Continuing the trend of unknowns for 2013 we take a look at the defense and special teams units for the Cyclones. The Cyclones return only four true starters on defense (DE Willie Scott, LB Jeremiah George, CB Jansen Watson, and FS Jacques Washington), however they will be buoyed by the likely move of former nickel back Deon Broomfield back to strong safety. However, what the Cyclone defense lacks in experience they make up for in youth, size, and athleticism.
Both Kirby Van Der Kamp and Edwin Arceo are back to resume their punting and kicking duties, respectively. The return game is likely to feature a mix of Albert Gary, Jarvis West, and possibly even newcomer Aaron Wimberly.
Just like on offense we look at each until ranking them from most confident to least.
1. Punter – Fuck, punter? Really? Yes, really. Kirby Van Der Kamp was punting well enough last season to earn himself a spot on the All Big XII First Team had it not been for Quinn Sharp still doing his thing down in Stillwater. Van Der Kamp finished last season with a 41.0 yards per punt net punting average with 29 punts inside the 20-yard line to only two (TWO!) touchbacks.
Van Der Kamp will no doubt start the season on the Ray Guy Award Watch List and still tops the all-time net punting average chart for Iowa State. While Kirby has his occasional shank his coverage is usually good enough to ward off returners and a favorable bounce here and there will turn a shank into an average 35-yard punt. Even when Kirby misses he still helps the Cyclones in their battle to win field position.
2. Safety – Safety is a legitimate strength for this defense with Broomfield sliding back into Durrell Givens’ old spot and Jacques Washington starting his third season occupying the free safety position.
Paul Rhoads talks about how Washington isn’t the most athletic talent out there but he plays smart and knows what the defense needs to do to succeed. Troy Douglas has mentioned that Washington likes to freelance a little bit much but a dose of veteran seasoning will turn that occasional weakness into strength. After all, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein were known to do their fair share of freelancing.
The men who will back up the starters is still up in the air but a guy like Gage Shaeffer played passably in his limited action last year and at worst will be a solid special teams contributor. Cliff Stokes could potentially slide back to safety given his size, tackling ability, and complete inability to cover anyone. Charlie Rodgers is a good fit as well but rumor is his size could have him sliding into that nickel back role.
3. Cornerback – This is where the gap between the top spots and rest of the field widens. Despite being #3 on this list I would not go out and say that cornerback is a strength. Jansen Watson returns as arguably the best corner on the team and hopefully 100% healthy before August 31st. Who replaces Jeremy Reeves is up for debate and it could come down to a number of guys. Kenneth Lynn, Sam Richardson (the black one), Cliff Stokes, Charlie Rodgers, Damein Lawry, T.J. Mutcherson, and Matt Thomas are all possibilities here.
As mentioned above, there could be other plans for Stokes and Rodgers that take them out of the running but the remaining players are all in the mix in spring ball and fall camp. My main area of concern here is not only lack of experience, but the possibility that the athleticism jump will not be as high as say the defensive line’s will be.
Look at it this way; it’s not like the Cyclones had a dearth of talent at the cornerback spot the last few years. Leonard Johnson ended up in the NFL, Jeremy Reeves had every physical ability except height and would have never ended up in Ames if he was 5’11", and Ter’ran Benton was dependable his senior year.
Given the step back I expect the defensive line to take this fall because of their youth the secondary is going to have to pick up a lot of slack. There are high expectations here and there are too many unknowns at that second cornerback spot and the rest of the two or three deep to rank this group any higher. Given the unknowns this unit ranks closer to the defensive line in my level of confidence than they do the safeties.
4. Defensive End – There is not a lot to choose from here. Willie Scott returns but he has always been an undersized guy that lacks the burst off the line to be effective for his size. Scott is functional, but unspectacular. The two wild cards here will be David Irving and if his development finally hits the point where the light goes off and if either Nick Kron or Cory Morrissey can capitalize on strong first year campaigns and either becomes a full time starter.
Rounding out the rest of the defensive end corps will be redshirt freshmen Pierre Aka and Collin Bevins. Both will compete for immediate playing time and will get their snaps, but it would not surprise me to see Aka start on August 31st or before Big XII play begins in October. The athleticism and size are finally beginning to appear with this group (Senior Willie Scott at 6’2", 242 pounds vs Redshirt Freshman Pierre Aka at 6’3", 277 pounds), but the question remains about whether or not their youth will get in the way of their production. If I had to venture a guess I think you see some plays, drives, halves, or even full games where the guys look the part and others where they look like fresh faced freshmen.
5. Defensive Tackle – Similar to above. A lot of experience disappears with the graduations of Jake McDonough and Cleyon Laing but waiting in the wings are some high potential guys like Devlyn Cousin, Collin Bevins, and Brandon Jensen. Jensen earned playing time in 2012 and held his own but will likely be called upon to man up and take over one of the spots in the middle on a consistent basis. It sounds like JUCO transfer Rodney Coe out of Iowa Western Community College is likely to assume McDonough’s old position at nose tackle.
After the starters the depth gets murky with a lot of inexperience in the two and three deep. Despite the high potential guys listed above there is going to be some scrapping going on in the lower part of the depth chart with some potential for walk-ons to see playing time. Then again, you never know when we’ll have another Nick Leaders or Jordan Carstens waiting in the wings.
6. Kicker – Kicker? Yes, kicker. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know there is only one position group left after this one and it’s still ranked below a unit that has historically struggled in Ames. That said, Edwin Arceo ended last year making seven of his last ten kicks and Cole Netten challenged for the job in the fall before being redshirted.
7. Linebacker – You think the offensive line had woes after losing 2nd round pick and Super Bowl Champion Kelechi Osemele and NFL Free Agent Hayworth Hicks? How about losing two sure fire NFL draft picks, one who is in ISU’s all-time top 10 list for tackles and the other who holds the NCAA record for TAINTs by a linebacker?
This unit is going to be bad next year. Not even not good, but bad; worse than when Jake and A.J. were expected to carry the load with Matt Morton in 2010. On the plus side Jake and A.J. improved a lot throughout 2010 and took a jump towards the elite before 2011. The loss of C.J. Morgan to transfer hurts here but there is a lot of talent somewhere in this group and the matter will be finding it and developing it quickly. One can hope that with guys like Luke Knott, true freshman Alton Meeks, Kane Seeley, and Darius White the linebacking corps will be in good hands in the future, but just not in 2013.
One thing is for certain: Jeremiah George will continue to shit himself for Cyclone Nation.
Projected 2013 Defensive Starters
DE - Willie Scott
DT - Rodney Coe
DT - Brandon Jensen
DE - Cory Morrissey
SLB - Darius White
MLB - Jeremiah George
WLB - Luke Knott
CB - Kenneth Lynn
SS - Deon Broomfield
FS - Jacques Washington
CB - Jansen Watson
K - Edwin Arceo
P - Kirby Van Der Kamp