Sep 9, 2017; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive end JaQuan Bailey (19) pressures Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Nathan Stanley (4) at Jack Trice Stadium. The Hawkeyes won 44-41 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports
That was the only word Brian Peavy needed when asked to describe JaQuan Bailey following Iowa State’s spring practice on Wednesday of this week. The senior defensive back is one of several players Bailey mentions as having a major impact on his growth since arriving in Ames nearly three years ago.
The all-conference cornerback sees the 6-foot-2, 255-pound defensive end making a major impact on the football field. His approach to improving on an honorable mention all-conference sophomore season requires only one word.
“I guess he just has that motor,” Peavy said. “Relentless. When I say he can’t do something, he’s going to try until proven it wrong whether he’s right or wrong. On the defensive line, that’s great to have.”
Bailey admits his maturity levels needed to improve early last season, best exhibited by the third-down stop negating somersault that earned him an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in Iowa State’s loss to Texas.
With some help from guys like Peavy and now former Cyclones J.D. Waggoner, Vernell Trent, Joel Lanning and Allen Lazard, Bailey was able to make strides in that area on his way to one of the best pass-rushing seasons in program history.
“I would say I was learning how to become a better teammate, better person and learning how to mature,” Bailey, who finished the 2017 campaign with seven sacks, the fourth-best single-season output in program history, said. “I would have to give all the credit to J.D., Trent, guys like Lanning, guys like Allen.”
“It was just challenging me every day mentally, physically.”
That challenge has forced Bailey to elevate his game each day in order to become a leader in a (dare I say) stacked Iowa State defensive line room. The Cyclones return a handful of guys who saw major snaps during the team’s Liberty Bowl run, but the depth of the group is what has defensive line coach Eli Rasheed drooling.
Bailey is just one piece of a puzzle that also includes all-conference nose guard Ray Lima, returning letter winners Spencer Benton and Enyi Uwazurike plus former JUCO standouts Matt Leo and Kamilo Tongamoa. That list does not even include reserve nose guard Jamahl Johnson, Bailey’s twin brother, Josh, or any of the members of the program’s 2017 high school defensive line recruiting class.
“We’ve had really good competition out at practice,” Rasheed said. “Our young guys, our redshirt freshmen, guys like Kamilo Tongamoa’s been doing really good, changed his body. Angel Dominguez is coming on. Tucker Robertson’s doing a nice job. We’re going into it with some really good depth and the whole thing is getting those guys game experience out there.”
The group has adopted what Rasheed calls a “hammer time” mentality. When it comes time to lock down forcing the opposing offense off the field, it is time for the defensive line to hammer down and impose its will.
That was something the group struggled to do at times last season, most notably in the team’s loss to West Virginia, according to Rasheed.
“It’s basically a dog mentality for us,” Lima said. “When we get on that field, it’s time to go. We sack the quarterback, we’re going to hammer our way out of every play. Coach Rasheed is setting that mindset.”
It won’t be hard to instill a quarterback sacking mindset into Bailey. His 10.5 sacks in two seasons sit just outside the program’s top-10 for sacks in a career. He will move into a tie for ninth with his first sack in 2018.
When you put it that way, Peavy’s one-word description does not seem like a stretch.
“He’s clearly our best pass rusher,” Rasheed said. “Hopefully he can have another great year rushing the passer and I think that’s going to help our defense, but he’s done a nice job.”