Sep 24, 2016; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive end J.D. Waggoner (55) celebrates with defensive end Jhaustin Thomas (8) after sacking San Jose State Spartans quarterback Josh Love (12) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Cyclones beat the Spartans 44-10. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
AMES — Iowa State’s lack of depth along the defensive line has long been one of the program’s biggest question marks. Entering 2017, it seems as though questions surrounding lack of depth are diminishing, but how much quality is within that depth?
Matt Campbell’s team has a number of options along the defensive front capable of seeing the field when Northern Iowa visits Jack Trice Stadium for the season opener on Saturday (7 p.m. on Cyclones.tv), but there is little experience for most of those options at this point, which still leads to plenty of questions.
“That’s a group I’m optimistic — excited about what that group looks like and feels like,” Campbell said during his weekly press conference on Monday. “But I’m also, if you said, what are your biggest worries, (it’s) that that group is inexperienced in a lot of ways, too. So, I think, optimistically, you’re talking about a group that’s really made great gains. And those gains go way back to January.”
Only a couple of the guys within Iowa State’s defensive line group have seen serious playing time at the collegiate level. Seniors Vernell Trent and JD Waggoner are known commodities at this point in their careers.
The same could probably be said for sophomores JaQuan Bailey, who led the team with 3.5 sacks last season, and Jamahl Johnson, who played in seven contests as a true freshman. After those four, the list of names is long, but the number of snaps they’ve played in an Iowa State uniform is very small.
“You talk about Enyi (Uwazurike), and who he is now as a football player and gives us some flexibility, he can play inside, he can play outside,” Campbell said. “JaQuan Bailey, his maturity as a football player. I think that’s hard when you’re a freshman and you have success early, how do you handle that and deal with that, and then how do you become consistent in your own craft? A guy that’s had a great summer and a really great camp for us. And to some guys like Vernell Trent and J.D. Waggoner. J.D. coming off an injury, Vernell coming off injuries. Both guys. So I think that’s the optimistic piece for me, is we’ve got such great leadership in that room this year — senior leadership. Two guys that maybe aren’t the big-name guys, but guys that when they play, man, they play as hard as they (can) and have shown flashes of really good things, coupled with a bunch of really talented young guys around them. Obviously, Ray Lima. Jamahl Johnson. There’s Matt Leo. A lot of guys there that are names that can go in and I think the neat thing for us is we can play a lot of guys, comparable to maybe where we were a year ago. I don’t know how comfortable we felt with that group of playing so many guys. Carson Lensing’s another name. Obviously, getting Kamilo (Tongamoa) here and Josh Bailey. A lot of guys that give us some flexibility and growth in that room and I think they’ll only continue to get better as the season goes, and that’s usually a sign of a really good, young room is that group getting better and better, but they certainly have done that up until this point.”
Will Kamilo be available against the Panthers?
The saga of Kamilo Tongamoa’s recruitment came to an end last week when the JUCO transfer arrived in Ames. The fact of his arrival on campus does not mean the 6-foot-5, 290-pound defensive tackle will automatically slide into playing time for the Cyclones.
With that said, Tongamoa will be in full pads when Iowa State takes the field on Saturday.
“Kamilo will be in full pads,” Campbell said. “He had to go through his four-day acclimation — two days without pads, two days in shells. And then his first full padded practice will be Tuesday. Is he in elite shape? He’s not. Is he in better shape then maybe we thought he would be? I think he is. But until, as I would always tell you, until we can get out there, until we can actually watch him practice football instead of just conditioning and those kind of things, to say where he’s at — is he available to play this week? I just think it’s unfair. But I think we’ll be really smart about it. Just like I told him. I’d rather play you too late than too early and all I mean by that is I don’t want to put you out there and you’re not ready to go and you get yourself hurt or something happens that way. So I think we’ll be really smart about it but I’ve appreciated his intent to get here and get himself ready to go. I think he’s got a pretty good football IQ.”
How about Mackenro?
Iowa State almost made it through the offseason largely unscathed when it came to injuries and suspensions, but that changed with Mackenro Alexander’s arrest in connection to an incident which left him with multiple charges of assault causing injury.
The 5-foot-11, 192-pound defensive back’s availability for Saturday’s game remains up in the air at this point, but Campbell said there should be clarity with the situation in the coming days.
“As of right now,” Campbell said. “We haven’t gone through, today, a lot of what’s going on within the school aspect of things, so once we get through that I can really make a great decision and give you guys an exact on what our own policies will be from the football program going into the football game. But we’ll kind of wait for all the information to sort itself out through the school and then be able to give you guys some information on that.”