Cyclones emphasize team in defense


Wally Burnham, defensive coordinator, calls a play during Iowa State’s spring game at Jack Trice Stadium on April 11.

Luke Manderfeld

Some defenses around the NCAA will be highlighted by All-American and All-Conference players, but that won’t be the case with the ISU defense.

During the course of fall camp and at the completion of it on Saturday, various coaches proclaimed the defense won’t be run by one star player but rather a team effort from all 11 players on the field.

“We don’t have superstar on defense, we do not have a superstar,” said ISU defensive coordinator Wally Burnham. “It’s strictly a team defense. They’ve taken a lot of pride in that.”

After the third scrimmage on Saturday, Burnham said the defense looks more prepared than in past years and has more motivation than at this time last season, which bodes well for a unit known for its struggles in stopping big plays against high-powered, Big 12 offenses.

Iowa State ranked 120th in the NCAA in rushing yards allowed and 119th in passing yards allowed in 2014, falling well short of the bar the team envisioned at the beginning of last season.

With another year of experience under some of the player’s belts, and the arrival of multiple junior college transfers, coaches have mentioned those numbers should change this season.

Senior cornerback Nigel Tribune even went as far to say that he believes the secondary could be the best in the Big 12.

Burnham mentioned he has seen an uptick in the defense’s “pride.” He’s not sure if it will translate to results on the field but is hopeful that it will assist in the team winning more than the two victories it picked up last season.

“If we have a good practice, we all — coaches and players — stay on the field,” Burnham said. “That’s a pride thing. It’s our field, it’s our territory. They’ve taken pride in those sort of things. Does that mean wins? I don’t know.”

Burnham said it will be a team effort on defense, but through the two-week fall camp, he has seen some players that have impressed.

Junior college nose guard Demond Tucker is one of those guys.

Tucker, a 6-foot, 296-pound Florida native, hasn’t just impressed Burnham, but coaches on both sides of the ball, including ISU offensive coordinator Mark Magino.

“I see Demond Tucker, an outstanding nose [guard],” Mangino said. ”He’s quick, he’s strong, he’s compact. He’s hard to block, he uses his hands really well.”

Tucker’s ability on the field coupled with his loud vocals helps make him a favorite to emerge as a superstar later in the season.

“[Tucker] is active both in mouth and in action,” Rhoads said. “That’s the spirit that we need. He’s not afraid to be a ‘rah-rah’ guy. He’s not afraid to stand up and say, ‘Hey, we got to do this or we got to do that.’ That’s encouraging to see.”

All three coaches also mentioned redshirt junior Jarnor Jones, a transfer from Georgia Military College, who is slated to start in the nickel position for the Cyclones — a hybrid of a linebacker and a safety.

He spent two seasons at North Carolina State as a strong safety and Burnham said Jones is still acclimating to life closer to the line of scrimmage.

He fits in nicely to Iowa State’s new defense, which is attempting to move toward 3-4 structure.

“He’s what we like to recruit,” Rhoads said. “He’s a fun football player to watch. I love the length that he brings to our team on the perimeter.”

The real question for the defense will be if it can take the step from being a boost to the team’s success rather than a liability. Burnham likes what he sees with two weeks left until the season opener against Northern Iowa.

“They have no excuses. They’re a close knit unit … I think we’re going to play really hard this year,” Burnham said. “What does that mean? I don’t know. I hope it means wins, but I know we’re going to get everything they got.”