New coach Paul Rhoads mentioned in his media day press conference, as the Cyclones open fall camp Thursday, that improving the defense will be a long process but focused on one fundamental that will be vital in that process: tackling.
Rhoads said that along with pursuing to the ball will be the biggest key to lowering the nearly 36 points per game that the Cyclones allowed last season, especially with the large number of powerful spread offenses in the Big 12.
"You have to get as many people around the ball as you can and gang tackle and group tackle and use the sidelines as best as possible," Rhoads said. "We need to take the extra step and bring our feet and our hips to the tackle; we cannot stop our progression and start reaching with our arms."
Linebacker Fred Garrin said the defense worked on this aspect of the game during spring practice and the players also tried to continue that learning during summer workouts, while getting ready for the season and fall camp.
"We really focused on that with ourselves and we critiqued each other; anytime we saw somebody, we were making sure they made the proper technique," Garrin said. "We did not play up to our full potential last season and we need to take care of our assignments better this year."
A part of those tackling struggles included how Iowa State had major trouble getting consistent pressure against opposing quarterbacks in those offenses last season and that put large amounts of pressure on young defensive backs, which was not a sound recipe for success.
Rhoads said how his defense, led by former South Florida defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, will bring pressure will vary on the offense that it is facing that week.
"It will change from week-to-week based on what they want to exploit," Rhoads said. "Percentage wise I do not know we will end the season but we will bring zone pressure, we will blitz with full out man coverage and we will play some zone stuff, too, with four guys rushing."
Iowa State will get the opportunity to work against a versatile and balanced spread offense in fall practice, with the added no-huddle wrinkle that new offensive coordinator Tom Herman's system will bring to the table.
Defensive lineman Rashawn Parker said facing the new version of the Cyclone offense in fall camp will be a tremendous help when he and his teammates get into the start of their schedule.
"We will see pretty much every scheme we will see as far as the Big 12 every day in practice," Parker said. "Conditioning-wise we will also be ready for it, too.
Iowa State returns six starters on the defensive side of the ball, as well as several other players that logged substantial minutes in key situations last season. Despite that, Rhoads said there will competition for each job on the defense. That includes the starters and the depth that he wants to develop behind the starters as well.
"Depth is not certainly settled on offense but it is a little more established," Rhoads said. "On the defensive side of the ball, we're wide open and the kids know we are approaching camp that way. We will establish the 11 starters and then come up with the two-deep from there.