Last week we touched on who will be the projected starters on the offensive side of the ball. Today, we go over to the defense.
Gone is Wally Burnham and his 3-4 base from last season. While the 3-man front had its positives (more speed on the field), there were still a lot of negatives as well (lack of penetration from the defensive line).
In comes Jon Heacock and his 4-2-5 scheme, which provides for a 4-man front with multiple defensive backs on the field in this pass-happy Big 12 Conference.
Again, attrition has come by the way of not only graduation, but injuries and transfers. The biggest losses came at the linebacker spot, with three contributors and potential starters in Luke Knott, Levi Peters and Jordan Harris all leaving before their eligibility ran out.
Just like last week, we will run through each position with our first impression grades. Like your momma said: don't judge a book by its cover. There will be multiple changes and hopefully some impact players that will step up come September 3rd to give us a much prettier picture.
Cornerbacks - B-Plus
|CB (BC)||10||Brian Peavy||RS Soph||5'9||184|
|1||D'Andre Payne||RS Soph||5'10||186|
|CB (FC)||17||Jomal Wiltz||Senior||5'10||174|
Matt Campbell has made it clear that he will never turn down a defensive back recruit. He made that clear when he signed SEVEN in the 2016 class, and with the amount of passes thrown in this conference, the more cornerbacks, the better.
The first thing you will notice, are the "BC" and "FC" positions. FC stands for field corner and is primarily the better cover corner, as it plays on the strong side. He has more ground to cover and is required to fill those gaps with closing speed. Quite possibly the fastest player on the team, Jomal Wiltz, came into his own last season, and beats out Nigel Tribune for the number one spot. Don't worry fans, Tribune will still be on the field.
The other position marks the "boundary corner," who plays weak-side and will face more 1-on-1 situations down the sidelines. This position belongs to Brian Peavy, who was a bright spot in last year's defense, and also the team's leading returning tackler. Backing him up is transfer D'Andre Payne, who started his career at Tennessee, and has found a home in Ames.
Other names to consider are Jay Jones (converted nickel) and Thadd Daniels (JUCO transfer).
Safeties - B
|3||Mike Johnson||RS Freshman||5'11||182|
|FS||5||Kamari Cotton-Moya||RS Junior||6'1||197|
|23||Thadd Daniels||RS Junior||6'1||200|
Adding to the depth and talent in the secondary, the safeties are led by 2014 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year Kamari Cotton-Moya. Cotton-Moya holds down the free safety spot, and looks to come back from a nagging hamstring injury from a year ago. Backing him up is JUCO transfer Thadd Daniels, by way of Cerritos Community College in California. Daniels was able to practice in the spring, and according to Campbell can play any of the five spots in the defensive backfield.
We would have to think that Duke transfer Evrett Edwards will be the starter at the other safety spot. He played two years in a Power-5 conference, and based on him graduating in 3 years, he will pick up the playbook quickly. Redshirt freshman Mike Johnson made some noise in the spring game and is slated to back up Edwards.
Defensive Tackle - C-Plus
|DT||91||Pierre Aka||RS Senior||6'4||293|
|95||Robby Garcia||RS Junior||6'4||283|
|99||Vernell Trent||RS Junior||6'3||280|
The clear leader of this group is 2015 Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year Demond Tucker. According to defensive line coach Eli Rasheed, this staff is pushing Tucker much harder this offseason, even demoting him to the second team for a stint. Don't worry folks, it's only a motivational tactic to get this beast to bring it 100% on every snap, and not take any plays off.
Behind Tucker, the cupboard is a bit bare. Bobby Leath came in late last season and has a big enough body to play, but not the consistency to find more snaps. At the other defensive tackle spot we find Pierre Aka, who has been touted for what seems like three straight years, and has yet to follow through. Based on his experience, he is number one on the depth chart, but could easily be beaten out by Robby Garcia and/or Vernell Trent. Garcia was always considered undersized, but has bulked up in recent years. Trent will be a step behind, as he broke his leg in the offseason, and is slated to be full strength by mid-season.
Terry Ayeni hung up his cleats last week, and beyond these 4.5 names above, there is a massive drop off. Lets hope there are no injuries during the season.
Defensive End - D
|DE||11||Gabe Luna||RS Senior||6'2||243|
|55||JD Waggoner||RS Junior||6'3||250|
|DE (Leo)||8||Jhaustin Thomas||RS Senior||6'6||265|
|41||Darius White||RS Senior||6'1||251|
We go to the outside, where the majority of Heacock's quarterback pressure will be called upon. Gone is Sack Mamba Dale Pierson, and hopefully taking his place (and QB hurries) is 6-foot-6 Jhaustin Thomas. Thomas showed glimpses last year, but lapsed in the mental department and needs a better pad level if he wants to take that next step. He will be counted upon to take the LEO position, which sets up as a weak-side edge rusher in a two-point stance and is there to disrupt the backfield. Backing him up is experienced, yet undersized Darius White.
On the other side is Gabe Luna, who sat out most of last season with injuries. Luna has the frame and speed, and backing him up is J.D. Waggoner who has the discipline, but lacks the athleticism. Don't sleep on some others that could contribute if their names are called - most notably redshirt freshman Seth Nerness and senior Mitchell Meyers, who is coming off his battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Linebackers - D
|LB (Will)||7||Willie Harvey||RS Soph||6'0||222|
|25||Brian Mills||RS Junior||5'10||226|
|LB (Mike)||29||Kane Seeley||RS Senior||6'2||239|
|42||Marcel Spears||RS Freshman||6'1||215|
|25||Brian Mills||RS Junior||5'10||226|
|Nickel||9||Reggan Northrup||RS Soph||6'1||191|
|44||Bobby McMillen III||RS Freshman||6'1||237|
|12||Jay Jones||RS Senior||6'3||209|
And we end with the position with the most glaring holes - linebacker. Willie Harvey has been ranted and raved upon by this staff as the next best tackler of this group. The sophomore firmly holds the weak-side linebacker spot, and is backed up by capable veteran Brian Mills.
After Jordan Harris's sudden departure, the middle linebacker spot is one for the taking. Kane Seeley scares the crap out of me, with his slow feet and inability to fill the gaps in the run game. I foresee his spot to be filled up by Mills during the season, as this two-linebacker system needs speed.
Some other names to chew on are Marcel Spears and Bobby McMillen. Both are unproven, and have yet to take many snaps.
At the nickel spot, it is Reggan Northrup's job to lose. He has the speed to get in the right place at the right time, and improved immensely during last season. I threw Jay Jones in there as a backup, since he has the perfect size for the position, and also played it last year.
So there we have it - another group of a few talented playmakers, and again, a lack of veteran depth. A lot of unknowns, as well as a bevy of sophomores and underclassmen starting. The loss of multiple linebackers in the offseason greatly hurt the defense, but hopefully this group of misfits can make it work.
Beyond Tucker, the defensive line scares me with their lack of athleticism, and the only pass rush I see comes from Thomas. He is a one-trick pony with an outside speed rush, so let's hope Eli Rasheed and company can add to his repertoire. The secondary is the lone bright spot, but it doesn't matter how good they are if the quarterback has all day to throw.
Campbell and company will have their work cut out for them this offseason.