Spring Refresher: Defensive Back Seven

After reading this third and final installment of our spring football preview, it becomes apparent that Gene Chizik is facing an overhaul as opposed to a transition. One constant is returning All-Big 12 linebacker Alvin Bowen (pictured left).


Jon Banks, Sr.

Alvin Bowen, Sr.

Adam Carper, Jr. (RS)

Evan Fick, So.

Fred Garrin, So.

Matt Grochola, Fr. (RS)

Matt Leaders, Fr. (RS)

Kris Means, Fr. (RS)

Chris Mehring, Jr.

Josh Raven, So. (RS)

Derec Schmidgall, So.

Jesse Smith, So. (RS)

Troy Zimmerman, So.

At one point this looked like the most loaded position on the football team heading into this season.

Then Adam Carper suffered a severe knee injury that I had heard last season may threaten his long-term playing status. Expect to get an update from Gene Chizik on his progress at Wednesday's spring practice kickoff press conference. The on-again, off-again, on-again transfer of Tyrone McKenzie followed Carper's misfortune to South Florida. McKenzie will be playing for his third school in 2008 after sitting out the mandatory transfer year.

That leaves Alvin Bowen as the last man standing, and he is certainly a very capable man indeed. Bowen made a ton of plays last year, but was in position to make several more. That's something that I'm sure jumped out to the new staff on film. With better fundamentals Bowen should flourish his senior year under Chizik, but will he get any help?

Means, Raven, and Garrin were once hyped recruits under the previous staff and will get every opportunity to flash this spring. Cyclone fans that follow recruiting closely online have been especially excited to see Means in some meaningful – pardon the pun – action for almost two years now. They'll get their wish start today. Raven was envisioned as blitzing outside-linebacker by the previous staff. Garrin was a player physically-gifted enough to play more last season, but he had trouble grasping the schemes and his assignments.

With McKenzie's departure it's Banks who now becomes ISU's second leading returning tackler. The former safety had 99 tackles and led the Cyclones in pass breakups in 2006. Smith is a player that bears watching this spring. What he lacks in natural physical ability he more than makes up for in tenacity and effort. Those are two intangibles the staff is looking for and he's a candidate for a player to come out nowhere over the next three weeks.

Defensive Backs

Caleb Berg, Sr. (RS)

Chris Brown, Jr. (RS)

Brady Ervin, Fr. (RS)

Nick Harklau, So.

Brandon Hunley, Jr. (RS)

Joe Conklin, So.

Steve Johnson, So.

Devin McDowell, Fr. (RS)

Michael O'Connell, Fr. (RS)

Justin Rumple, Fr. (RS)

Zac Sandvig, Fr. (RS)

Chris Singleton, Jr.

James Smith, So.

Drenard Williams, So.

This is a lot of potential with this group, it's just a question of who emerges this spring. Several of these players represent what the previous staff thought were some of the best defensive backs they ever recruited.

Singleton and Williams are as physically gifted a pair of corners as I can recall ISU having in recent memory, and one of them likely won't even start come August 30th. Singleton has already played quit a bit and one little birdie told me last year that Williams was "the best defensive back Dan McCarney has ever recruited." However, both will face severe competition for playing time from JUCO All-American Allen Bell, whom the new staff never fails to single out as a candidate for early playing time, when he arrives this summer.

Beyond that, everything else remains a mystery.

Sandvig, McDowell, and Smith can flat-out fly, so there has to be a place for them somewhere. However, they're probably too small to play safety, which is a vital position in Chizik's Tampa-2.

Come to think of it, none of the defensive backs have the ideal size compared to what you usually see at this position in this scheme. Berg has never quite lived up to his recruiting hype, but he has a lot of experience. At times the previous staff thought highly of Hunley, at other times not so much. Brown didn't exactly light the world on fire after he was switched from wide receiver and now he'll have to learn a whole different scheme.

The old regime liked Johnson's potential, too, but is he physical enough to play safety in the new system? Come to think of it, are any of these guys physical enough to do so? We'll find out this spring.



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