By Ian Smith, CycloneFanatic.com Contributor
Iowa State’s trio at linebacker is a quiet bunch. That is, until they strap on their football pads.
A.J. Klein, Jake Knott and Matt Tau’fo’ou were able to make some noise on Saturday as the Cyclones put on shoulder pads for the first time this season.
“We’ve had great energy everyday,” Iowa State defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. “The kids are flying around and enjoying playing. The first day in some kind of pads excites them because they feel like they go hit someone. They were excited before and after practice, so I feel good about it.”
The linebackers are doing a lot of the pounding. With three new starters at the position, Burnham and his staff have their hands full trying to get ready for Sept. 2, when Iowa State opens its season against Northern Illinois.
Burnham said that Klein, Knott and Tau’fo’ou are progressing nicely as the first game approaches. The same could be said for the rest of the defense which returns four starters from last year.
“The thing about this group – and that goes for everyone in the linebacker core – is they got great attitudes and they are willing,” Burnham said. “That’s encouraging to me. Our whole defense is that way.”
While the defense is improving in the early stages of fall practice, Burnham is still looking for one of the linebackers to step up and take vocal leadership of the team. Jesse Smith left big shoes for one of the youngsters to fill.
“They are young – they’ve got to mature,” Burnham said. “I think all three of those kids do it by action instead of words. Jake is a very, very quiet kid. He won’t say hi to me if I don’t say hi to him. A.J. is a little bit more outgoing. Matt’s kind of clown in a lot of ways – he likes to have a good time. None of them have shown they are going to be the leaders. I hope one of them will be.”
George making a name for himself
One player Burnham won’t have to worry about talking is true freshman Jeremiah George. Since arriving in Ames this summer, the Florida native has made a name for himself. At media day, Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads called George a future captain. That’s lofty praise for someone who is yet to play a down in cardinal and gold.
“Jeremiah is a very energetic young man,” Burnham said. “He loves to play football, I’ll tell you that. He loves to be out there. He is getting a lot of reps.
“Jeremiah is just a fun kid. I don’t know how good he’s going to be, but he’s going to enjoy every minute he’s out there.”
George is just one of the players Burnham is having fun coaching. With such a young group on defense, Burnham is looking forward to watching his players grow up.
“It puts some gray hairs in my head a little more, but it’s fun because you are developing these kids,” Burnham said. “You want to see how far you can take them. It’s a lot of fun. I feel young.”
All newcomers – George included – are getting extra reps in practice to accelerate their progress, Burnham said.
Lattimer learning the ropes
No one should ever accuse Jacob Lattimer of not giving his best. According to Burnham, the 6-2, 245-pound defensive end never stops busting his tail.
Burnham is excited to see how far Lattimer comes between now and Sept. 2, after the junior has spent the bulk of his career at linebacker.
“His motor runs non-stop,” Burnham said. “You know the old saying that says, if you do it wrong do it 100 percent – he does it. He gives great effort. I think he’ll be able to help us at some point at defensive end.”