AMES — Iowa State’s defensive backs are simultaneously the most experienced, and least experienced position group on the field.
Senior cornerbacks Brian Peavy and D’Andre Payne anchor the secondary. Ole Miss transfer by way of Trinity Valley Community College Greg Eisworth is one safety and it appears that former cornerback De’Monte Ruth will be the other safety.
Eisworth hasn’t played a snap of FBS football and Ruth started one game last year but has never played safety.
Peavy is one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. Pro Football Focus rated him as the seventh best cornerback in the FBS. He currently leads the nation in passes defended with 21 breakups and five interceptions.
Peavy had four total turnovers last season with two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. One of the fumble recoveries was against Baylor last season when he stripped the ball and recovered it.
It gets better for Iowa State and Peavy.
Peavy was targeted 33 times last season in Big 12 play. He only allowed 16 catches for 151 yards and only 33 yards after the catch.
In total, Peavy only allowed 24 catches and 244 yards against him. He went head to head against six wide receivers who were picked in April’s NFL Draft. All of them had their least productive or second least productive games when Peavy lined up across from them.
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Peavy isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty in the run game, either. He was third on the team in tackles with 88 and sixth on the team in tackles for loss with six last season.
Payne doesn’t put up the gaudy numbers Peavy does, but he holds his own and was honorable mention All-Big 12 last season. He recorded 48 tackles and six tackles for loss. He also intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble.
Moving back to the safeties, Campbell and company have raved about Eisworth the moment he stepped on campus. They laud him for his intelligence and being at the right spot at the right time.
“I think we feel really comfortable with what Greg Eisworth did, but certainly the rest of the group and what some of the young guys have done to improve,” Campbell said. “It’ll be a really fun competition through the fall to see what unfolds there.”
Ruth, on the other hand, made his name on special teams last season and as a backup cornerback. He recorded 29 tackles, two tackles for loss, three pass breakups and one fumble recovery.
Defensive coordinator and safeties coach Jon Heacock likes Ruth’s versatility and believes he has what it takes to play the position against Big 12 offenses.
Speaking of Big 12 offenses, it’s important that a defense has a deep secondary, and it appears Iowa State has that.
Cornerbacks Arnold Azuna, Richard Bowens, Jatarius Grant, O.J. Tucker and Datrone Young are all guys Campbell has mentioned in regard to who could see the field if Iowa State is in a dime or nickel formation. All five of those players are also sophomores or younger.
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At safety, despite the inexperience, Iowa State does have two players that started at safety in the Liberty Bowl in Braxton Lewis and Lawrence White.
The final defensive back spot is a position Campbell calls the STAR. It’s essentially a hybrid position between safety, linebacker and cornerback.
Sophomore Keonte Jones appears to have that spot locked up. Jones is 6 feet and 175 pounds and has the versatility needed to play the position.
Iowa State’s cornerbacks should be the strength of the Cyclones’ defense. If the safeties can step up and get close to, or match, the level of the play of the corners, Iowa State’s defense should be a force in the Big 12.
Last season, Iowa State was the second-best team in the Big 12 in defending the pass, allowing just 238 yards per game through the air. If the safeties can hold their own and now allow guys to get deep on them, the Cyclones should be able to match that number again.
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