Staff in Search of SAM

One of the biggest positions of concern on the Iowa State defense remains SAM linebacker, where two-year starter Jeremy Loyd has exhausted his eligibility and Chris Whitaker is out for the spring with a torn pectoral muscle. That leaves defensive coordinator John Skladany and position coach DeMontie Cross searching for some answers.

For now the short-term solution seems to be returning backup Erik Anderson, but converted safety Nik Moser is gaining mention for his abilities at a new position.

"Erik Anderson and Nik Moser have the edge right now, just watching them run," said ISU head coach Dan McCarney. "Both of those guys are athletic. Moser can really do a great job out there with pass coverage stuff, because he's a former safety. But we'll find out when the pads come on. Can he stand in there and be physical enough and do the things outside backers have to do?

"Erik Anderson is playing like a guy that's been out there. He has gotten some valuable playing time and can really run good. It's fun to watch him practice."

Even without the services of Loyd, the Cyclones might have been alright for the spring had Whitaker emerged from winter workouts healthy. But his injury in the final day means depth is extremely shallow.

"C-Whit was basically an inside guy to start with and we were going to give him a shot at outside backer, thinking he could really help us in a two-back run game over a tight end," said Cross. "But when he lost his pec, it really forced us to do some last-minute shuffling. Now we've got a lot of young guys who have to step it up until we get the new guys in from the upcoming class."

Anderson is coming off a solid winter and will be asked to shoulder the load in the short term. The 6-foot, 224-pound junior backed up Loyd last fall and gained some valuable playing time.

"We're definitely going to miss Loyd, but the best thing about it is we have a lot of guys who backed him up last year," Cross said. "Erik Anderson got the most playing experience and is going to get the starting nod. He has put in a good off-season and has added about five or 10 pounds. We're really going to have to build as a unit and not rely so much on one player like we did Loyd."

The other player in those plans is Moser, who is changing positions from free safety to outside linebacker. On paper, the move seems questionable given his 6-foot, 196-pound frame. But defensive coaches have a role that they believe Moser can fill.

"So many teams are going to one-back or spread sets, where they're trying to out-athlete you at each position," Cross said. "Loyd was athletic enough that you never had a substitute a guy to go out on a wideout. Now we don't have that luxury.

"We're hoping Moser can give us what Loyd gave us in the pass game, and Erik can give us what Loyd gave us in the run game. We'll have to split the duties. If it turns out that one of those guys can do both then they'll get most of the time."

But look for Moser to add some additional weight over the summer months to prepare himself for the rigors of Big 12 football.

"To be able to keep the speed and quickness he has, with his frame and size he can definitely add another five or 10 pounds," Cross said. "Being anywhere from 205 to 210 pounds would be perfect going into next season. If he gets anything over that, he may lose something."

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