Iowa State Cyclones

Iowa State 2020 position preview: Matured secondary looks to improve

Cyclones' youth hurt them at times last year

Iowa State defensive back Greg Eisworth, breaking up a two-point conversion attempt against Iowa last season, may be the
Iowa State defensive back Greg Eisworth, breaking up a two-point conversion attempt against Iowa last season, may be the Cyclones’ best defensive players in 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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AMES — Time is unrelenting. No matter what happens, time marches on and people get older — and hopefully mature.

For Iowa State’s secondary, that’s a good thing.

The Cyclones’ defensive backs were plagued by youth last season.

Both starting cornerbacks — Anthony Johnson and Datrone Young — were sophomores.

Their backups were redshirt freshman Tayvonn Kyle — who started his career as a receiver — and true freshman Kym-Mani King. Kyle also started the last five games for Iowa State at the end of last season.

All are talented but all, at times, made mistakes.

Iowa State’s pass defense was fifth in the Big 12 last season after being second in 2018 when the Cyclones started two seniors at cornerback.

Spring would’ve been a critical time for this young position group to make sure they’re progressing as they should. They all had at least one year of playing time under their belt and were expected to make a jump going into fall camp so the Cyclones could be back among the best in the conference in passing defense.

They still can get there but it could be harder for Coach Matt Campbell and defensive coordinator Jon Heacock to gauge whether or not the unit has progressed as it needs to.

Johnson is the most consistent of the four, proving to be Iowa State’s lockdown corner.

He was sixth on the team in tackles with 60 and proved to be a threat for Heacock as a corner who can blitz from the edge. Johnson recorded seven tackles for loss and two sacks. The 6-foot St. Petersburg, Fla., native also tied for the team lead in pass breakups with 10.

The positive that comes with returning all of this youth is there was no notable attrition from the cornerback position.

Iowa State’s safeties are older and have more experience than the cornerbacks.

Greg Eisworth is potentially Iowa State’s best player on the defensive side of the ball. He’s a two-time first-team all-Big 12 selection, including last season when he played with an injured shoulder that limited his playing time.

He had 65 tackles and 10 pass breakups in 12 games.

Eisworth has the ability to play in or close to the box to help in run support and the senior has no problems dropping back in coverage.

Lawrence White emerged last season with both Eisworth and Braxton Lewis battling injuries.

White was second on the team in tackles with 84. He also had four pass breakups and two interceptions.

His efforts earned him all-Big 12 honorable mention.

White and Eisworth will be the two knowns next year and should provide stability for the back end of the defense.

But with Heacock’s three-safety defense, a new player will have to step up.

The most likely candidate is sophomore D.J. Miller.

Miller played in 11 games last season as a true freshman. He made the most out of his opportunities and posted nine tackles, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

It’s a small sample size but the coaching staff has been high on him since he stepped on campus.

Another young safety that has opened eyes is redshirt freshman Isheem Young. Young redshirted last season but Campbell had a hard time not playing him.

“Isheem Young continues to demand attention because when you watch him play, it’s really impressive,” Campbell said.

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Senior Arnold Azunna and junior Keonte Jones provide quality, veteran depth. Both have seen the field in their time at Iowa State and should be expected to be key backups for the Cyclones.

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