin was playing. It isn't a position group with overwhelming talent. So it's important to know the backups, because you're going to be seeing a lot of them this year when they spell the starters. Redshirt senior Walter Woods and redshirt sophomore Brandon Jensen both have game experience, while freshman Nick Kron is coming off a redshirt season. Ben Durbin is a graduate transfer from Wyoming who's currently a third stringer at defensive tackle, while charmingly-enthusiastic JUCO transfer Cory Morrisey is third string at defensive end.
Interestingly, JUCO All-American Rony Nelson is just outside of this depth chart in his redshirt senior season. Ditto for highly-touted redshirt freshman Quinton Pompey. In Pompey's case, he may still be healing from the leg injury he suffered his senior season in high school. Either way, both players should see playing time at some point this season.
Linebacker: Probably the position with the least amount of turnover, which is good because it's also the position with the least depth on the team. Not including incoming freshmen, there are only five scholarship linebackers on Iowa State's active roster this year.
A.J. Klein and Jake Knott reclaim their starting positions (as if there was any doubt), with junior Jeremiah George backing up Klein in the middle and sophomore Jevohn Miller backing up Knott on the outside. This is all fairly expected. What's kind of unexpected is the fact that safety Deon Broomfield is currently penciled in as a co-starter with redshirt sophomore C.J. Morgan. This is most likely due to the aforementioned depth issues, but Wally Burnham likes to play a lot of 4-2-5 defense in conference play, where Broomfield will likely be employed as a nickel back (similar to Ter'ran Benton early in his career at Iowa State).
Cornerback: Please, opposing quarterbacks; continue throwing to Jeremy Reeves' side of the field. You see his 5'7" frame and think you're just going to loft the ball over him. But the senior cornerback is a crafty defender that almost always puts himself in the right position to make the play. So yeah, that ball might not be picked. But if it is, Reeves is running it back for a touchdown.
Taking over for current Tampa Bay Buccaneer on the other side of the field is redshirt junior Jansen Watson. Watson has plenty of game experience, and while he's not as physical a defender as Johnson was; his speed allows him to cover his mistakes more readily.
Redshirt sophomore Matt Thomas is currently fighting with JUCO transfer Cliff Stokes to grab the backup spot behind Jansen Watson, while a similar battle is taking place on the other side of the field between redshirt freshmen Kenneth Lynn and Sam Richardson (the defensive back, not the quarterback).
Safety: Redshirt junior and Elvis Costello-spectacle-aficionado Jacques Washington reclaims his starting spot at free safety, which is a good thing considering he led the team in pass breakups last year. JUCO transfer Durrell Givens played in 11 games last year and started three, which has given him the early edge at starting strong safety over sophomore Jared Brackens and incoming JUCO freshman T.J. Mutcherson.
So that's your absurdly early look at Iowa State's 2012 defense. Once fall practices get underway in a few weeks, look for this depth chart to start shaking out, but this pre-practice chart should provide a rough guide for you this year.