Oct 31, 2020; Lawrence, Kansas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Greg Eisworth II (12) celebrates after recovering a fumble during the first half against the Kansas Jayhawks at David Booth Kansas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
It’s no secret that Iowa State returns almost its entire starting defense from a year ago.
Nearly all the backups, too.
So in shoring up the two No. 1 spots vacated by high-performing free safety Lawrence White and record-setting defensive end JaQuan Bailey, defensive coordinator Jon Heacock is doing what he always does: Finding ways for guys to be “multiple.”
“Losing Lawrence — you’re talking about a lot of reps, a quality young guy and a really good football player,” Heacock said during a Wednesday conference call. “So I think the thing we’re trying to do is get guys ready to play both safeties.”
That starts with ultra-versatile and productive senior Greg Eisworth, who starred at strong safety alongside White last season. He can also play free safety as well as the STAR position and serves as a model for how hybridized all of the Cyclones safeties can be.
“Craig McDonald, D.J. Miller, Kym-Mani King (and) our young guys, like I mentioned, (true freshman) Malik (Verdon), those guys have done a good job,” Heacock said. “We’ll look and continue to (look at them). I don’t think anybody’s really won or lost positions. We’ll continue to evaluate that spot as we move forward, but there’s been great progress.”
Another young safety all of ISU’s staff has been high on, Virdel Edwards, has been moved to the STAR slot where Isheem Young emerged as a top talent last season.
So versatility abounds — and it’s being developed.
Mix. Match. Repeat.
“(Edwards) and Mason (Chambers) and Isheem have been in there working,” Heacock said. “They’ve done a good job, so we’ll just continue to work all of those guys, trying not to get locked into ‘boundary safety,’ (or) ‘field safety at this point.”
A wise choice, as always, by “The Professor” — who will welcome one more safety into the crowded room before fall camp in Villanova grad transfer Jaquan Amos.
“He will at some point in time be here with us, for sure,” Heacock said.
Heacock said the aforementioned Verdon as well as true defensive tackle Howard Brown have been among the many young players who have impressed him this spring.
Both, ironically enough, also starred as quarterbacks at their respective high schools, but they have very different physical tools. Verdon stands 6-4 and weighs 205 pounds. Brown is 6-2 and entered ISU already at 305 pounds.
“I would give some credit to our really young people,” Heacock said. “Like, really young people. (From) Malik Verdon to Howard Brown, when I watch the really young people who just showed up here, you know, those guys have had impressive improvements. And what they’ve been asked to do has been very difficult in times like this. I think for a couple really young kids, I think those guys — and they’re not kids —for really young college players, they’ve done a great job.”
WEIGHT PLATES AND DINNER PLATES
Heacock said his players continue to hew closely to their individualized strength training and nutritional plans in order to achieve peak physical condition.
The defense’s many veterans have led the way. One, in particular, star defensive end Will McDonald, has packed on 15 pounds of good weight to his 6-4 frame. He hopes to gain five more to tip the scales at 250 for the Sept. 4 season opener against Northern Iowa.
“A guy like Will has been able to add and I think it’s been natural,” Heacock said. “I think the weight room and the nutritional side, and learning how to eat, and doing all those things has paid tremendous dividends. And I think the thing that you look for is consistency. I think that’s what he’s been able to do. It’s easy to say, ‘Hey, I gained five pounds, or, ‘I lost five pounds.’ I think we all can do that at the dining hall. I think the reality of it is can you consistently improve your body, week in, week out, for a seven-week period, a 14-week period, a 21-week period, and prepare yourself for the fall? I think Will’s done a good job of it.”