One of the biggest reasons for Iowa State’s turnaround on the defensive side of the ball has been the defensive line. What they have been able to do upfront the past two seasons has been remarkable, and flat-out fun to watch. While they may not be household names in the national media’s eyes, they’re the blue collar type of players that Iowa State fans come to love no matter what. Let’s take a look into Iowa State’s most important defensive position group, the defensive line.
While the core guys on the defensive line are back. The defensive line did see some quality depth leave due to the graduation of Spencer Benton and Kamilo Tongamoa. Benton ended last season with 17 total tackles and 3 sacks, while Tongamoa played a limited role in his last season in Ames. Neither guy provided high-end production, but they do leave some depth questions behind for now.
The highly-recruited defensive end out of South Dakota has been mentioned by Matt Campbell multiple times this off season as player to keep our eyes on. He reportedly had a strong spring, and has apparently further built upon that success in fall camp. While we don’t exactly know what his role will be for this upcoming season, it’s a virtual certainty we’ll see him in at least his four redshirt games. Peterson is built for the college game, and I think he can force his way into the rotation to give an already potent defensive line another level.
While Corey Suttle may not get the playing time that Blake Peterson will right away, he’s another Matt Campbell defensive end that should end up having a nice career in Ames. His explosiveness and strength will be something to watch develop over the course of his career. Jake Brend did some film analysis on him.
Zach Peterson burned his redshirt last season playing special teams, but also carved out a minimal role at defensive end. He may not be new to the roster, but he might provide the largest “new” impact during the 2019 season. During the offseason, Peterson added 30 pounds to his 6 foot 4 inch frame. The coaching staff and his teammates have been raving about him for the entire offseason, and I think he will be one of the breakout players for Iowa State this season.
Leader Of The Pack
This could honestly go any of three ways, but for this case I’m going to go with Jaquan Bailey. Right now, he’s tied for the all time sacks lead in Iowa State history, and more than likely will own the record all by himself by the end of the first game. While I do believe Ray Lima is the leader on the defensive line, Jaquan Bailey is the certified DUDE on the line. His pass rush ability creates havoc on the edge, and often frees up other rushers simply by drawing double teams. Simply put, Ray Lima makes the line great, JaQuan Bailey makes it elite.
You can’t forget about Eyioma Uwazurike, the previously mentioned Ray Lima, and Jamahl Johnson. Without these guys, the defensive line wouldn’t experience even half the success they do week-in and week-out. All three will have to add in another big season alongside Jaquan Bailey if the Cyclone defense is going to replicate the type of success it saw a season ago. If Bailey is commanding more attention on the outside, it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility for Uwazurike to lead the team in sacks in 2019.
The thing you always worry about from season to season is a drop off due to any number of reason. High level of play can only be sustained for so long, but the Cyclone defensive line has the personnel and experience to potentially immunize itself from a decrease in quality of play. This is the group that makes the Iowa State defense go, and if Iowa State is going to be one of the top defensive teams again, the defensive line will have to be a force.
Ray Lima will have to continue to command double teams as always. The defensive ends are going to have to find a way to collapse pockets on their own, as well as taking on blocks to allow the Iowa State linebackers and defensive backs to play freely. While I don’t necessarily think the defensive line has to compile a ton of sacks, they do have to be really disruptive. It’s the only way the Cyclone defense can continue to play at a high level all year long. I think they can and will.