April 02, 2015

AMES, Iowa (AP) The hope for a turnaround at Iowa State has centered on a potentially explosive offense.

But a healthy and more productive defensive line might be the most important factor for the Cyclones next fall.

Iowa State's two starting defensive tackles were kicked off the team before the start of 2014, and the Cyclones defense never really recovered.

Iowa State, which finished 2-10 and went winless in the Big 12, is hoping for a more stabilized line in 2015.

''If you're going to be good in any league, it starts inside out,'' Iowa State defensive tackles coach Shane Burnham said.

The promise of immediate playing time helped the Cyclones land tackle Demond Tucker, the 2013 national junior college defensive player of the year.

Tucker has made his presence felt among the coaching staff this spring.

Tucker, a junior who is listed at 6-foot and 287 pounds, entered spring as the backup nose guard with sophomore Vernell Trent listed as a starter. But Tucker had moved up to the top spot as of Thursday, though Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said Trent was impressive in Thursday's practice.

''He's every bit as explosive and quick and what we call heavy with his hands. When he puts his hands on you, you know it. He moves a body when he does that,'' Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said about Tucker.

The competition for the starting tackle spot alongside Tucker and Trent has been fierce between juniors Devlyn Cousin and Pierre Aka, with fellow junior Terry Ayeni still coming back from an injury that cost him all of the 2014 season.

Cousin and Aka were forced into action earlier than expected last season, which should help them immensely as they head into fall camp.

''I want Pierre to be more physical,'' Burnham said. ''I want (Aka) to play with more intensity, more nasty, a more violent physical mindset.''

The Cyclones is also looking for a pair of new starting ends.

Iowa State lost All-Big 12 end Cory Morrissey to graduation. Mitchell Meyers, who bookended Morrissey as a starter last season, was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma in February and has stepped away from football to deal with the disease.

Those departures have thrust seniors Trent Taylor and Dale Pierson into prominent roles.

Taylor and Pierson, both junior college transfers, improved as last season wore on. Still, it's uncertain how much of an impact they'll be ready to make by August.

Converted linebacker Darius White is the favorite to start at right ahead of Gabe Luna. He, like Ayeni, redshirted his first season at Iowa State but has a chance at significant playing time in 2015.

Iowa State hasn't ruled out a return by Meyers. But at this point he's focused more on getting healthy than playing football.

The Cyclones have experience and depth at both linebacker and in the secondary. But if Iowa State can't sort out its defensive line, that might not matter much next season.

The Cyclones allowed 38.8 points per game and were second to last among high major teams with 246.3 yards rushing allowed per game.

''Whether it's keeping guys clean or whether it's getting a push...it starts (inside),'' Burnham said.

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