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  1. #1
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    My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    *For other reference, see the "Offense" post.

    Defensive Tackle

    I know that some will be startled that I separated “Ends” and “Tackles” from “Defensive Line”, but I do so to prove a point. Well, that, and to better rate the individual elements as the season progresses. After all, there isn’t a bigger unknown on the team than defensive tackle (yes, even moreso than quarterback), and some of us view this with a great deal of trepidation.

    I have to say, though, that what I actually see is talent—and that closely followed by depth. Considering that last season Bryce Braaksma was likely better suited for end, and that he and Tuba Rubin did a very good iron man impression, depth says a great deal.

    Start off with the most seasoned returnee, Nate Frere, who not only has starts under his belt, but got himself into much better shape, dropping more than twenty pounds to make himself quicker and more athletic. Next comes Bailey Johnson, who played a great deal as a redshirt frosh, and Michael Tate, whom Mike Pelton has just told us would have played last season had he not been injured. Much the same likely applies to Austen Alburtis, coming back from a knee injury, and the one-time high school linebacker has a great deal of upside. Then there is Tate’s fellow juco transfer from a year ago, Chris Weir, who is a slippery pass rusher, followed by Jerrod Black, who is a decided slasher as a penetrator.

    As much as we all loved Tuba, and Braaksma gave heroic effort, I wouldn’t have rated last year’s defensive tackles more than a 7.0—after all, a pass rush inside was entirely nonexistent. I don’t expect that to be the case this fall. Only a 6.0 rating due to the inexperience of the starters, but all of that depth is worth a full point, to equal last season’s rating.
    DT: 7.0

    Defensive End

    Separating tackle and end also helps me focus more closely on the talent at these positions, both strongside and rush end. After all, Kurtis Taylor is not only a returning starter, but the anchor of the defensive line, if not the defense overall. As if we couldn’t have guessed that from the camp reports back before he committed to become a Cyclone. As well, Kurtis seems amply supported, with fellow seniors Nick Frere and Travis Ferguson backing him up

    Of course, rush end seems a far different story, at least at first glance, as despite it’s name, any hint of a pass rush was negligible last season. Despite his stature, it’s not as though I doubt Rashawn Parker’s speed or athleticism, he has both in ample abundance. It seemed the light just hadn’t clicked on yet. And Chris Lyle I can easily say was adapting to the Big XII following junior college, as he certainly seemed to find another gear once Spring practice rolled around. Indeed, Coach Pelton most surprisingly says that this is his position with the most depth, which I take to mean not only that either Parker or Lyle could start, but that both of them are good. And that doesn’t include the offerings of incoming frosh Roosevelt Maggitt, who seems determined not to be overlooked.

    Still, even given Kurtis’ return, I can’t (yet) give complete credence to the reports coming out of scrimmages, not before I see them in a real live game, against quality competition. Though it’s tempting to rate this unit higher, I’m going to start them off with a seven—still a slight improvement over last season.
    DE: 7.0


    Linebackers

    I have to admit that it’s tempting to be schizophrenic once more and split the middle and outside ‘backers, but I’ll resist. After all, I could do that same thing throughout the defense. Oddly enough, it’s where the returnees are most experienced that I consider the unit the shakiest, for despite Jesse Smith’s return, I can’t rate the middle higher than “solid”, which with a bonus for experience comes to a six for a staring point.

    On the other hand, the outside slots have a great deal of speed, and at least a modicum of experience, with both Michael Bibbs and Josh Raven having seen at least spot duty last season. Raven’s fellow junior on the weakside, Fred Garrin, has stepped it up in a big way, and I’m thinking overall production at the position will be as proficient as a year ago, meaning no real dropoff whatsoever—at the very least. Replacing Alvin Bowen might seem more problematic, but I think that will be a team effort—because the team surrounding the strongside ‘backer will be better, requiring less of him.

    And that hardly means that the “team” aspect specific to SLB is going to be anything shabby, as the senior Bibbs looks good with some extra muscle, and soph Cameron Bell looks to be a mega-star in the making. I especially think we might see the outside ‘backers coming on the blitz far more often—and far more effectively.

    All in all, I really don’t expect to see any loss of productivity, short of injury. If I’d have given last year’s unit a seven (Alvin couldn’t be everywhere), that’s where I’ll start them out this season.
    LB: 7.0

    Defensive Backs

    With four returning starters, you might think that this would be the strength of the defense, but I’m not quite sure I’d see it that way. After all, they were effectively atrocious in pass defense. Not that that lapse was all their fault, not hardly. Ask anyone, even a caveman—pass rush good.



