Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series about each position on the Iowa State football team.
AMES – Headed into 2013, it’s no secret the Iowa State defense has some growing to do.
Sure, linebacker Jeremiah George is back as a senior to lead his young teammates. But when it comes to George’s position, growing involves filling two NFL-talent-size holes.
While the ISU coaching staff believes those inexperienced guys – Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens namely – will get up to speed, there are bound to be some growing pains.
“(Miller and Brackens) are freshmen. So, they’re continuing to learn, they’re continuing to absorb all the information Coach Wally (Burnham) is putting out for them,” George said. “It’s a day at a time process. I was in their shoes not too long ago. And it’s something you have to work on each and every day.”
It’s not just the veteran defensive coordinator the group has to learn from. Miller, Brackens and the other young linebackers are absorbing what George has to say, too.
After all, George had two great on-the-field teachers himself the last few years.
“I’ve been in their position, so I completely understand where they’re coming from. I had Jake (Knott) and A.J. (Klein). Jevohn and Jared, they have me,” George said. “I’m just the verbal leader on the field with them. We’re going to get our directions from (Burnham), and I’m just going to run it through our team, run it through the rest of our defense. And they’re going to see that I believe in it, and I’m going out there and applying it.”
Coach Paul Rhoads definitely sees George walking the walk. With so much “youth and inexperience” throughout the roster, Rhoads said it’s nice to see the captain of his football team take initiative over the education and guidance of players when coaches aren’t necessarily able to.
“(I) don’t see a drop-off in Jeremiah. I see him stepping up and being even more of a leader and playmaker than he was a year ago,” Rhoads said. “Jeremiah has been in a position where he’s (helped teach his teammates) throughout (this) summer. All Division I programs have their kids around campus (over the summer), but it’s what those kids are doing in that time that leads to results in the fall.”
And maybe the time George spent passing what he’s learned on to his teammates has rubbed off.
Rhoads said he’s seen good things out of his new guys in fall camp that encourages him going forward. That’s especially true of Jared Brackens, who steps into Klein’s former role as the SAM linebacker. Perhaps more importantly, though, Brackens has shown versatility at the position.
“Jared Brackens is a guy right next to (George) that really gives us something we haven’t had,” Rhoads said. “We’ve changed recruiting to recruit a SAM and a Nickel, and Jared is capable of playing both those spots. And I thought he was one of those guys that really stood out (in the team’s first scrimmage) defensively from a playing stand point.”
On George’s other side, there’s more of an open competition.
Miller is currently penciled in as the starter at WILL linebacker, but throughout camp a challenger for playing time at the position has emerged – and his last name might be familiar: Luke Knott.
“The light’s going on with (Luke) right now, and when that happens, you start playing faster and we’re seeing that,” Rhoads said. “He’s a guy that will definitely be on the field for us this fall. There’s no question about it, whether it’s a rotation with Jevohn — playing the hot hand there just like you play it running back — we’ll wait and see.”
In the effort to achieve what this unit has in the past, the 2013 version of the Cyclone linebacking corps will have a different look, and likely have a different style than what Iowa State fans are used to seeing.
But different doesn’t necessarily mean worse.
“(We) expect big things. I do know we’ve got to improve a lot every day,” Miller said. “It’s just going to be a different unit, and we’ve got to find an identity for ourselves. And I think we’re going to do that, and it’s going to come together very nice.”
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE ISU LINEBACKERS
The depth chart
MLB — Jeremiah George, sr., 5-11, 219; SLB — Jared Brackens, jr., 6-1, 210; WLB — Jevohn Miller, jr., 6-1, 240
There’s no doubt who the leader of this group is, and he’s the only one who’s seen significant time on the field coming into this season: senior Jeremiah George. George was third on the team last season with 87 total tackles, including four tackles for loss. With the benefit of learning from Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, George has been able to pass along knowledge and experience to his less tenured teammates. George was also overwhelmingly elected captain, and is well-known as an outspoken leader in the locker room. It was George’s initiative to take players under his wing and help teach them the game over the summer — when coaches aren’t allowed to work with players — that caught the eye of Coach Paul Rhoads. Relying on George to anchor the defense will be big for Rhoads and defensive coordinator Wally Burnham, who have a crop of young, inexperienced players to work with this season.
The No. 2
Junior Jared Brackens has impressed his coaches throughout camp, with Rhoads saying he’d shown the most improvement on the field during their camp-opening scrimmage. Brackens steps into the SAM linebacker role primarily, but provides the ability to play in the nickel package as well, something Rhoads said his teams haven’t had before. Brackens saw action in 10 games last year, but only registered seven total tackles, so he’ll have to come up to speed quickly for the defense to have success.
Junior Jevohn Miller has made strides during camp as well, and is penciled in currently as the starter at WILL linebacker. Like Brackens, Miller will be seeing his first significant playing time for the Cyclones this season. But Miller won’t be totally new to the spotlight, as he saw time at the end of the 2012 season after Jake Knott’s season ended with an injured shoulder. Miller collected 22 total tackles, and saw time in all 13 games for the Cyclones in 2012. Miller has the spot now, but could rotate playing time with Jake’s younger brother, Luke Knott.
Luke Knott made a name for himself in high school not as a linebacker, but as a quarterback. The 6-foot, 216-pound redshirt freshman led his Lee’s Summit West (Mo.) squad to the Missouri 5A state championship in the fall of 2010. But Luke is playing in his brother’s old position at WILL linebacker now that he’s at Iowa State, and has also caught the attention of the coaching staff through fall camp. Rhoads said there was no question Luke would see the field this fall, and compared his and Miller’s situation with that of the running backs, where no one player will necessarily see the majority of the time.