Overview: The front four was undoubtedly the strength of the defense this spring. Interior linemen Brent Curvey and Nick Leaders spent a lot of time wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield, while edge man Shawn Moorehead took his game to another level. This could end up being the best front four the Cyclones have had under head coach Dan McCarney, especially if Jason Berryman makes a return.
Strengths: The consistent play of Curvey and Leaders, who made it hard for the offense to get much up the middle. The dynamic duo are the foundation of a defense that's strongest up the middle. Moorehead and Cephus Johnson were both formidable as defensive ends, too.
Weaknesses: Depth, particularly up the middle. Backing up Curvey and Leaders are a pair of walk-ons, Bryce Braaksma and Matt Wood. As is the case with the entire team, any injuries to Curvey and Leaders could lead to catastrophe.
Rising players: Braaksma and Collins Eboh. McCarney raved about Braaksma throughout the spring, saying the under-sized defensive tackle would help the team in the fall. The Sheldon, Iowa, native could be another Jordan Carstens, in that he's developed nicely since coming in as a 220-pound freshman. Faced with earning his scholarship back after some academic problems last fall, Eboh has performed both off and on the field. During spring practice he established himself as the backup to Johnson at strong-side end.
Lingering needs/Questions: The Cyclones will need some help from JUCO transfer Thomas Patton, a UCLA signee coming out of high school. Braaksma opened spring ball at 250 pounds and will need to add at least 25 more pounds this summer to gain more serious consideration.
Overview: Depth has developed very quickly at all three positions, because of solid springs from SAMs Adam Carper and Nick Frere, and WILLs Matt Robertson and Jamarr Buchanan. Former JUCO transfer Tim Dobbins took his game to another level this spring, and the Big 12's defensive newcomer of the year is in position for more all-conference honors.
Strengths: The two first-team inside backers – Dobbins and Robertson – were very salty this spring. Both players took advantage of dominant space eaters Curvey and Leaders to make plays. Carper quickly emerged as a possible four-year starter on the outside.
Weaknesses: The only one that comes to mind is the inexperience of Carper and Frere, a pair of redshirt freshmen that finished their first springs at Iowa State. Mistakes should be expected this fall with that inexperience.
Rising players: Travis Cruise and Ron Prelow. Carper should probably be on this list as well, but he's already been mentioned above. Cruise, a freshman SAM linebacker who recorded five tackles in the spring game, didn't join the team until January but finished practice with third-team status. Prelow finally started to fulfill some of the promise he had coming out of Tampa (Fla.) Jefferson High School.
Lingering needs/Questions: ISU looks to have the best depth its had in years, but how much will it impact the team during the heart of the Big 12 season? JUCO transfer Alvin Bowen made a lot of plays at Garden City, but will he impact the two-deep during camp?