January Issue Sneak Peek

As a bonus for those of you that just can't wait for next month's issue of CN The Magazine, we're offering up an in-depth interview with Iowa State defensive coordinator John Skladany as part of a postseason coaches Q&A that includes running backs coach Tony Alford. The ISU assistants put a wrap on the 2003 campaign and look ahead to what should be an interesting offseason.

CN: Let's start with some overall comments on your defense this season.

Skladany: Obviously, the season was a major disappointment for the whole program. We started off and had some pretty high expectations on defense, but the whole year didn't go the way we would have liked. With some injuries and other unfortunate things that happened, it just wasn't the year we wanted to have.

We had some inconsistency at times with a lot of new guys, and we had to put a couple new guys in at some spots. The execution wasn't near what we would have liked it to be. We had some good young players play well, but at times we made some mistakes out there that cost us dearly. But with some added experience and a good spring practice and some maturity, hopefully we can build some more depth at a few spots.

CN: Unlike in the past when you didn't have quality depth, this time you just didn't have depth with experience.

Skladany: I think that's a good point. When you've got to go in there in games against some of the people we were playing with some kids that haven't played, especially in the mid part of the year, it made it hard for them. But I think they gained some valuable playing time. There are a lot of pluses that we saw as the season in developed.

CN: Granted, you can't control what happens on the offensive side of the ball, but is it fair to say fatigue played into your struggles late in the season?

Skladany: We played a lot of snaps this year with not a lot of depth at some spots and youth. There were a lot of factors for the whole team. But it's our job again to get off the field. Sometimes you can't control things. Our job is to go out there, stop them and do the best we can every time we go out there.

CN: How did this team grade out in certain situations, like red zone, third down efficiency, and others?

Skladany: We're in the process now of putting together a preliminary report on those things. On the third down stuff you want to be under 33 percent, but we ended up at 42 percent. After the first three or four games, we were in one of the top spots in the Big 12. Then some things happened and we just didn't get off the field when we needed.

The red-zone, goal-line and short-yardage situations are things that make you a better defense, and being able to stop them at those times. A couple of times I thought we looked pretty good doing it, but a lot of times it looked like it wasn't as effective as it needed to be.

Last year we were about the worst in the red zone, but I thought we made some nice stops at times. I think back to the Iowa game, when we had them at the six- and four-yard line first-and-goal, and made them kick a field goal. We also did really well in a few plays at Nebraska. We blocked a field goal against Kansas. So there were times we showed a little bit of light.

CN: How was this defense against the run?

Skladany: Our stats this year got really out of whack from where they had been from some factors that maybe we couldn't control. Maybe it was because of injuries, youth, and the execution from being on the field too many times. A number of things came into it. We have to look at where we were, where we are now and where we have to get back to. We've got to correct the problems, see what was wrong and get things down to where we're getting up in the top half of the league in the categories we've been the last few years.

CN: That has to frustrate you, because this seemed like the season you were building towards having one of your best defenses to date.

Skladany: We were really excited with things. Anthony Forrest at the start of the year was a blow to the secondary, with his maturity and play-making ability. Then Tyson Smith got nicked up. Nik Moser was doing well and we missed him. Jordan Carstens, after his injury, was not quite the player he had been earlier. Brandon Brown had some stingers throughout the year, and we lost Harold Clewis.

It was tough at times to get everything to flow the way we wanted it to flow. It effected some of our nickel and dime things we wanted to do. But we've gotten through it and survived. We've closed the page with this year and want to get on with next season and learn from some of the mistakes and things that weren't up to par. I'm excited for the offseason and am looking forward to a new season and new challenge.

CN: What has to happen between now and the start of spring football?

Skladany: Recruiting is the top priority right now. We want to make sure we fill some holes and get some athletes in here that can help us and our scheme. Then we'll sit down as a staff and look at all of our games, cut-ups and situations to see what we need to add or delete to help the system.

CN: At least you'll have rush end Jason Berryman returning for three more seasons. Talk about the great season this freshman put together.

