By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
Spring football practice starts in just a couple of weeks. The basketball season hasn’t been very good to the Cyclone Fanatics of the world. Here’s some more Cyclone football information to keep you all occupied for a while. A few weeks ago, CycloneFantatic.com sat down with Iowa State’s defensive coordinator Wally Burnham to talk about his roster heading into the spring.
CF: Jesse Smith is gone next year. Off the top of your head, who could be that guy to step in and attempt to fill that void?
WB: You would hope that it will be David Sims. He’ll be a senior. He had a good year as a junior. He is a mature young man who you would hope he could be one of those guys to step in there and provide leadership. From what I understand, during the offseason, he has been doing that. Then, we’ve got Mike O’Connell. He’s a senior. He has shown some leadership in the past. Leonard Johnson is a good football player who needs to step up. That is something that you have to work on. Sometimes you have to force some of these kids to be leaders, without them actually knowing it. We have some young kids. Jake Knott has some leadership ability. He isn’t a starter yet but he should be and hopefully he is. We have some guys like that who have to step up. We have to start developing that leadership but right off the bat, David Sims is the guy out front. He needs to take over.
CF: You mentioned Jake Knott. A lot of fans are curious about the linebackers next year. It appears as if Jake and A.J. Klein will be front-runners to pick up starting spots. They obviously are talented but lack experience. What is your opinion on how those two will handle everything?
WB: Both of those kids did a great job last year of developing and coming along as football players. They know how to work and don’t mind working hard. They have some talent. They are talented enough to play in the Big 12 Conference and win. We are looking forward to developing those two guys, along with Matt Tau’fo’ou in the middle. Jake Lattimer is a guy who we are going to take a long hard look at. We’ll see if we can’t bring him along. He didn’t play a lot last year but when he did, he showed us that he can be a player. We are excited about that young group. They will have some growing pains for sure but they have some talent and they know how to work.
CF: Is this the type of group that might make more mistakes than last year but also maybe give you a few more big plays from that position?
WB: Hopefully they don’t give up too many big plays. They’ll have growing pains. They are going to have to learn on the run a little bit. They will be capable of adding speed to that position. They’ll add athletic ability. They are smart guys who understand football. They will take a lot of reps and they’ll know what we are trying to get done. All of those things are good. That is the thing about that group. We have about five guys there who are tough, hard-nosed kids. We need that in this defense. We need guys who are going to step up and play smart, but be a physical football player at the same time.
CF: I know that if Rashawn Parker is 100 percent, he should be one of the defensive ends. The other spot seems to be up for grabs isn’t it?
WB: Parker is a real leader. He was a leader this last year, before he got hurt. He works hard in practice. He studies film. Patrick Neal played some pretty good football last year at times. He isn’t the fastest guy. He isn’t the quickest guy but he made some big plays for us and didn’t do a bad job. Roosevelt Maggitt has got to come on. It is his time. That’s how it is with a lot of these kids. Maggitt, Neal, Cleyon Laing, Jake McDonough….all of those guys need to start coming through. We have to push them as hard as we can this spring, to get them where they need to be by two-a-days. They have the ability. They are good enough. They just have to get better and a lot better.
CW: What about the interior of the line. Frere is gone. I know that he was another leadership guy. Who are you thinking about?
WB: Stephen Ruempolhamer and Austin Alburtis are the two guys who we are really counting on to step up at those inside positions. They both have a lot of ability. We just have to get it out of them. Of course Walter Woods is going to miss the spring. He’ll be able to do some things but not scrimmage or anything like that. That will hurt him but he is another guy that we have to get so whatever he can do, he has to be good at. We need him ready for two-a-days and camp in the fall. He is another big and strong kid who we feel could help us win.
CW: The one safety spot is wide open. What are your thoughts on O’Connell being able to step up and play some more quality minutes?
WB: He played a lot on smarts. He is limited in ability, which is no knock on him at all. He just isn’t as gifted as some of the other guys. He makes up for it with smarts and work ethic and stuff like that. We have him a free safety right now and David Sims at strong safety. Zac Sandvig will be around. We moved Earl Brooks from corner to safety. We want to see if he can play safety because he is such a big hitter. We are counting on him. I hope that he can be a safety. We use our safeties so much in the run game and he is a hitter. He will hit you. When you are back that deep, you need to make sure that you know what everybody else is doing and he has to learn that position. That will be a slower process than if we left him at corner, where he worked at all fall. We feel like he can help our football team at safety.
CW: What are your thoughts on Anthony Young? Is he a true cornerback? Will he maybe be your nickel back?
WB: We are going to start him out at corner to see how fast he develops. We have to find a nickel somewhere and he will be a candidate for that position. We are going to probably leave him at corner for the majority of the spring to see how he does. He really needs to come along. He really does. We need to find out in a hurry how much he’ll be able to help us.
CW: He’s a speed guy right?
WB: Yes. He isn’t a big kid but he is a speed guy with great hips, great feet and good ball skills for a DB. We are counting on him a lot. Jeremy Reeves is the same way. A lot of times, freshmen like Jeremy know that they came in and think that they will be second team. Then, once they get out there in the spring, a light comes on and they believe that they can be a starter. They really step it up. We are hoping that he takes it up a notch this spring.
CW: Jacques Washington is another guy who comes to mind. Are you happy with your depth in the secondary?
WB: Yeah him and Jansen Watson. We have a lot of candidates there. That is a good thing. Hopefully, some of those kids will come through for us. The thing about this group of kids that we have coming back is that they all are pretty good workers. I don’t think that work ethic will be a problem. We won’t have to coach effort. We’ll coach technique and we’ll coach schemes…things like that.
CW: Last year’s defense just looked so different to me compared to recent Iowa State D’s. Your unit just seemed to have a knack for the football. How do you coach that?
WB: They have to buy into your philosophy. They did a great job of that. Our defensive coaches did a great job of coaching them. We watch practice tape. We watch game tape. Are you chasing the ball? Are you giving us great effort? Are you trying to strip the football? All of those things are coached, but they have to buy into it. I think that hopefully, knock on wood, that carries over to this spring and this upcoming fall. If you work hard, then games should be easier. That is kind of how we approach it. We want them to work their butts off during the week and get better. When they get to the game, have a good time and make it easier than going through a practice.
CW: I know that you all want to get more pressure on the quarterback. Is that a mentality thing that you have to teach to players or do you just naturally have that mindset?
WB: To be honest with you, it is an ability thing. You have to have the speed up front. That was probably our most deficient area last year, just putting pressure on the quarterback, unless we blitzed. Then we were back in a three-deep zone coverage or playing some sort of man coverage. We have to develop that art. That will be one of our main objectives, to get pressure out of our front four this spring. I don’t know how we will do it but we have to find a way to get that done. It goes back to ability, wanting to get to the quarterback, technique and the whole ball of wax.