By Rob Gray
AMES — Former Iowa State standout and probably soon-to-be NFL Draft pick Jake Knott has a message for Cyclone fans wringing their hands over the team’s linebacker position since he and fellow NFL-bound star A.J. Klein have moved on.
In a word: Relax.
“Guys always, it’s human nature, they step up into those spots,” the program’s sixth all-time leading tackler said. “They find their roles. And they find, ‘Hey, I’ve got to develop into a playmaker now. I can’t just be that guy that was doing my job, I’ve got to start doing things a little bit harder, a little bit better.’”
That process for likely ISU linebacker starters Jeremiah George, Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens continues today — but on a public stage as the annual spring game kicks off at 2 p.m. today at Jack Trice Stadium.”
“Coach (Paul) Rhoads always talks about it being a grind,” said George, the only one of the aforementioned trio to make a major impact last season with 87 tackles, which ranked third on the team. “But that’s what makes it so fun, because it is something that at times, it can be painful."
So far, Knott would approve.
The next step for George, ironically, requires slowing down.
Not on the field, but in his mind, where sometimes the 5-11, 219-pound senior outfoxes himself.
“Jeremiah’s just got to settle down and play his position and try not to do too many things,” Cyclone defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “Stay at the right place and be a leader. He’s got to be that guy and he’s trying to be, which is a very positive thing.”
And not just with words, but with deeds.
“Jake and A.J., they babysat me for two years, three years, however long ago it was,” said George, who started nine of 13 games last season. “So I had great teachers. Last year they kind of let me be vocal and this year I’m trying to be that guy for the rest of the defense.”
George understands the slow down your brain, speed up your body equation.
The light went on for him last season after two years of previous toil translated to little production.
He expects the same to happen for Miller and Brackens — and others populating the lower tiers of the depth chart, as well.
“It’s the small stuff,” George said. “Making an emphasis on things that the coaches have repeatedly taught them and trusting themselves to play a little bit faster. I know that feeling of you don’t want to make a mistake and you think you know what you’re supposed to be doing, but then it’s like, ‘Wait, he said I’m supposed to do this. And I supposed to do this?’ You’re just a split-second slower. I’ve seen guys kind of let that go and play faster.”
Speed dovetails nicely into the linebacking corps’ sea-based mentality.
Sharks, they call themselves.
“One shark week after another,” Miller said.
One stormy Big 12 sea.
Consider the waters chummed.“I’m here to work,” Brackens, a converted safety said, “and play.”