Skladany: He's just really impressive. His motor was running all the time. He's making those tackles with great effort. He's got a gift to play football and likes playing football. He should be fun to watch around here for a while.

After about the second day out there (in training camp) we knew we had something special. You watch them on tape, but you never know until they get here. After we watched him the first few days of practice, holy smokes this guy was really getting it.

CN: That had to be perfect timing, especially after you lost Tyson Smith for the season with a broken leg.

Skladany: He got in there and got it going. We had started working Tyson at linebacker in training camp and were seeing how he was going to do in that first ball game, then maybe work him at both. It worked out where we'll get him back next year. Right now we're going to try starting him out at linebacker.

CN: How would you grade the work of the defensive line this season?

Skladany: Brent Curvey showed a lot of promise and did some good things out there. Nick Leaders was steady for us throughout the year. Jordan showed a lot of character and toughness coming back before he was ready to come back. He played more than he should have been playing. He held it together in there and gave us some stability. Tim TeBrink went from offense to defense and helped us. Cephus Johnson showed a flash early in the year, but then he kind of leveled off. Then at the end he picked it up a little bit. I'm hoping he can be one of the top guys out there next season.

CN: Are you looking to move Curvey inside?

Skladany: We may. It's going to come down to how big people get this winter and who we recruit. Then we'll take it from there.

CN: Will you look for some immediate help this offseason, or go with the young guys you've got and keep building?

Skladany: We'd like to get some quality help right away we will, but we won't take a junior-college player just to take him. We're going to try to get the best player, whether it be high school or junior college player, that can be a big body inside.

CN: At linebacker, you had some solid depth at the start of the year, but injuries really bogged the position down.

Skladany: It wiped us out. We missed Joey Woodley for the last game and he only played five plays against Kansas. Brandon Brown had a stinger he was dealing with. When his shoulder was good, like in the last game, he played very well. He had trouble for the last month and a half.

Matt Robertson played a lot of plays and showed some improvement as a redshirt freshman. We also redshirted Ron Prelow and Dominique Flower, who are going to be good players at linebacker. It gave some guys like Jamar Buchanan and Erik Anderson the chance to play at SAM. They showed they can give us some plays.

CN: The secondary really fell apart in some games, especially Colorado. How would you assess the play of your defensive backs?

Skladany: It was just a shame that happened against Colorado, because those guys were covering pretty well against Kansas and Missouri. But at times against Colorado we didn't execute and had some breakdowns out there. I don't know what the reasons were, and if it was lack of concentration or what. Maybe it was some inexperience or concentration. We're going to look at those things this winter to make sure everything's being executed the way it needs to and people are where they need to be all the time. In this conference, if you're one step off, it's a touchdown. The skill is so good that you really have to be honed in on what you're doing all the time.

CN: Are you planning any position changes on defense?

Skladany: We're going to talk about whether Moser goes back to safety or not. He showed us this year that he can play in the Big 12. He was a pleasant surprise and was really mixing it up in there with some people. He's athletic enough to play safety, so we'll have to find the best spot for him. That could come down to who we get in the recruiting process. Kyle Smith moved over to fullback. I think he may have found a home over there. We're going to try to get Korey Smith bigger and move him over to the end spot. At times he looked OK and made some plays.

CN: What about some younger players that really stuck out in practices?

Skladany: When we would have scrimmages with the younger players, Caleb Berg really showed up. He's very physical and seems to really have a nose for the football. I'm excited to see him and work with him. I want to see how he picks things up and performs. It looks like he has the potential to help us.

There were times when DeAndre Jackson showed up and really made some plays. He didn't have a very good Colorado game. But he showed us enough to think he's going to be an excellent cornerback.

CN: What are some challenges for this defense heading into spring football?

Skladany: One thing I want to see us do is move faster and quicker on the field. Some of those young guys will give us the opportunity to do that. I want to increase the quickness at some spots. Our execution needs to be precise. We really need to hone in on that. There were times at the end of the year we looked pretty good. I don't know if it was lack of concentration, looking at the scoreboard or what it was, but then you could see the performance tail off a little bit.

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