Young defense is learning on the fly

With a unit that has just five returning starters and three seniors in its starting lineup going into fall camp, the ISU defense will have to learn on the fly in 2010.

One of those returning starters, defensive end Rashawn Parker, missed the majority of last season with a knee injury as well. That, however, does not seemed to have changed the attitude of the players.

"We had a great summer again and that is a credit to our success on the field," Parker said.

Safety Michael O'Connell said the defense understands the system now they have to show it on the field.

Obviously we got a good start during the spring, but its one thing to hear it and see it but another to apply it," O'Connell said. "We are going to come out and work hard and try to improve every single day as a unit."

The 2009 version of the Iowa State defense improved steadily as the year went on and never allowed more than 17 points in any of the team's seven victories. It also forced 32 turnovers but the majority of the culprits on those turnovers were lost to graduation.

"We are young and inexperienced, and we are going to have to practice our way through that," coach Paul Rhoads said. "It is a group that must improve daily and will improve daily and game-by-game as we go through the season."

The defense line returns end Patrick Neal and tackle Stephen Ruempolhamer to go along with Parker and showed some promise towards the end of the season as well as spring practice.

"I believe the defensive front has got to understand the importance of them making plays and not just taking up space and locating themselves in a gap," Rhoads said. "I think they started to show that in the last week of spring practice. We have to take off right from there and I think they have the ability to do that."

The linebackers are the least experienced group. There are no returning starters and very few players at that position that have played more than special teams.

"Like coach Burnham says ‘2 percent better every day,' if we do that we will come out a better football team and be prepared to win some games this year," linebacker AJ Klein said.

Rhoads said the linebackers are the hungriest group of players despite the inexperience.

"Be careful how close you get to the practice field because Wally (Burnham) might grab you and practice you. We need all the numbers and bodies that we can get," Rhoads said. "I don't think we have a hungrier, more intent group of players than that linebacker core. It is the position group that has to improve the most, we have the least amount of snaps played there and I think the group will improve."

The secondary has the most experience and returns starting safety David Sims and cornerback Leonard Johnson plus several other players that have seen time as nickel and dime defensive backs as well.

"We need to anchor down and be the driving force because we have guys that have played," O'Connell said.

Rhoads said that despite the new players on the defense his goal remains the same as far as execution.

"When I coach tackling, I want to be the best tackling team in America. There is no statistic for that, whenever we chart game-by-game how many missed tackles you had," Rhoads said. "If you can have that number in single digits, you are one of the top tackling teams in the country. We consistently were in that area last season. I would like to see that over every game. We are not ahead of where we were last season because we don't have guys with as many snaps."

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