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Football

WILLIAMS: Reason for optimism up front on D?

AMES — It seems like throughout the course of history, the only luck that Iowa State football has had on its defensive line is bad.

Late in the McCarney years, the most talented defensive player I’ve ever seen in a Cyclone uniform, Jason Berryman, just couldn’t stay out of trouble.

Just last summer, disciplinary problems essentially left Paul Rhoads with no choice but to remove two NFL prospects, Rodney Coe and David Irving from the heart and soul of a team’s defense – the interior line. 

Before those two, once promising prospects Quinton Pompey and Collin Bevins never took a snap wearing ISU colors for one reason or another.

Those are just a few as this list could go on.

Injuries and attrition have depleted Rhoads’ program up front the last two years but on Thursday, the Cyclone Nation received some good news for once. It was potentially very good news. 

Hello Jhaustin Thomas. It’s damn nice to meet you.

It is extremely rare to welcome a former blue chip defensive end to a program on media day, specifically a guy who has been on campus for months working out with the team. 

Out of high school, the 6-foot-6, 265-pound defensive end claimed offers from Auburn, Clemson, Georgia and Georgia Tech among others before signing with South Carolina. Academics ultimately forced Thomas to go the JUCO route and now he is in Ames, where defensive coordinator Wally Burnham expects to be a difference maker from day one.

“There’s no doubt,” Burnham said during Thursday’s media day. “I would think, I would hope. Unless the bottom falls out between now and then, he’ll be on the field in some capacity. It might be, OK, this is third down, go rush the passer. Keep it simple. ‘Hey, the quarterback’s back there, we’re telling you to go get the quarterback.’ And if they run the football, react the best you can. Those kinds of things. Again, that’s up to us to figure those things out.” 

Tap the brakes for a moment and remember that Thomas is still a summer JUCO. He won’t quite be Jadeveon Clowney when the Cyclones take the field on Sept. 5 vs. Northern Iowa. 

“You’ve got to keep it simple and teach him the basic stuff at his position. Then when he’s mastered that, move on,” Burnham said. “You feed him as fast as you can. That’s what as a coaching staff we’ve got to be aware of. How fast can he absorb things and learn things? Where is he going to be at mentally when he’s getting tired and it’s the eighth play of a drive during fall camp and how’s he going to react mentally to those kinds of things? But you want to move as fast you can with those guys, but at the same time, you cant move any faster then they’re capable of learning and doing. But we are optimistic about what they could do.”

Maybe it’s the fact that fall camp begins today and I’m super-jacked up for football season, but I’m cautiously optimistic about Iowa State’s defensive line in 2015. 

I loved how Dale Pierson came on at the end of last season. Trent Taylor was solid throughout. Adding probably the two best athletes of the bunch, Demond Tucker and now Thomas, is beyond encouraging. I’ll take the wait and see approach with another summer JUCO, Bobby Leath.

And folks, think back to a year ago when then-freshman Robby Garcia was tops on the depth chart at defensive tackle? This year, he is third string.

Iowa State’s defense won’t resemble the 1985 Chicago Bears but with a little luck, it should be a heck of a lot better than it has been the last two seasons. 

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