    Yet I also expect said pass rush to be vastly improved, and not even Chris Brown’s lingering injury explains my reticence. And it’s not as though newcomers like Kennard Banks and Leonard Johnson haven’t been tearing it up in practice, alleviating the one major question at cornerback—depth. Allen Bell, Chris Singleton and Devin McDowell are good corners, they just needed a little help—aside from a pass rush (edit:as the Ames Trib article says today)

    No, it’s safety that has me concerned, and Brown’s injury hardly helps. Nor is the fact that while James Smith has been good, he hasn’t yet been a star. Even the depth at the position, where Brandon Hunley and Steve Johnson are seasoned upperclassmen, leaves me shaking my head. After all, while both have impressed at times in practice and the Spring, that production hasn’t yet translated to the Fall and Jack Trice.

    Frankly, the safety spots need production. Not merely solid tackling (which is a start) and hard hitting, but turnovers, fumbles caused and interceptions. Certainly an improved pass rush will help, but at this moment I’m left to wonder, how much

    Given that a surplus of corners (including not only the aforementioned, but Zac Sandvig, Ter’ran Benton and Judah Linder) at least theoretically could help at safety if need, I’ll start this bunch out with the same rating they would have had a year ago—a good, solid, optimistic six. And yes, there’s plenty of room for improvement—I hope they demonstrate it quickly.

    DB: 6.0


    Special Teams

    It’s amazing how placekicking—or a profound lack thereof—bleeds over into other phases of the game. And I mean bleeds. The lack of a respectable field goal kicker means possessions that result in a pooch punt that may tumble into the end zone instead—often for a net gain of a mere handful of yards. Not to mention the loss of any possibility of points. The lack of a proficient kickoff specialist means not only deeper returns, but a decided disadvantage in any exchange of field position when your defense does hold—resulting in more pressure being placed on your defense. And, by extension, your offense as well, which begins possessions at or within it’s own twenty. In fact, the progressions never really end.

    Which explains to a great extent why Gene Chizik signed not one, but two place kickers this last signing day, no doubt reasoning that between the two, he would at least be ensured one. After all, the last time his predecessor signed a placekicker, the kid blew out his knee weeks later—the latest in a series of mishaps. So, better safe than sorry.

    So it’s been interesting to watch as Zach Guyer and Grant Mahoney has slowly been tested ever more, their range and expectations gradually expanded. I have a feeling that, as the season progresses, the staff might (for the first time in years) feel reasonably confident about attempting a forty yard field goal without the assistance of gale force winds.

    Of course, the coverage units were also a problem, but that might well have had something to do with where the football was (or wasn’t) ending up when kicked. After all, having the end zone (or the back of the end zone) as a fixed boundary is decidedly a restriction on freedom of movement—which certainly wasn’t an issue the last few seasons. Indeed, I can only guess that a further influx of talented linebackers and defensive backs will only help the base composition of said coverage units.

    Indeed, I expect Mike Brandtner to be most relieved of all, with no further demands that he punt when the scrimmage line is on the thirty. That fact alone should see an increase in his average by a number of yards.
    The return units are another story, because for all that talented influx of athletes, I really can’t see who will not only win each battle, but excel at the role. It’s been quite a while since the Cyclones boasted a major threat either as a kickoff or a punt returner. That doesn’t mean, of course, that a sudden improvement isn’t possible, if not even likely.

    Frankly, you don’t ant to know what I would have rated last seasons units, let’s just say that Brandtner was the one point of stability, the eye of the storm. And I think you’ll believe me if I say I’m greatly improving the rating…by starting them out with a six. Like many other areas, that rating could improve quickly—perhaps even with the first kickoff.
    ST: 6.0

    Coaching
    Sorry, but you really don’t get a breakdown of individual coaches here, however, this “unit” is the core for my optimism this coming season. It isn’t just Coach Chizik, and it isn’t that when he had a goodly budget, one with which he could hire anyone in the country, he went out and hired this staff. It’s all that, as well as the more tangible results. Hardly merely the rather ludicrous “time of possession”, but how well coached, how little penalized last season’s team was. They played with precision and discipline.

    Then, of course, there was the long awaited improvement over the last half of the season as the team finally began to “get it”. They won’t be starting off from that same point this year, though some new units might take time to meld, the leadership, the coaching is still there.

    Rating? Well, I can’t say that I see any reason for these guys to have improved in the off season, it’s not as though Coach Chizik hired Norm Chow to coach his quarterbacks. So I guess they’ll plod along with the same rating as I would have given them last year, and I hope that none of you criticize me for it.
    C: 9.0


    Last edited by Aclone; 08-18-2008 at 05:07 PM.

  2. #2
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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    Just curious to your DT impressions.... what makes you think that Chris Weir will ever play?

    I hope I'm wrong, but there is no way we will be better up front without Tuba, Bowen, and Banks.

    I don't know if the same players can get that much better from one year to the next simply with off season training. These are the same guys who last year were back ups. Hopefully I am dead wrong.



