The Cyclone defense is set to take the next step in 2020

Defensive back Greg Eisworth attempts an interception during the first half of the Iowa State vs. Baylor football game Nov. 10, 2018.

Zane Douglas

After the 2019 season, the Cyclones lost starters Ray Lima, Jamahl Johnson and Marcel Spears Jr.

Losing pieces on a defense is part of the process for any collegiate team, but with Greg Eisworth, Anthony Johnson, Lawrence White and Mike Rose still on the team, the defense is primed for a solid season in 2020.

What makes the group’s potential even higher is the fact it actually added two impactful and experienced players to its defensive line in JaQuan Bailey and Latrell Bankston.

“I’m actually really excited about the defense this year,” Eisworth said. “I feel like we’re ahead now than we have been in the past at this point in fall camp, which is a really good sign.”

Eisworth said the return of Bailey will help the losses in the defensive line as well.

Bailey sat out last season with a leg injury, but will have the chance to become Iowa State’s all-time sack leader this season. Bailey is tied for the lead with 18.5 sacks.

The other added veteran to the defensive line is more of an unknown. Last season, Bankston was at Hutchinson Community College and after a good season, the defensive tackle chose Iowa State as the school he wanted to transfer to. Johnson and Lima left and opened up the middle that will be filled with Bankston.

Those two pieces in place give the defense a wealth of experience and talent, especially as Bailey wasn’t supposed to be on this team, but his senior season was pushed back.

“Just slow and steady is really what I’ve seen from JaQuan,” said Head Coach Matt Campbell. “I think that will help him in the long run here as we get into the football season.”

Since Campbell has come to Iowa State, the coach has brought the Cyclones into the national conversation, staging upsets and cracking the top 25 at times. A lot of that success has been success from the defense and success from Bailey, who has been a leader on that defensive front.

Campbell said he is not just excited about the experience on the defense, but the competition the youth brings in depth and in challenging starting roles.

Campbell is also confident in his defense’s ability with the preparation for the season being low.

“It’ll be I think defensive football in general, especially early on in a season like this with no spring practice and the delayed start to fall camp and a quickly approaching season,” Campbell said. “We’re going to have to do a really good job [from my end designing] practices to get our defense what they need to get prepared to play.”

Iowa State’s offense has some question marks as the season rolls around and less time to practice can be a problem, but Campbell has a plan for him and his coaching staff on how the defense will be prepared for the season.

The defensive line suddenly is tasked with handling an embarrassment of riches as Bailey and Bankston make their way to a line led by three defensive ends — 2019 standout Zach Petersen, Will McDonald and Eyioma Uwazurike — the last of which has bulked up over the offseason having the potential to slide inside if needed.

The linebackers lost Spears Jr., but Rose and O’Rien Vance will be back after solid 2019 campaigns.

The secondary had some hiccups last season, but Johnson, Eisworth and White were solid and the Cyclones have some experience at the second cornerback spot with Datrone Young and Tayvonn Kyle.

The depth behind the linebackers and secondary isn’t as experienced as the rest of the defense, but Campbell said he has been pleased with the youth battling for spots in the rotation.

The 2020 season will show if the Cyclone defense is ready to take the step forward.