AMES — Demond Tucker knows what’s expected of him.
Big plays — and lots of them. A tall order for a shorter-than-average 6-foot, 287-pound defensive tackle? Not to Tucker.
“I have a little bit more work to do,” conceded the 2013 NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year and first-year Iowa Stater, who recorded one tackle for loss and a pass breakup while affecting myriad other plays in Saturday’s spring game. “I’ve got to get some more conditioning and get myself into shape, but when I get there, I believe I can be excellent.”
Same goes, in Tucker’s mind, anyway, for that much-maligned and often-gouged Cyclone defensive line that allowed a Big 12-worst 246.3 yards rushing per game last season.
“I feel like it’s going to be great,” Tucker said of a planned turnaround.
Maybe, maybe not, but defensive tackles coach Shane Burnham raves about the boost big Bobby Leath — who arrives from junior college in June — can provide to the front four in fall camp.
“I’ve got a lot of depth,” Burnham said recently. “Again, not much of the depth has made any plays for us, but we’ve got bodies.”
JUCO bodies, mostly. Well-developed (even if some need conditioning help) bodies. Hungry bodies.
A couple of 2013 JUCO transfers, Trent Taylor and Dale Pierson made their presence known alongside Tucker. Pierson notched one of the defense’s five touch sacks and one of two quarterback hurries. Taylor matched cornerbacks Nigel Tribune and Sam E. Richardson with two pass break ups.
“Right now I think if everybody gets on the same page like we did today — we did excellent,” Tucker said. “The linebackers flowed, the D-line flowed, the secondary was great. I feel like we were in a perfect picture today.”
Tucker’s expected production and confidence will be needed to bolster a line that too often has allowed offenses to get rolling downhill early and often in recent years.
If he blows up one or two maneuvers at the point of attack, everyone’s job becomes easier.
“He’s a guy that finally on our defensive front can create plays,” ISU coach Paul Rhoads said. “He does that through explosiveness and separation of a blocker. Those guys can be where they’re supposed to be and not make plays and that’s not good enough. He’s where he’s supposed to be and separates and gets off and either makes a tackle or creates a pressure or pushes it to somebody else. And I think you saw (JUCO transfer SAM linebacker) Jay Jones show up at times today and (JUCO transfer cornerback) Jomal Wiltz — I didn’t notice him as much, but sometimes I only notice the bad things, like the one missed tackle he had, but these are guys who are all doing those kinds of things and showing up. But certainly Demond might be the most important because of where we’ve lacked.”
Rhoads said Tucker, Jones and Wiltz all have progressed at a faster rate than often takes place.
He added an offensive player (Patrick Scoggins, G-C) to that mix, too.
“We tried to force feed Patrick into snapping when he’s been playing naturally at guard,” Rhoads said. “That’s not necessarily our fault, that’s something we wanted to see if we could accomplish, but once he got over to gaurd, he’s an explosive guy himself and I see him finishing plays like we need offensive linemen to finish. I would argue that Patrick, Demond, Jay and Jomal are all ahead of the curve, based on six years of other mid-year junior college transfers that we’ve had and, boy, that’s very pleasing.”
Not if that progress doesn’t project to Saturdays in the fall. Rhoads said that’s one thing he wants to see Tribune and Richardson do more of as a junior and senior, respectively, at corner.
“Take what we view as good practice plays and get out there and compete on game day,” Rhoads said. “Nigel’s a guy that, whatever play you want to look back on, and the same with Sam — they gave up too many game day plays a year ago that they didn’t give up in practice. … I think the great thing is we’ve got competition, so there’s no way that Sam and Nigel leave spring as No. 1 and feel like, ‘I’m playing 70 snaps a game.’ So we have that competition to get everybody better, but we also have that depth to play more bodies and keep us fresher and have the ability to play other packages that involve three corners and more and cover guys. But it was fun to see balls being knocked down and plays being made, yes.”
All of that starts up front. Coverages tighten as quarterbacks’ pulse rates spike. Receivers break off routes, creating paths to picks — two of which fell to the hands of ISU d-backs Darian Cotton and Kamari Cotton-Moya on Saturday.
Tucker had a hand in that. Many others must lend theirs, as well, if the defense is to approach the level he believes it can reach.
“I know that I’ve got a lot on me,” Tucker said. “Everybody is expecting a lot and I’m putting everything I’ve got out, so I’m going to be great.”
Rhoads said his players came through the spring game healthy. Cotton left the game early to have his thumb checked out, but it was not broken, Rhoads said. … Tribune, so soon-to-be three-year starter, welcomes the competition at corner being provided by Brian Peavy and Jomal Wiltz. “I think we’ve gotten a lot better in practice this spring,” he said.