Ever see a football coach tackle a table?
OK, Iowa State’s Paul Rhoads didn’t go quite that far, but he did use the table at which he was seated as a quasi prop while talking about the Cyclones’ need to improve their tackling, a skill that was decidedly lacking last year.
The keys, Rhoads said during his first media day at ISU, are the feet and hips.
“If you’re going to be a great tackler, you’ve got to bring your feet and your hips all the way to the tackle,” he said. “We refer to taking the extra step. If I was going to tackle this end of the table, I can’t stop my progression at this point and start reaching with my hands.
“You’ve got to move your feet all the way to the tackle and secondly, you’ve got to get as many people to the ball as you can.”
Rhoads would have scored high marks from reporters if he had jumped up and tackled the table. He stayed seated, though, no doubt figuring he had made his point.
Iowa State was woeful on defense during its 2-10 season under former coach Gene Chizik in 2008. Missed tackles were a big reason. There was too much reaching and grabbing and not enough wrapping up.
Without better tackling, the defense isn’t likely to improve much, if at all.
“It begins with tackling — and you could say it ends with tackling,” Rhoads said.
Defensive end Christopher Lyle said he’s already benefiting from the new staff’s approach.
“I think I became a better tackler because of coach Rhoads,” he said. “His emphasis on tackling and not just putting your arms out, but getting your hips in front of the guy and making the tackle.”
Lyle said that wasn’t always the case last year.
“They told you to get your hips in front, but they never broke it down to where, OK, this is how you go about doing it,” he said. “Some people need that.”
Problems in the red zone hurt Iowa State on both sides of the ball in 2008. The Cyclones didn’t cash in enough when they got close to the end zone on offense and couldn’t stop the opponents when they got close.
ISU was last in the Big 12 in red zone offense, getting a touchdown or field goal on only 71.2 percent of its drives inside the 20. The Cyclones were 11th in red zone defense, stopping the opponent only six times in 44 possessions.
Rhoads said the offense already has improved its ability to score from in close. He hopes that leads to improvement on the defensive side.
“The first approach is you practice it,’’ he said. “We’ll go right into the first five days of practice and we’ll have scheduled times that we’ll go into the red zone.
“Our offense this spring was extremely efficient in the red zone when we practiced it. That gives our defense a chance to see a lot of things and be exposed to that.”
While Iowa State will run the spread under new offensive coordinator Tom Herman,
Rhoads said it won’t always be a four-wide receiver set. Closer to the end zone, the Cyclones could use some two-back sets, put the quarterback under center instead of in the shotgun and bring in two tight ends.
“They’ll see all the things they’re going to be presented with during the season,’’ Rhoads said of the defense. “You practice it, you get better at it, you gain confidence in it and then you improve upon it.’’
Defensive end Rashawn Parker hopes he and his teammates can make football fun again.
“Last year, we had an up-and-down season, a lot of games we felt like we should have won,” Parker said. “At times, it wasn’t fun out there on the field. You could see that from the sidelines.
“This year, we’ve got to make it fun.”
Parker knows exactly how the Cyclones can make that happen: Win more games.
“There’s no other way,” he said with a smile. “Everybody likes to win.”
When Herman, who had been the offensive coordinator at Rice, interviewed for his position at Iowa State, Rhoads asked him to describe his offense.
“I said, ‘Coach, it’s an underdog offense,’” Herman said.
By that, Herman meant the spread allowed Rice, a small, private school in Houston, to compete with — and beat — more athletically gifted teams. Rice went 10-3 last year, beat Western Michigan in the Texas Bowl and averaged 471 yards and 41 points a game.
“We were playing with a bunch of doctors and lawyers there and found a way to move the football effectively against a lot better athletes,’’ Herman said. “I tell people we didn’t win a pregame (warmup) my two years there. You look out there and you think, oh my gosh, how are we going to beat these guys?
“And somehow, some way, we found a way to beat those people because of those advantages we created.’’
The idea of a spread is to use the entire field to create openings for receivers and running backs and set up 1-on-1 matchups with defenders. If the Cyclones can operate it effectively, they might have a better chance against the Big 12’s heavyweights.
That’s the hope, anyway.
“We’re not and maybe never will at Iowa State be capable of going in and playing football in a phone booth, I like to call it, against the Texases an Oklahomas of the world,’’ Herman siad. “What we can do is spread them out and make sure that we’re using that space and those numbers to our advantage.’’
Four recruits signed in February didn’t make it to camp.
Missing are wide receiver Joshua Bellamy, linebacker Princeton Jackson, defensive end Taylor Martin and quarterback Brandon Mims. Bellamy and Martin were junior college transfers. Jackson and Mims signed out of school.
Rhoads said Jackson might want to pursue a professional baseball career, so he went to a junior college to play that sport. The others didn’t come because of academics or family issues, he said.
The ISU coach also said redshirt freshman Jake McDonough of West Des Moines Valley, listed on the depth chart as a third-team defensive tackle, has been slowed by a stomach ailment. Doctors haven’t yet found what’s causing the pain, Rhoads said.
Aaron Moore, a freshman defensive lineman from Frisco, Texas, is recovering from an infection. Moore chose Iowa State after originally committing to Auburn, where Chizik is now the head coach.
“We’ll progress with him slowly,’’ Rhoads said.