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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    Quote Originally Posted by ajk4st8 View Post
    Just curious to your DT impressions.... what makes you think that Chris Weir will ever play?

    I hope I'm wrong, but there is no way we will be better up front without Tuba, Bowen, and Banks.

    I don't know if the same players can get that much better from one year to the next simply with off season training. These are the same guys who last year were back ups. Hopefully I am dead wrong.
    Well, age has a lot to do with it. Frere was only a true sophomore, Johnson and Alburtis were redshirt freshmen, Black was redshirting, and Tate was hurt all year.



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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    I had to strain to read the OL one and while I am sure there is some good analysis in here, I can't look at this font any longer......



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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    Once the conferenc begins, it will be difficult for any defense to look good with the firepower coming down the lane. What we need to do is improve by putting points on the board and hold our own on defense. Deep passing may be better this year. Kickoff andf punts can onlky be better.


    CFH HMagic bball season next year.
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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    The key to improving the pass rush has to be added depth. Last year ISU finished tied for 9th in sacks and that included Taylor who tied for 2nd with 6.5 and Braaksma who had 4 (another 0.5 would have put him in the top 10). The problem was that no one else had more than 2. Don't expect many sacks from the DT position - their job is to collapse the pocket via a bull rush. Usually too much congestion to get around interior linemen. Parker is likely limited in sack potential due to 6-0 (usually means 5-11) height which allows OT's to get into his body and tie him up. Lyle might be the best hope at the rush end position.



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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    Nice analysis Aclone. A bit on the overly optimistic side, but good.

    That font has to go though.



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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    Quote Originally Posted by cytech View Post
    I had to strain to read the OL one and while I am sure there is some good analysis in here, I can't look at this font any longer......
    Quote Originally Posted by d4nim4l View Post
    Nice analysis Aclone. A bit on the overly optimistic side, but good.

    That font has to go though.
    The font is gone. Apologies--I write a lot, and get bored with standard fonts. Forgot to change it after I was playing around.

    Quote Originally Posted by ajk4st8 View Post
    Just curious to your DT impressions.... what makes you think that Chris Weir will ever play?
    He showed some decent penetration in the Spring game. Not to say that he'll start or anything, but he'd be competent if we had a rash of injuries. That's always better than trotting freshman walkons out there.

    I don't know if the same players can get that much better from one year to the next simply with off season training. These are the same guys who last year were back ups. Hopefully I am dead wrong.
    That's the nature of college football. This year's stars were last year's backups. Most of these guys were simply young (or hurt), and waiting behind a pair of seniors. And physical maturity, as well as an off season of strength and conditioning, does matter a great deal.

    Quote Originally Posted by cyfan15 View Post
    Well, age has a lot to do with it. Frere was only a true sophomore, Johnson and Alburtis were redshirt freshmen, Black was redshirting, and Tate was hurt all year.
    Thanks. I just didn't go into specifics, but Black could be special, and I've liked Alburtis' sheer athleticism since seeing video when he signed. He was still rehabbing from injury last year as well.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wesley View Post
    Once the conferenc begins, it will be difficult for any defense to look good with the firepower coming down the lane. What we need to do is improve by putting points on the board and hold our own on defense. Deep passing may be better this year. Kickoff andf punts can onlky be better.
    Good points, but I think that takeaways will be equally important, and that's something Danny Mac's defenses sis that I think Chizik will want to return to.

    Quote Originally Posted by Steve View Post
    The key to improving the pass rush has to be added depth. Lyle might be the best hope at the rush end position.
    Good analysis (pardon the cuts). I also think we'll see better interior penetration than a year ago--though Tuba was amazing in pursuit. Additional depth, allowing fresh legs, will also be a key--as should an improved offense, and field position via better kickers.



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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    I guess I dont see much added depth on Dline, when all of these guys could have played last year... minus Tate.



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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    Quote Originally Posted by ajk4st8 View Post
    I guess I dont see much added depth on Dline, when all of these guys could have played last year... minus Tate.
    Alburtis was also injured last year in addition to Tate. Chizik has also said on more than one occasion that it takes the better part of the first year for a Juco to figure out what's happening. He has said that by the time you get them trained, it is about time to say goodbye. This year Weir and Lyle have gotten past the learning phase so they truly do add to the depth this year.



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    Re: My Preseason Ratings--Defense, Special Teams, and More

    Quote Originally Posted by ajk4st8 View Post
    I guess I dont see much added depth on Dline, when all of these guys could have played last year... minus Tate.
    You keep saying that, but never seem to pay attention to the responses. Tate and Alburtis were hurt, and rehabbing from injury respectively. Lyle was adapting from juco. Black was redshirting, as freshmen are wont to do. And Frere and Johnson were the reserves and played--despite being young. All of these guys were behind experienced seniors--which is the nature of the college game. So why is that natural progression so hard to see?



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