We kick off our fall camp unit previews by going from worst to best, and it was an easy choice to zero in on the defensive line as being the worst unit (on paper) of this year's Cyclone squad.
That's not to say the men listed below on the depth chart are scrubs. Far from it. But the unit lacks an apparent strength, lacks experience, and most certainly lacks depth.
Seeing so many redshirt freshmen and sophomores on the depth chart should be concerning to everyone. Linemen don't grow on trees like they do in S-E-C country, so anyone that Iowa State recruits needs to have the time to develop their strength, fundamentals, and size. Unfortunately the depth chart looks a lot like last season's offensive line with guys who are at least another year away from making an impact being forced into the rotation.
|DEPTH CHART: DEFENSIVE LINE|
|1st String||LE||Mitchell Meyers||RSo||6'4"||262|
|2nd String||LE||Darius White||RSo||6'0"||249|
|The Rest: Justin Madison (LE, RFr), Vernell Trent (NG, RFr), J.D. Waggoner (RE, RFr), Dale Pierson (DE, Jr), Trent Taylor (DE, Jr), Hiro Sasaki (DE, Jr)|
The unquestioned leader is senior defensive end Cory Morrissey. Although he's only started 11 games in his career he's been playing for the better part of the past two seasons and will be looked upon to lead a young group in their effort and fundamentals.
Morrissey is your classic high motor player that makes up for his lack of raw physical skill with a penchant for healthy eating and a never quit attitude on plays. Pushing his weight up to 260 pounds is going to help him stay in games longer, and defend against the run, which are both key to helping the defensive line become less of a liability and more of a weakness that can be hidden.
Believe it or not, Morrissey will likely have a shot at the next level as he was already rated the 28th best defensive end prospect for the 2015 NFL Draft back in the spring. Another off season of strength development followed by another season of play should help his prospects, but it might not show up on the field. Without a space sucker in the middle it's likely Morrissey is going to see the lion's share of pass blocking focused on him.
The X Factor
It's strange to tab a senior as the X factor, but that could very well be the case with Brandon Jensen. He's second on the depth chart currently, but his experience and size should allow him to move past Devlyn Cousin rather quickly and earn his way back to the top.
Shane Burnham said before last season that he felt Jensen had the ability to be better than Jake McDonough but an off season that included no spring ball might change that trajectory. Yet if Jensen does have the light come on that brightly then this defensive line quickly becomes a threat this season.
McDonough was a wrecking ball for most of the 2012 season and ends like Morrissey and Rony Nelson benefited from it. If Jensen can do that, or even 3/4 of it, then Morrissey's NFL potential should show up on Saturdays this fall.
The New Guys
With all respect to Mitchell Meyers, it's the new JUCO ends Dale Pierson and Trent Taylor that everyone has their eyes on. Pierson is very athletic and stood out the first day of fall camp to Wally Burnham. Unfortunately with their arrival for fall camp and not spring ball it might take awhile for the light to come on. They're fast enough to be used in passing situations, but if this line is anything like last year's those 3rd and longs will be hard to come by.
The Key to Success
Sucking up space in the middle. That is the key to the kingdom. After Jensen the guys in the middle get lean. Cousin tips the scale at 300 pounds, but at only 6'1" will have a hard time with keeping longer guards off of him.
Taller guys like Pierra Aka and Robby Garcia will help provide some leverage but their weight is going to force them to attack rather than just take double teams all game. However, the speed appears to be there and if they can attack gaps and play intelligently in those gaps (i.e., don't overrun the play) then the rushing defense might do enough to set the rest of the defense up for success.
There's no shortage of speed on the line with the new recruits and the relatively lean players further down the chart, but their ability to hold up against the large offensive lines of the Big XII will be what makes or breaks the front end of the defense.