Iowa State defensive backs gain understanding

After a season of 'eyes and crickets,' players know what's expected

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AMES — Newness and unfamiliarity were perhaps the biggest obstacles the Iowa State secondary had to overcome last season.

Those days are all squarely in the rearview mirror.

Film sessions were all about basics and the introduction of new terminology this time last spring. Now when cornerbacks coach D.K. McDonald and safeties coach/defensive coordinator Jon Heacock gather their guys, the sessions unfold much differently.

“Last year it was nothing but eyes and crickets,” Heacock said. “You couldn’t hear anything. They know better, and that’s fair. I think that’s what experiences do.”

Recall and repetition, McDonald said, is the mother of all learning. That has been especially true this spring as the Cyclones replace three seniors in the back end — Iowa State allowed 234.8 passing yards and 31.3 points per game.

“Just hearing it over and over again has really made a big difference for them this year,” McDonald said. “Our guys are playing a lot faster and are a lot more confident.”

Senior Kamari Cotton-Moya was limited much of the spring after offseason shoulder surgery, but has started to slowly get reps the last two weeks. In his absence, junior cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne have asserted themselves as veterans.

Peavy (5-foot-9, 190) is a two-time honorable mention All-Big 12 pick and had a team-high 11 pass breakups last season with an interception and forced fumble. As he’s honed his own physical skills and slowly become a reliable corner, Peavy has turned his attention to bringing along the rest of the young guys in the room.

Redshirt freshmen Arnold Azunna, Jatairis Grant, Lawrence White and true freshman Richard Bowens III are in line to get reps this fall.

“If (Payne and I) are in there watching film, try to make sure we’re not the only ones,” Peavy said. “So if that’s picking them up or just making sure they’re getting extra film in and extra work in, then we’re doing that.”

Even though Payne (5-10, 190) won’t turn 21 years old until next month, his previous experiences have brought a different perspective to the group.

Payne played at Tennessee as a true freshman before transferring to Maryland, near his Washington, D.C. home, after a year to be near his family. He only spent a semester there before transferring to Arizona Western, where he spent a redshirt year.

The Cyclones came calling, and Payne played in 11 games last season — starting eight — and recording 44 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and seven pass breakups. He played the “star” position, primarily covering slot receivers, which diverted a bit from where he naturally fits.

“As the season was going on I was starting to be able to understand what was going on as well as understanding what we were doing on defense, knowing where my help was and stuff like that,” Payne said. “By the time it was the end of the season I was real comfortable.”

Payne has been taking most of his reps at cornerback this spring while Mackenro Alexander and Evrett Edwards are working at “star,” although the possibility exists that he could be moved there again this fall.

“If that means somebody else steps up at corner and he moves into nickel or whatever we have to do (then we’ll do it),” Heacock said. “But (Payne’s) just a veteran and that’s what he does.”

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