Part 2 of the depth-chart deep dive is here!
Today we’ll be digging into how the roster stacks up on the defensive side of the football.
A look at the first depth chart of the season. pic.twitter.com/4EieH6B10p— Dylan Montz (@dylanmontz) July 16, 2018
Again, before we dive in, some words of caution are needed. This 2-deep is definitely subject to change before/during fall camp, and while most of those listed as starters is rather set, some of the backup spots are likely to change before the first game.
The defensive 2-deep depicts the Cyclones bringing a unique mix of both seniors and young players, most of whom are very experienced. The headliners are easily the seniors, and leaders, of the defense: Willie Harvey, De’Monte Ruth, Brian Peavy, and D’Andre Payne. There are also three experienced senior backups on the depth chart, including now-scholarship player Spencer Benton, Kamilo Tongamoa, and Reggan Northrup.
The youth on the roster is maybe more noticeable than the experience – there are 14 freshmen or sophomores listed on the 2-deep, showing up in both starter and backup roles. This wealth of young players mainly resides in the secondary.
The defensive line, for the first time in recent history, may wind up being the strength of not only the defense but the entire football team. Not only does this position group have talent and size, but it has Big 12 caliber depth. Again, that’s the first time that’s been the case in what seems like ages.
It’s the depth of this position group that is worth taking a deeper look at.
Both JaQuan Bailey and Enyi Uwazurike are proven commodities at the defensive end spots. While Enyi is just a sophomore, he showed a unique ability to rush the passer in 2017, and the coaches absolutely love the way he plays. Backing up Baily is senor end Spencer Benton. Benton could wind up being one of the better stories on this team, as though he played somewhat limited minutes in 2017, his dedication and work ethic was rewarded by Campbell and Co. with a scholarship for his senior season. Junior Matt Leo provides depth behind Enyi. Leo, who used a redshirt last season, is somewhat of a mystifying yet exciting player; he is absolutely jacked, but has only been playing football for a handful of years. The coaches like his potential, and he is expected to play real minutes in 2018.
At defensive line, Kamilo Tongamoa will spell big Ray Lima in the middle. Tongamoa, an incredibly highly-touted JUCO player, showed up at the start of fall camp last year, and never really got up to speed. He played in 4 games in 2017, and showed strength and quickness in his limited reps.
Besides Kamilo, the defensive line depth consists of several intriguing young players in Tucker Robertson, Josh Bailey, and Angel Dominguez. It is rare to see freshmen and sophomores on the 2-deep at defensive line, especially for a program like Iowa State. These players already have the prerequisite size required to play in the trenches in the Big 12, and watching them cut their teeth this fall should be interesting.
Iowa State’s defensive leaders at linebacker are backed up by two players the coaching staff trusts in sophomore Jake Hummel and senior Reggan Northrup. Both played last year, though primarily on special teams, and should be capable of spelling both Harvey and Spears as needed.
The big question at linebacker is a rather obvious one: Who replaces Joel Lanning at middle linebacker?
Clearly, losing Joel Lanning is not ideal. Who thought that we’d be pining about the loss of Joel Lanning the linebacker this time last year?
Freshmen O’Rien Vance, a Cedar Rapids George Washington product, came into the program as a highly-touted recruit, and one of the best players in the state of Iowa. While he may not have prototypical middle linebacker size, he certainly has the speed to be a playmaker for the Cyclones. Vance is backed up by Tymar Sutton and Bobby McMillen, both of whom played on defense and special teams in 2017. Vance is definitely the most talented guy available, and it will bode well for the defense if he can keep his head above water in his first year at middle linebacker.
While Iowa State may have the best pair of cornerbacks in the Big 12, and one of the best in the country, there are certainly question marks at the safety spot. Let’s look at the cornerback and star position first.
Brain Peavy, D’Andre Payne, and De’Monte Ruth return at those positions, and should be a terrific trio in 2018. Ruth moves into the starter role at the star position after being a key reserve last season. He played in all 13 games with one start, and recorded 29 tackles, 2.0 TFL, three pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
The backups for these three players are all highly touted, very talented, and are guys the coaching staff absolutely loves. This includes redshirt freshmen Keontae Jones, who backs up Ruth at Star, as well as redshirt sophomore Arnold Azunna, redshirt freshman Datrone Young, and redshirt freshman Richard Bowens III at cornerback.
The bottom line here is that we can expect Azunna to be the “third guy in” after Payne and Peavy, but expect some of the talented freshmen to earn time throughout the year.
The two safety spots are quite possibly the biggest concern this football team has on both sides of the football. The back end is projected to be manned by a pair of redshirt sophomores in Greg Eisworth, a highly touted JUCO transfer, and Lawrence White. While both players have the talent to be capable safeties, the lack of experience in the back-end is certainly concerning.
Unfortunately, it’s tough to say much about this duo until we see them in game action. It is key to note that Lawrence White did play well in limited reps last year, including in his first start against Memphis in the Liberty Bowl.
Thankfully, there is some experienced depth behind Eisworth and White. Both Braxton Lewis and Jatairis Grant saw action in all 13 games last year, with Lewis being a key reserve and making his first start in the Liberty Bowl.
In all, the Cyclone defense should be very solid in 2018. While some people are projecting the defense to take a small step back as compared to last season, whether or not that comes to fruition depends on two things: how the safeties play at the back end, and how well Big 12 opponents have adjusted to Iowa State’s defensive schemes.
The other interesting thing to watch will be how often Iowa State and John Heacock employ the 3-man front. The Cyclones finally have the bodies to effectively run a 4-man front, and may employ this defense to keep pressure on the quarterback and off the new safeties.