Gone is the anchor of the defensive front from the past three years – Ray Lima. And while the Polynesian product didn’t stuff the stat sheet, he made up for it by demanding double teams and clearing the way for the second line of defense. He fit the perfect mold for the Jon Heacock 3-man front, and made it work to perfection. Lima will be hard to replace.
Also departing from graduation was the ultra-aggressive Jamahl Johnson, who, when given his opportunity, made the most of it. Johnson was a disrupter in the backfield, blowing up quarterbacks before the play developed, and had tremendous vertical penetration.
I’d be hard pressed to find a recruit with more expectations than 6-foot-7 Shaped By the Hands of God Matt Leo. After picking the Clones over teams like Oklahoma, the physical attributes were there, but the light never really ever turned on for the Aussie. While Leo was a capable backup, he never turned into an all-conference performer like we thought.
Lima, on the other hand – exceeded all expectations, and was the most consistent performer of the entire defensive unit for three years. I think his shoes are the biggest to fill, and will be understandably difficult to sustain his success.
Latrell Bankston headlines the class of 2020, and is ultimately assumed to take over as DT1. While he is a junior college product (Hutchinson CC, KS), Bankston has all the physical tools in the toolbox to thrive. While he is short in stature (6-foot-1), he makes up for it with brute strength (300-lbs). Bankston’s accolades are abundant, earning First-Team NJCAA All-American honors in 2019, with an impressive 63 tackles, 22 tackles-for-loss, and 11.5 sacks. Without a doubt, ISU has struck out more than they have hit homeruns on JUCO products, but you are hard-pressed to find a student-athlete more excited to wear a Cyclone uniform than this man.
I honestly believe we are gonna shock the world this year... Genuinely— Latrell Bankston (@trellbankston) May 12, 2020
I expect incoming freshmen Johnny Wilson and Willis Singleton to both redshirt, but there are a lot of up and coming underclassmen who have a shot to see the field this fall. Defensive End Corey Suttle had a tremendous first step based on his high school film, while Cordarrius Bailey has put on 45+ pounds since entering campus 2.5 years ago. It looks Alex Kleinow made the switch from offensive line over to defense, and I could see Joshua Bailey finally seeing some time in the 2-deeps as a senior.
Leader of the Pack
The other Bailey (Jaquan) is back for his fifth and (possibly) final season, after a season-ending injury allowed him to medically redshirt in 2019. His next sack will be the new school career record, and from all media accounts I’ve heard in the offseason - #3 is ready to wreak havoc. He was inconsistent and out of position at times earlier in his career, but the Florida product has turned into one of the most productive defensive ends to ever wear the Cardinal and Gold uniform.
The multi-dimensional Eyioma Uwazurike and his 6-foot-6 frame may see time at both the outside and in the 3-technique spot in 2020. He has tremendous leverage for his size, and can hold his own in between the tackles (especially after he added 40+ lbs in the offseaon). Uwazurike’s injuries the last few years proved difficult to overcome, and it will be important for big #5 to stay healthy.
Our most intriguing prospect is none other than edge rusher Will McDonald. Halfway through last season the then-freshman turned into a pass-rushing specialist on third downs, and paved the way with 6 sacks in 2019. And that was done in scrap duty. Just think what the guy can do when given full-time snaps.
Zach Petersen is a man’s man, and showed us his potential in the absence of Jaquan Bailey in 2019. The upcoming junior has stood out to Campbell and the staff. “Boy if he hasn’t broken out yet, I don’t know when he will,” exclaimed ISU’s coach at last week’s press conference. “Zach to me is one of our primetime football players, in my opinion.”
Some other names that will help fill in the depth chart are: Tucker Robertson, Joshua Bailey and Blake Peterson. The first two can plug the gaps on the inside, and may play more if ISU implores a 4-man front, while the latter stud is a top recruit from the 2019 class, and is the future at defensive end for the Cyclones.
I expect another impressive defensive front that will pave the way for Heacock’s linebackers to roam free. In years past, ISU didn’t have to worry about changing their scheme due to the efficiency of Ray Lima on the interior. With him no longer in cardinal and gold, we may see a few different packages, most likely more of a 4-man front, and especially the likes of Will McDonald on passing downs (3rd down).
No one can scheme up the exotic blitzes better than Heacock and company, and look for that to continue. Also, I expect Bailey to take care of his career sack record early, and the rest of the year he can play loose and carefree football. ISU’s defensive line is probably top-3 or 4 in the Big 12, and with its depth, will continue to carry that torch for years to come.