AMES — He personifies power, pushing, then driving offensive lineman to the ground. He’s known for his motor, which allows him to sprint sideline-to-sideline in pursuit of a scrambling quarterback.
In short, Iowa State defensive tackle Demond Tucker doesn’t fiddle with lower gears — and that’s both a blessing and a semi-curse for the reigning Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year.
“The biggest thing is conditioning,” said the 6-0, 296-pound senior. “That’s what I’m going to hit the most this summer. I’m going to try get out in some heat and run so when the time comes it wont even be factor. So I can just go.”
We’re only just past the halfway point of spring ball and Tucker’s already devising his solo summer workout plans. That’s a great sign, even though he’s adjusting to taking more reps in 3-technique, versus going mostly 0-technique over center at nose in the Cyclones’ former 3-4 base defense.
So how’s the change to a (mostly) 4-2-5 base treating him?
“It just puts an extra guy up there on the line with us so we don’t have to worry so much about getting double teamed every play,” said Tucker who ranked fourth in conference games only with 11 tackles for loss last season. “We have an extra body in there to try to clog it up, so I think it’s a great thing.”
Still, significant shifts along the front or in general can be both mentally an physically taking. It’s one reason why ISU’s first-year defensive line coach, Eli Rasheed, said his players are mostly locked into “survival mode” this spring.
Leaders will eventually emerge, but both Rasheed and head coach Matt Campbell have hit upon some pleasant surprises as known quantities such as Tucker continue to craft their talents.
“I think there are some guys who have obviously showed up and played football maybe better than we thought their skill set may be,” Campbell said. “But again I think that’s still fluid until 15 practices (are over) and getting in fall and letting them get adjusted. But I think there’s some guys that are capable. Guys like (DT) Bobby Leath have shown they have the potential to play for us. (DE and possible “LEO”) Gabe Luna’s done some nice things. (DE) Jhaustin Thomas. So there’s some guys who maybe were dinged up, injured last year and have come back stronger. (DT) Pierre Aka — there’s another name. There’s some guys that have some capability and potential and I think we feel good about the potential of what that group brings to the table.”
Rasheed said Thomas has “all the tools,” but needs to be mentally tougher. He thinks Luna — who’s been banged up ever since transferring in from Butler (Kan.) Community College — can fit the “LEO” mold well. That means the senior’s a sort-of hybrid D-end/outside linebacker; a guy capable of both mounting a swift pass rush and ably dropping into coverage.
“I think with the new staff and just being healthy right now, he gives us the best opportunity to be that guy,” Rasheed said. “He’s very active up front. He’s got a high football IQ, which that guy needs that. We’ll move him around and you’ll see that ‘LEO’ all around the field.”
Same goes for Tucker, but from a less freewheeling spot. And you might see him running the streets of Ames as a preseason prelude.
His big body is built for long-burning power and bursts of speed. He’s trying to augment that incendiary mix with a measure of endurance and has planned his workouts accordingly.
The sultrier the conditions, the better. Day or night, on sidewalks or treadmills. Fall performance hinges on summer devotion and Tucker says he’s all in until he’s completely out of breath.
“Every snap I’m in I’m going to give all I can because you never know when you’re first snap will be and you never know when your last snap (will be),” he said. “So I’m just going to give it my all.”
If that’s the case, expect more than the five sacks he registered in Big 12 play last season. Tucker wanted to “shock” the conference in 2015. Now he’s ready to fully challenge himself and see where that takes him and his team.
“Run, defeat the block and just take great coaching,” Tucker said. “If I take great coaching then I feel like I’ll get there.”