Editor’s note: This is the ninth in a series about each position on the Iowa State football team.
AMES — Looking at a depth chart weeks before the first game for a college football team can often be misleading.
But it’s hard not to notice when there’s a red-shirt freshman among or above seniors on an initial depth chart headed into fall camp. That was the case for Iowa State and its defensive backfield, where Iowa City West grad Charlie Rogers was listed as the starter at left corner to begin camp.
“It’s like a top 25. Top 25 before the season beings, it’s a waste, it’s foolish. And a depth chart with a young football team is too,” said Coach Paul Rhoads at Iowa State’s Media Day. “I think there’s a lot of pressure being put on young Charlie’s shoulders because I’m fielding a lot of questions about it, so I know he’s being talked to about that too. We’ve got a number of corners vying for that spot. Charlie’s one of them. And he’s working hard daily to improve his skill set and be in a position to be that guy.”
Rogers — who had interest from his hometown Iowa Hawkeyes, but never an offer — sat out last year while the rest of the Iowa State secondary continued to gain experience.
That time on the field was invaluable for all the defensive backs, as it allowed them to come into this season with better communication. Not having to jump that hurdle allowed the older players to help bring along the young guys quicker.
“A lot of us played together, and I feel like we have a better chance and we all feel comfortable with each other,” said Jansen Watson, who is in a battle to be the starter at right corner. “Bringing in Charlie and (cornerback) Sam (Richardson) and Kenneth Lynn, and all those new guys, it feels great because we all have a lot of experience bringing those new guys in, helping them get it and giving them a lot of confidence. We have a lot of leaders and a lot of seniors that have been here to teach them.”
The older players may be teaching the young guys now, but the education didn’t just start in camp.
Getting to watch and learn was important for Rogers to get a jump start headed into this season, where he’s penciled in to start alongside three seniors. What he saw last year left him with inspiration on what he wants to make himself going forward.
“I did a lot of learning, taking mental reps (last year),” Rogers said. “Especially watching (then senior) Jeremy Reeves. He was a four-year starter and some of the things that he did I’d like to do with my game in the future.”
Of course, “mental reps” aren’t all that’s needed for a young corner to get up to speed, especially in the Big 12.
Secondary coach Troy Douglas said with Rogers’ size, he’ll have to make adjustments he might not be comfortable with in order to be effective on the field.
“He’s a big kid and physical,” Douglas said. “The problem is, when you get bigger guys, they have to learn to play under their pads. And that’s what we need to keep emphasizing with Charlie because when you get a tall corner like that, the tendency is to play high. He’s got to play with lower pad level, but other than that, he’s been doing fine.”
Rogers wasn’t just given the spot because of that size, either. He may be the biggest corner at 6-1, 202 pounds, but that doesn’t mean he was listed at No. 1 on the left side for nothing.
Douglas said the competition on both sides of the field at cornerback has been an “open door,” and that the coaches have been “grinding them” to see what they’re made of.
Like any position on the team, having a teammate there to challenge for the job makes players work that much harder.
“You try to get an upper edge on your teammate, just to get that starting position,” Rogers said. “I’ve taken chances. Sam’s taken chances. Ken’s taken chances. It’s just a matter of competing, and the more that we compete on the field just makes us better as a (defensive back) overall.”
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE IOWA STATE DEFENSIVE BACKS
The depth chart
LCB — Charlie Rogers, fr., 6-1, 202; RCB — Jansen Watson, sr., 5-9, 174; SS — Deon Broomfield, sr., 6-0, 206; FS — Jacques Washington, sr., 6-1, 220
While Jake Knott and A.J. Klein got all the attention for the Cyclones the last few years, senior Jacques Washington has fairly quietly been one of the most productive defenders on the ISU defense. Washington was second on the team to Klein last season in tackles, with 90 total tackles and two tackles for loss. It was the second straight season with 90 tackles for Washington, giving him the third most tackles on the team in a two-year span — Klein had 233, Knott 194 — with 180. Washington was easily the most productive defensive back over his two years as a starter, registering at least 11 more tackles than the closest defensive back both times. He also tied then-senior Durell Givens for most interceptions in 2012, with three on the season. His experience makes him the clear leader in the secondary, even with two other seniors starting along side him.
The cornerback battle
Coach Paul Rhoads said the battle for the right corner back spot isn’t as ruthless as he would like, but the guys battling for it are doing so with plenty of game experience. Senior Jansen Watson has the spot at the moment, and had the spot last year before missing three games with a strained MCL. He may be healthy now, but he’s got Sam Richardson — not the quarterback — breathing down his neck. Richardson saw action in all 13 games last year, but only registered four total tackles on the season. Even with Watson back at full strength, Richardson figures to see plenty of time on the field this season.
The other side of the field is home to the young guys in the group. Iowa City West grad Charlie Rogers has the starting spot now, and has impressed both coaches and his older teammates through the spring game and camp. Rogers is the most physically imposing cornerback the Cyclones have, and barely trails Washington as the biggest defensive back overall. Coaches are pushing Rogers to his size at that position. Rogers is ahead of Kenneth Lynn, who saw action in nine games last year, registering two total tackles.
Beside Washington on the back end of the Cyclone defense is Deon Broomfield, who firmly holds the strong safety starting spot. Broomfield played in all 13 of Iowa State’s games last season, starting six. The senior is the second most productive defensive back returning this season, having registered 45 total tackles and snagging two interceptions. Broomfield said having played alongside Washington a lot last season has helped the communication in the secondary.
— Jeremiah Davis