Spring Football Preview: The defense

There is an old cliché out there that says, “Defense wins championships.” Perhaps that really is true. I guess I don’t really know that to be the case for sure. I do know however that if you play football in the high-flying, always-entertaining Big 12 Conference, not being able to score consistently simply isn’t an adequate game plan when it comes to having sustainable success.

Iowa State has been a football program led by its defense for far too long.


For the sake of Paul Rhoads’ 2014 squad, hopefully things finally change next season. Pair a capable offense up with the majority of Wally Burnham’s defenses of the past five years (minus 2013 and probably 2009) and you might be talking 8-4 or better. 

For once, the offense needs to give the defense a break. On paper, with the infusion of new offensive coordinator Mark Mangino and a cast of returning talent, that very well might be the case.

That is also because Iowa State’s defense appears to be a bit of a mess at the start of spring football. Gone are three of the four leading tacklers from a season ago, Jeremiah George (middle linebacker), Jacques Washington (free safety) and Deon Broomfield (strong safety). Former starters Brandon Jensen (defensive tackle) and Charlie Rogers (defensive back) left the program during the offseason.

*** LINK: Spring Preview: The offense ***

Even with those guys, Iowa State’s defense finished the 2013 season ranked 105th nationally in total defense giving up over 460 yards per game and 107th in scoring defense. There is plenty room for improvement here, indeed.

When you look at this defense on paper heading into the spring season, it has more potholes than a small-town Iowa street in April. It’s time roll up the sleeves and to get to work. 

Here is your spring football preview for Iowa State on the defensive side of the football.


Biggest story

Linebacker: While I fully realize the importance of a quality defensive line, I have also come to realize that Iowa State is usually not going to have a dominant one. (But don’t get me wrong; the defensive line is always the biggest story). That always makes the next tier of the defense even more critical. Iowa State has proven over the years however to be able to be very good at the linebacker position.

With the Big 12’s leading tackler from a year ago, Jeremiah George, out of the picture, there are plenty of reps to be taken at the middle linebacker position.

All signs currently point to mid-year junior-college signee Jordan Harris being that man. Defensively, there is little doubt in my mind that his progression and readiness is the biggest story surrounding this defense in the months of March and April. 

At 5-foot-11, 241-pounds, Harris led junior-college football in tackles last season and Paul Rhoads seems confident about his abilities. How will he adapt to the Big 12 ball?

Harris has been penciled in as the starter. Iowa State desperately needs him to be that guy.

Top position battle 

Cornerback: With Charlie Rogers out of the picture, juniors Sam Richardson and Kenneth Lynn are the top contenders to exit the spring with Iowa State’s No. 2 cornerback job. These two have been going at it their entire careers in Ames and there’s no reason that should change now.

Up in the air

Safety: Both positions. With Washington and Broomfield gone, a handful of Cyclones will now have a chance to make an impact.

Junior-college mid-year signee Devron Moore has a good chance to win the free safety spot.

At strong safety, T.J. Mutcherson and Darian Cotton should duke things out this spring.

I’ve been told to keep an eye on redshirt freshman Kamari Cotton-Moya in general. 

This is always a spot to keep an eye on a position change or two too, so stay tuned. 

The time is now (five Cyclones who need to step up)

Jordan Harris, linebacker – (See biggest story)

Devron Moore, free safety – He is in the same situation as Harris. Both men were brought in to start from day one. Getting the 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior in the right form to do so begins today. 

Kane Seeley or Darius White, linebacker – Iowa State lacks proven depth at linebacker in a bad way. Both men are sophomores now going through their third spring and need to produce, especially with Luke Knott coming off of offseason surgery.

Sam Richardson or Kenneth Lynn, cornerback – Due to the emergence of Nigel Tribune in 2013, both men didn’t play as much as was expected in the preseason. Perhaps that extra year to grow was helpful? Hope so, cause there’s no question they will see heavy minutes in 2014.

Pierre Aka, defensive tackle – Depth. Depth. Depth. This 6-foot-4, 285-pound redshirt sophomore was hindered with a shoulder injury during 2013. However, Iowa State was high on him during fall camp. Now that he is healthy, expect Pierre Aka to be more of a contributor but it has to start this spring.

Count on these guys (four Cyclones who will lead the way)

Rodney Coe, defensive tackle – Now a senior, Coe came on very strong at the end of his junior year. With a quality offseason, Iowa State could have a dominant defensive tackle in the form of Rodney Coe.   

David Irving, defensive tackle – Remember that Irving, now a senior, has never gone though a fall camp at the interior of the defensive line. He was a pretty good inside as a junior, despite the steep learning curve and legal problem that hindered his season. Iowa State’s one-two punch inside is outstanding. Depth is the concern here.

Cory Morrissey, defensive end – This senior is solid. There’s no better way to put it. 

Nigel Tribune, cornerback – Took his lumps as a true freshman but should be better off for it as a sophomore. Paul Rhoads really likes this kid, and rightfully so. He could be a good one.