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Stability, coupled with a little change, key for Iowa State’s defense in 2023
Hank Poteat arrives as new cornerbacks coach
AMES — While Iowa State’s offensive staff underwent an overhaul in the offseason, the defensive coaches remained largely the same.
That’s important and expected for the Cyclones, who struggled offensively in 2022, but continued to shine on the defensive side of the ball, as usual, since head coach Matt Campbell took over the program in 2016.
“Continuity is great,” said ISU veteran defensive coordinator Jon Heacock, whose unit led the Big 12 in scoring defense and total defense last season. “Consistency is great.”
A little change helps, too, and that’s not just true in terms of the Cyclones’ offense, which will be led in 2023 by former wide receivers and running backs coach Nate Scheelhaase.
ISU also brought in one new defensive coach in Hank Poteat, who will coach the cornerbacks after Matt Caponi moved on to North Texas to become the Mean Green’s defensive coordinator.
“Adding a new voice in there gives you a different set of eyes, so there are some new opinions, some new ideas and some new ways to do things,” Heacock said. “I think that’s always good.”
That’s because each season brings fresh challenges.
In 2023, ISU must replace key contributors on each level of its defense, including all-time sacks leader Will McDonald, linebacker O’Rien Vance and safety Anthony Johnson. Those three former stars not only were elite in terms of production, but also with regard to playing time. There’s 121 starts between them, so next season’s defense will feature plenty of new names mixed in with mainstays such as Isaiah Lee on the defensive line, Gerry Vaughn at linebacker and T.J. Tampa at cornerback.
“We force a lot of guys to play all the time in this defense,” Heacock said of the defensive line in particular. “I think the D-line rotates a lot. You get a lot of guys playing and when you do that you build some depth through that process.
“Will’s a tough guy to replace and a guy that’s gonna go play on Sunday. So we’ll find guys to go in there. It will be by committee and some of those other guys are gonna have to step up and be better than they were a year ago.”
That’s the simple formula for success under Heacock — and really for any coach in any system. Lean on the veterans you have, develop the talent to fill holes when stars graduate and bring in young players eager to learn, grow and contribute on special teams, as well as performing spot duty in down-and-distance situations.
The Cyclones also have dipped into the transfer portal again, adding former Missouri linebacker Zach Lovett to help solidify that position group.
“There’ll be great competition at that linebacker spot,” Heacock said. “That room’s deep and young and hungry.”
The same is true in the defensive backfield, where standout safety Beau Freyler returns along with Tampa and his talented counterpart at corner, Myles Purchase.
“(Tampa’s) gonna have to play the best football he’s played in his life for us to have success,” Heacock said.