Secondary seeks out similar success


Photo: Manfred Brugger/Iowa State Daily

Defensive back Jacques Washington prepares for the play as Texas quarterback Case McCoy waits for the snap from the center during the game Oct. 1 at Jack Trice Stadium. Washington has emerged as a reliable player in a defensive secondary that had question marks coming into the season.

Jake Calhoun

Jansen Watson is fast. In fact, he is very fast.

On Tuesday, Aug. 28, ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said the redshirt junior is most likely the fastest cornerback the team has ever had in the Paul Rhoads era — even faster than his predecessor Leonard Johnson.

“He can fly and he’s faster than Leonard and because of that, potentially he’s got more upside,” Rhoads said of Watson. “Leonard was a very good cornerback, Jansen’s becoming a good cornerback but because of that speed; he’s got a chance to be better.”

Watson will get his first start on Saturday, Sept. 1, in the team’s game against Tulsa for the first time without four-year starter Johnson, who is currently on the roster for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Without Johnson, and strong safety Ter’Ran Benton, many questions have arisen regarding whether the ISU secondary will see similar success.

Johnson and Benton were key contributors to the defensive production, helping the team’s pass defense (73rd) rank higher than the rush defense (95th) or overall defense (98th) in 2011.

“I think we’ve improved just like everybody in the program has improved,” said junior safety Jacques Washington. “We’re faster, stronger, and I think we’ll make more plays than the DBs did last year.”

Washington and cornerback Jeremy Reeves are the returning starters for the unit, having combined for 160 total tackles last season.

Ninety of those tackles were tallied by Washington, who has taken more of a leadership role on the team in the transition to this season.

“He’s taking the game more seriously right now,” Burnham said. “Last year was his first year starting and playing a lot. I think he’s tried to carry his game to the next level.”

Burnham said Washington has improved in not getting beat by receivers as well as his open-field tackling heading into this season. Washington said his main goal is to make more plays on the ball, having nabbed one of the team’s 11 interceptions last season.

As for the cornerbacks, Reeves and Watson are at a disadvantage in terms of size. Reeves stands at 5-foot-7, 176 pounds — 1 inch shorter and 11 pounds lighter than Watson.

However, Burnham said timing and technique are just as important as size when it comes to defending the pass.

“I’ve been working my butt off for over three years playing behind Leonard,” Watson said. “But you just sit back and get all the information, make sure technique is right. … So once you go out there, you’re ready to play.”