Demond Tucker, Gabe Luna adjusting to new defensive system

Gabe Luna sends UNI quarterback Aaron Baily flying out of bounds during Iowa State’s season opener at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 5. The Cyclones defeated the Panthers 31-7.

Ryan Young

Gabe Luna hasn’t seen a lot of playing time in the past few years.

Luna, a defensive lineman, suffered a back injury early in 2014, forcing him to redshirt that season. Then, in the 2015 season opener, Luna tore three ligaments in his ankle and didn’t return until the final game of the year.

Yet, Luna said he’s now fully healthy and ready to go. And with a new system, he said he feels better than ever.

“Everything that’s happened with the coaching staff, it’s a breath of fresh air and I’m able to just take it and run with it,” Luna said. “I’m thankful more than ever for the opportunity.”

Luna seems to be benefiting from the new system so far. He will likely be one of the centerpieces of Iowa State’s new 4-2-5 defensive scheme, playing the “Leo” position. 

The Leo position is really an added lineman, more of a combination of roles that is supposed to help Iowa State shift between different defensive looks easily.

“[The Leo’s] got to be versatile,” said ISU coach Matt Campbell. “He’s got to be able to play a little bit of linebacker and drop into coverage. He’s got to be able to blitz. He’s got to be able to play as a down defensive lineman at times.”

While it’s still early on and positions haven’t been finalized yet, Rasheed said Luna is siting in a good place to be the Leo when the time comes.

“He gives us the best opportunity to be that guy,” Rasheed said. “I think he’s very active up front. I think he’s got a high football IQ, which that guy needs that. We’ll move him around. You’ll see that Leo all around the field. We’ll hide that guy.”

Luna likes the change, too.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Luna said. “It puts me in a position to hold a lot more responsibility and be a key factor for this defense.”

Luna said he hopes to show fans a glimpse of the new system at the spring game in a few weeks. Until then, though, he’ll continue to work on getting a handle on the new system.

“I think he was really refreshed [by the new system],” Rasheed said. “He got labeled a little bit before. I think that’s given him a new life. He’s got some new energy to himself. I think he’s grasped hold of our defense and it’s fit well with him.”

Demond Tucker wants more

Last season marked a big step for defensive lineman Demond Tucker.

Tucker, who played his first season at Iowa State last year, transferred in from Copiah-Lincoln Community College, and made an immediate impact.

He posted 28 tackles on the year, and led the team in tackles for losses with 13. He was named to the second-team All-Big 12, and even picked up the Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year award.

But that’s not good enough for the Hazelhurst, Miss., native. He wants more.

“Right now I want to be the best at it,” Tucker said. “I’m working my tail off each and every day … trying to get better as I go. I just want to be the best in the Big 12.”

This season, though, Tucker is working with a completely new system. Since Campbell has implemented his system, Tucker has had to adjust.

While that hasn’t always been easy, Rasheed said Tucker is making progress.

“It’s been a little bit different,” Rasheed said. “We move a lot, [you’ve got] to have some quickness. You’ve got to have heavy hands on those offensive linemen. It’s been an adjustment. [He] probably had his best week last week.”

While Campbell said it’s still early, he has been impressed with Tucker so far.

“Obviously, Demond has great ability,” Campbell said. “He’s explosive, really can play hard and run to the football. I think from here what the expectation is that his expectations have risen. He made plays last year. He played some really good football at times. But it’s about consistency.”

That consistency is something Tucker is working toward. As he’s still adjusting to a new system, he said he’s making progress.

“At first I wasn’t adjusting to it like I was supposed to,” Tucker said. “But now I’m learning everything. It’s getting better by the day as it goes on.”