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4-year starters Greg Eisworth, Anthony Johnson back to lead Iowa State secondary
Defensive backs have been weakness of ISU defense at times, but Cyclones have plenty of experience there this season
AMES — If Iowa State’s defense has had a weakness over the last few years, and it hasn’t had many, it would be on the back end.
The Cyclones routinely rank near or at the top of the Big 12 in run defense, but the pass defense usually hovers around that five or six range.
Part of that could be attributed to the bend-don’t-break style defense Jon Heacock runs. Iowa State will give opposing teams underneath passes but will do its best to make sure they can’t go over the top of the defense. Teams, if they’re patient enough, can dink and dunk their way down the field and Heacock is OK with that because most teams, especially in the Big 12, aren’t patient.
The two leaders of Iowa State’s secondary are safety Greg Eisworth and cornerback Anthony Johnson, both seniors and four-year starters.
“Greg’s different,” new safeties coach Deon Broomfield said. “He’s a different dude — in a good way. I’ve enjoyed building a relationship with Greg. He’s very goal-oriented and he knows exactly what he wants to do. I’m just trying to help him achieve those goals. He’s a very focused dude. He knows what he needs to do to raise his game. He’s on top of everything. I love working with him.”
Johnson has turned himself into a leader of the defense.
“Anthony provides the best leadership I’ve been around for the 16 years I’ve been coaching,” cornerbacks coach Matt Caponi said. “The way he’s matured, he understands how to be a great leader. It’s great to have a veteran that doesn’t need me to tell him to get the guys together and watch film. He’s been outstanding and he’ll continue to develop into an even better leader.”
Eisworth, the boundary safety, is joined by Isheem Young, who plays Iowa State’s middle safety spot.
Young was the Big 12’s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year last season. He recorded 50 tackles, which was the fourth most on the team and three forced fumbles, the most. He also had an interception and three pass breakups.
His interception came against Oklahoma in the end zone to seal the win for Iowa State last season.
Young’s biggest drawback is he tends to lead with his head down when tackling, which has led to multiple ejections for targeting. Against Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, Young was ejected early in the game and his absence was felt.
“I love his intensity,” Broomfield said. “He plays angry, and I need to make sure he stays playing that way but there’s technique within how to play like that. He knows it and he sees it and we’ve seen improvements. In practice, he’s tackling with his head up, so hopefully he can keep doing that and we can see that on Saturdays.”
Broomfield added that if Young keeps his aggressiveness, there’s no reason he won’t be forcing more turnovers this season.
Iowa State’s field safety spot is open for competition. Competing are Villanova graduate transfer Jaquan Amos and junior Kym-Mani King, who has gotten playing time for the Cyclones each of his first two years.
“They’re looking great,” Broomfield said. “Everyday is a battle. We’re swapping them in and out every day. Amos is learning our installs and it’s a lot for him to digest but he’s shown he can do it. I’ve been pleased with where they’re at and it’ll be a hard decision when that time comes because they’ve been putting their best foot forward.”
Speaking of competition, Iowa State’s other cornerback spot opposite Johnson is wide open.
Senior Datrone Young and junior Tayvonn Kyle have each occupied that spot over the last couple of seasons but neither has been able to lock it down. And now freshman T.J. Tampa has thrown his hat into the ring.
“We’re looking for consistency and not giving up big plays,” Caponi said. “Obviously we have Datrone and Tayvonn who have played a ton of football and now we have T.J. who can play out there. There’s really good competition and we feel comfortable putting any of those guys in the game.”
The thing with Iowa State's defense is whoever doesn't win the spot will still get opportunities throughout a game and throughout the season.
“We start 11 guys but what has made our defense great is we’ll play 22 guys," Caponi said. "We’re not afraid to play backups. If you’re good enough, you’ll play at some point.”