Defensive backs vie for new starters, picks


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

Replacing a future NFL Draft pick is never an easy task.

However, Jansen Watson has stepped up to that task of replacing Leonard Johnson — who will likely hear his name called at the draft in late April — at cornerback this spring.

“He’s made a lot of plays,” said ISU secondary coach Troy Douglas of Watson. “Jansen’s kind of held his own a little bit more so than all the other [cornerbacks]. And he’s made plays in critical situations, so that’s why you’ve heard his name a little bit more.”

Watson, a redshirt junior, will most likely never accumulate the accolades of Johnson — who notched 247 career tackles and six interceptions in 43 career games started — but will aim to be a sufficient replacement in his own right.

“I feel like I’m not filling the shoes of L.J., but it’s just to make the team better,” Watson said. “Knowing the knowledge he gave me and knowing the knowledge I really know, I feel like I’m good enough just to make the team better.”

One issue that arises is continuing lack of size at the cornerback position — Watson stands at 5-foot-9, opposite returning starter Jeremy Reeves, who stands at 5-foot-7. However, size is not the be-all-end-all for success at cornerback.

“Jeremy Reeves did a good job last year playing at 5’7,” said free safety Jacques Washington. “Leonard was only about 5’10, so it’s not a big difference. Jansen and Jeremy are very athletic guys.

“Jeremy may [run] a 4.3 [40-yard dash], Jansen may be a low 4.4 and both can jump. So I don’t think size is going to be that big of a deal as long as you play your technique.”

Washington entered spring ball as the clear-cut leader of the secondary, having recorded 90 total tackles — third best on the team — one sack and one interception in 13 games started last season.

“Jacq has played a lot of ball around here, and he knows the defense,” Douglas said. “It’s kind of been helpful because when you’re a new guy, a lot of times the older kids teach you the defense.

“You might have the fundamentals and the technique that you want to teach them, but a lot of times you get in a meeting and they shift into empty or something. Guys like [Washington] help coach a little bit, especially with the scheme.”

Another significant loss to the ISU secondary is Ter’Ran Benton, who had registered 189 career tackles and three interceptions in his time as a Cyclone.

Durrell Givens is currently filling Benton’s old spot at strong safety on the depth chart, having carried more experience than Watson coming into spring practice.

“We do have a lot of depth from when I first got here,” Givens said. “If somebody went down, you can see how we could just keep playing [well] throwing another body in there.”

Givens was one of those bodies that was sent in when a teammate went down, having notched 31 total tackles and both forced and recovered a fumble in 11 games played.

As for getting his players to snag more interceptions than last season’s total tally of 11, Douglas said he has a blunt way of motivating them.

“You won’t be talking to any of the defensive backs for pass breakups,” Douglas said to the media. “They only get their picture in the paper if they get interceptions. That’s the deal, that’s what I tell them.

“If you want to get the girls, if you want to get the interviews, if you want to be on TV, intercept the ball.”