Imagine my shock back in December when I'm sitting at my desk and I start to see the Twitter chatter about Kamari Cotton-Moya winning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. The same Cotton-Moya that was a first year starter on the worst Iowa State defense since Wayne Bolt's in 2008. It couldn't be, could it?
Oh, but it was, and the fact KCM was recognized by the league for his work on that defense goes to show how valuable a solid secondary can be to a team, and how they only truly look dominant when the front seven are doing their jobs just as well as the back four.
The 2015 edition of the Cyclones' secondary is experienced, aggressive, and damn near anonymous. Danger lies in that anonymity as people have failed to realize how truly great this secondary can become with the semblance of a pass rush or linebackers filling the correct gaps. Fans spend so much time watching the defensive line get freight trained that they don't realize the only thing stopping an eight yard run from being an 80 yard touchdown is a guy like KCM laying it on the line.
Now in 2015 there's new talent and depth up front, and it might be time for this unit to step in to the spotlight.
This is your 2015 preview of Iowa State's secondary.
The Depth Chart
|LCB||4||***Sam E. Richardson||RSr||5'8"||182|
Cotton-Moya, a redshirt sophomore, is the spirit of this group. He's got the mind of Jacques Washington and the torpedoing ability of David Sims. He spent last year learning how to play in the Big 12 and how to set a defense at a breakneck pace and still was voted as the best freshman defensive player in the league.
So what happens when the show slows down? I'll tell you what happens: KCM becomes a weapon.
Much chatter has been given to Wally Burnham's potential switch to a 3-4 defensive alignment this fall and it frees KCM up to be a young version of Troy Polamalu. He has a long way to go to fill Polamalu's shoes, but how he's used in run support may very well be similar.
Last year KCM was already used as a pseudo-fourth linebacker in short yardage situations, and with Burnham employing a gap attacking 3-4 alignment this year I expect KCM to turn from a guy who stops the bleeding to one who inflicts it through early down blitzes to help in run support. And once you pair that up with his already outstanding knowledge of the game that means he's going to be bringing more awards back to Ames.
The X Factor
Unfortunately former cornerback Ken Lynn moved to receiver this offseason and found himself buried on the depth chart. Lynn was potentially the best cornerback on the field by the end of last season, so seeing him on the other side of the ball is surprising.
That said, the staff only approved the move because they felt strongly about redshirt freshman Brian Peavy's progress at the spot. Peavy is currently backing up Nigel Tribune at the right cornerback spot and by all accounts will see significant playing time this season.
A secondary will rotate in the second string fairly consistently throughout a game, and if Peavy is as advertised he not only provides second line depth in 2015 but the type of experience needed to take over for Sam E. Richardson in 2016.
A Relevant Stat
Iowa State had 45 pass deflections and 10 interceptions in 2014. The 55 passes defended resulted in a PD/INT Ratio of 12.2%, which was good for 88th in the country.
However, the 45 pass deflections were good enough for 48th in the country and just slightly above the national average of 42. The secondary didn't pick off a lot of passes, but they were in the right position more often than not to disrupt. Especially when you consider they faced the 15th most passes in the country (451).
Florida led the country in 2014 by getting their hands on a pass 20.5% of the time. While that's a tall stretch for this secondary, a jump from 12.2% to 16% would be good enough to rank this unit in the top 25. It might not be enough to make the defense a threat, but it will go a long way to cutting down on opponent's drives and scoring opportunities.
It's hard to imagine things being much worse than 2014, but it's possible. The 10 interceptions weren't the low mark of the Rhoads era (8, 2013). Yet if the team matches that performance, or performs worse, the wheels will fall completely off the wagon and another losing season is all but guaranteed.
The Final Verdict
Other than receivers, no unit depends more on the players around them to help them look successful play in and play out. It's hard to stick with guys 60 yards down the field and it's harder still to make a play on the ball after running that distance. That stickability a secondary needs becomes less of a chore with a good pass rush; or a defense that can slow the run and force offenses to be one dimensional.
The mere fact that last year's secondary could get hands on balls once out of every eight pass attempts is a testament to the coverage employed by Richardson, Nigel Tribune, and the rest of the back end. Now we're talking about this group being more experienced, more aggressive, and potentially paired up with a defensive line short on experience but long on potential.
Come December 2015 there will be no more surprises. Someone, maybe even multiple players, will be rewarded for their effort.