The saying “it all about in the trenches” takes on even greater significance when talking about John Heacock’s 3-3-5 defensive alignment. Will McDonald IV is the obvious headliner here, but this unit brings back more than you think while also featuring some new faces who have a big chance to impact the Cyclones in 2022.
Several significant faces depart this position group, headlined by Eyimoa Uwazurike. Enyi was a force on the 2021 defense, finishing First Team All Big 12 and leaving as one of the top linemen in the conference. His 42 tackles, 12 TFLs, and 9 sacks will be difficult to replace.
Zach Petersen, an Honorable Mention All Big 12 player last season, also leaves. Petersen was the leading tackler amongst the DL group, and really turned in a nice senior season. Tucker Robertson also departs, who was a valuable depth player in 2021.
Anderson, the redshirt junior transfer from Minnesota, should step in as an immediate backup/depth option with upside. He played in 15 games during his Gopher career, and should be a factor for regular playing time spelling McDonald.
A big-time recruiting win, Orange picked Iowa State over Arkansas, Florida State, and Texas A&M. Orange checks in at 6’4” 350 pounds and definitely has the size to come in and compete for playing time in 2022.
Another big-time recruit (and internet sensation) is Howard Brown. This 6’2” 312 pound linemen is coming off his redshirt season after playing defensive line and quarterback in high school. Brown is most likely ahead of Orange and should be in the rotation for immediate playing time as a backup.
Another player fresh off a redshirt season, Onyedim also has big-time potential and should see the field in 2022. He projects more as an athletic, versatile down linemen and doesn’t have the bulk of Orange and Brown. That said, he will most likely get reps inside along with Howard Brown.
Jaden projects as a 3rd string backup behind Will McDonald IV, which would be a big step up for the redshirt freshman from Haslet, Texas.
A local (ish) kid from Blue Springs, Missouri, Ezeogu chose Iowa State over Illinois, Kansas State, and Kansas. A redshirt is likely here, as he’ll have some bulking up to do to be competitive at the DE position.
Leader Of The Pack
This is obviously Will McDonald IV, though you could make an argument for Isaiah Lee. The starters figure to be McDonald at one end, Lee in the middle, and Blake Petersen at the other end spot. But this group is all about Will. The redshirt senior chose to come back for one final season, where he’ll have a chance to break more records, most of them his own. Last season, he ranked 1st in the league and 9th nationally with 11.5 sacks, breaking his own record, which was the Iowa State single season record.
While redshirt junior Blake Petersen will step into a starting role and have a chance to impact the team in a big way, Isaiah Lee is the other star here. While he didn’t start as many games in 2021, he really came on strong towards the end of the season and was real problem in the bowl game. He is primed to have a huge senior season in the middle.
Having depth on the defensive line year-in and year-out sure takes some getting used to. While some of the youngsters mentioned above will factor in, the main backups are ready to step up have a bit more experience.
J.R. Singleton headlines the group as the most experienced, starting one game and recording 12 tackles in 2021. He has great size and athleticism and should earn plenty of reps behind Isaiah Lee. He can also play on the outside if needed, and his versatility is plenty valuable.
Minnesota transfer MJ Anderson and Joey Peterson will back up McDonald and Blake Petersen at the end position. Boy, it seams like this staff has to spray for Petersons twice a year doesn’t it? Joey Peterson is a redshirt sophomore who has mainly played on special teams. The coaching staff is high on his potential and his abilities have stood out in practice, so expect him to contribute in 2022.
Johnny Wilson, a redshirt sophomore DE, could also be a factor as a 3rd string end option.
With some key departures over the past few seasons, getting Will McDonald IV back for another season was huge for this group and for the defense as a whole. Will McDonald presents John Heacock with a gravitational disruptor that teams absolutely have to game plan and scheme against whenever he is in the game, and when it comes to getting to the quarterback, that makes life easier for Blake Petersen or a blitzing linebacker. Isaiah Lee is a foundational piece as well, as he provides the stout presence the middle of the defense so desires. While there aren’t concerns about the players behind these three, there are certainly some questions, as out-side of Singleton, Anderson, the other backups are young and a touch green. Will Orange, Onyedim, and Brown impact the roster? Can Joey Peterson take a big step forward as a rotation player? These questions will sort themselves out, but the Cyclones thankfully have the luxury of not being dependent on these youngsters to contribute immediately.