By Rob Gray
AMES — When Iowa State football coach Paul Rhoads surreptitiously summoned the ice cream man to a recent practice, David Irving dug in.
And why not?
The fledgling defensive tackle — long a pillar of potential at defensive end — may end up providing fans with an offensive line-rolling treat.
“He’s under 280 pounds, but he’s got such natural, explosive strength and he’s got those long levers,” Cyclone coach Paul Rhoads said of Irving’s adaptability among a blend of seasoned and raw linemen. “He can do everything a 300-pounder can do in there and maybe more, because of those levers.”
Irving’s conversion — and ongoing development (he’s 6-7, 272) — nurtures hope that the ISU defensive line can become more disruptive, particularly behind the line of scrimmage.
“I’m liking it so far,” Irving said.
The Cyclones’ defensive front returns just four sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss from last season, so it’s also vital to feature a man known for his outright meanness.
That’s defensive tackle Brandon Jensen, who Rhoads said is a maximum-effort player.
“When I was a freshman I used to get picked on a lot,” explained Jensen, a 6-5, 301-pound junior from Ankeny. “You’ve just got to learn to start giving it back. You’re going to get pushed down, but you’ve got to learn to get right back up.”
Jensen’s reciprocal physicality (and them some) is spreading.
Walter Woods III, the only other interior defender who’s played any game snaps at the position, said it comes with experience.
“I may have to take notes from him, maybe watch film on Brandon so I can get my nasty level up,” the 6-0, 318-pound senior said. “It definitely takes a certain mindset.”
Experience from Jensen and Woods, coupled with the incendiary talent of Irving and JUCO transfer Rodney Coe (6-3, 305), has turned the middle of the line into a pressure generator.
“We continue to make tackles for losses,” Cyclone defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said after Saturday’s scrimmage. “We continue to get sacks.”
ISU coaches felt good enough about the defensive end position to slide Irving inside, creating the aforementioned depth.
Willie Scott and Cory Morrissey — slated to start at left and right end — both offer speed on the edge.
“You’ve got to move these quarterbacks off their spot,” Cyclone defensive ends coach Curtis Bray said. “You can’t just sit there and play 7-on-7 with people. Make them move off their spot, their accuracy goes down — tipped balls, things like that. Just making plays when they’re available.”
Irving and Coe, both juniors, stand as exhibits A and B on that chart.
Even though they’re not currently No. 1 at either tackle spot, that could change.
Either way, they’ll rotate frequently with Jensen and Woods, along with redshirt freshmen Pierre Aka and Devlyn Cousin.
“They all say inside is where the bangers are,” said Coe, a former running back.
Apparently, promising, if somewhat green play-makers reside there, too.
“Coe is an absolute physical specimen,” ISU center Tom Farniok said. “(He) could be a special one. He’s got a good motor and when it’s all said and done, he could be pretty special, as long as he plays hard and does the right things.”
The same holds true for Irving, who’s shown mere glimpses of the player he could be, one lick at a time.
“If Rodney’s new to the position, David’s a doggone baby,” Rhoads said. “But that baby takes big steps.”
A closer look at Iowa State’s defensive line
The depth chart
No. 1s (ends) — Willie Scott, sr., 6-2, 224; Cory Morrissey, jr., 6-4, 249; No. 2s — Mitchell Meyers, fr., 6-4, 253, or Devin Lemke, so., 6-4, 237; Nick Kron, so., 6-2, 240; No. 1s (tackles) — Brandon Jensen, jr., 6-5, 301; Walter Woods III, sr., 6-0, 318; No. 2s — Rodney Coe, jr., 6-3, 305, or Austin Krick , jr., 6-2, 277; David Irving, jr., 6-7, 272, or Pierre Aka, fr., 6-4, 273, or Devlyn Cousin, fr., 6-1, 297.
The No. 1s
Ends: Scott and Morrissey are primarily speed guys. Scott made an athletic sideline interception and return in last season’s win at Kansas, but ends coach Curtis Bray said he can have a tendency to disappear. Morrissey continues to pack on muscle and has become a headier player, Bray said. Scott may face an early season suspension because of a spring marijuana possession arrest. Rhoads said that could be determined this week. Tackles: Jensen and Woods will be pressed for their starting slots by Irving and Coe. Regardless, their experience will earn them ample snaps. Jensen is nasty in practice. Not dirty, just doesn’t accept getting pushed around. Pushes back — and then some. Woods, though slowed by a fall camp ankle injury, is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get player, Rhoads said. Not flashy, just all-around solid.
The No. 2sEnds: Kron had a sack last season in limited duty. Injuries slowed the West Des Moines Valley grad. Lemke has also battled myriad injuries, but shows promise with speed and play-making ability. Meyers, who redshirted last season, is expected to be a good one, but is till working on that light flicker. Bray said he’d like to rotate five, but can go with four. Tackles: Irving and Coe are sky’s the limit guys. Rhoads said they provide a potent “1-2 punch,” and they’ll see the field a ton — as backups or starters. They were the first two players mentioned by Rhoads’ after Saturday’s scrimmage as far as backfield mayhem is concerned. Cousin is one of the team’s strongest players. Aka is super smart (engineering major) and converted from D-end his redshirt season. Both Cousin and Aka are expected to contribute.