Big 12: A.J. Klein

Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads has no desire to waste time sitting around thinking of ways to replace linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, the Cyclones' pair of All-Big 12 performers who both finished their careers among the top 10 tacklers in school history.

“You can't,” Rhoads said during Big 12 media days last month. “I mean, you don't replace those guys. You don't replace them from a leadership position. You don't replace them from what they've meant to our era of Iowa State football.”

[+] EnlargeJohn Hubert, Jeremiah George
Matthew Holst/Getty ImagesIowa State linebacker Jeremiah George will be taking on a much bigger role for the Cyclones in 2013.
The onus is on Jeremiah George to try.

And while George faces a long road to replacing their production, he can step up in their place as the face of ISU’s defense. The Cyclones hope as the season progresses and thoughts of the conference’s most productive linebackers come to mind, George comes to mind as well, as the next in line after Knott and Klein.

The Florida native has already proven he can be a quality starting linebacker in the Big 12, recording 87 tackles including four tackles for loss in nine starts in 2012. It was the first extensive action of his career and the senior is hopeful he can use what he learned from playing alongside Klein and Knott last season to become one of the Big 12’s top linebackers in 2013.

“One of the most important things I learned [from them] was how to prepare for a game,” George said. “During game week the preparation has to be high, you have to be locked in, you have to look for specific things, there can’t be any distractions. On the practice field you have to play at a high level with high energy. Then, when the game comes you’re in the same position you were on the practice field.”

George showed he had the potential to become even more than just a quality Big 12 starter during his 17-tackle performance against Oklahoma last season. His stellar outing came the week after Knott was declared done for the season due to shoulder surgery. All eyes were on George and he responded.

“Throughout that week, during practice, I didn’t feel like the weak link on the defense,” George said. “I felt guys knew I could come in and do my job so I was already confident going into the game. As the game went along, I relaxed and played, it just felt natural.”

He went on to record two double-digit tackle games in the Cyclones’ final four contests. His strong end to the season, combined with his performance against the Sooners, gave Rhoads and George renewed confidence that the senior linebacker could take his game to another level and approach the lofty heights reached by Knott and Klein during the final season of his Cyclones’ career.

“Was he a better player last year with those guys side by side him? Without a doubt,” Rhoads said. “But his most productive game is the game where he stepped up when Jake wasn't out there on the field. And I have zero doubt that he's going to be that kind of player for us this year.”

Said George: “To play at that level but still know I did some things wrong [against OU] felt amazing.”

Knowing he could perform at a high level while leaving room to reach higher heights has given him the confidence he can be the face of the Cyclone defense. He took that confidence into the offseason and began acting like one of the centerpieces of the squad.

“I knew immediately it was my time to take the reins,” he said. “The closer we got to the spring game guys could see I could do my job, run across the field and make plays, and maybe do more than what was asked of me without trying to do too much. Simply doing my job while also helping out. I think guys saw that I could be accountable and also help out. Guys started believing more in me and I started believing more in myself.”

Now he hopes to make believers out of the rest of the Big 12 as well.

Lunch links: Good news at ISU

May, 24, 2013
Was she weirdly competitive?
Hope you all treated your moms right yesterday.

Iowa State Cyclones spring wrap

May, 1, 2013
2012 record: 6-7
2012 Big 12 record: 3-6
Returning starters: offense: 5; defense: 4; special teams: 2.

Top returners: C Tom Farniok, RB James White, LB Jeremiah George, RB Shontrelle Johnson, S Jacques Washington, DE Willie Scott, P Kirby Van Der Kamp, QB Sam Richardson

Key losses: LB Jake Knott, LB A.J. Klein, DL Jake McDonough, QB Steele Jantz, WR Josh Lenz, S Durrell Givens, WR Aaron Horne, CB Jeremy Reeves, DL Cleyon Laing

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Passing: Steele Jantz (1,603 yards)
Rushing: James White* (505 yards)
Receiving: Josh Lenz (459 yards)
Tackles: A.J. Klein (117)
Sacks: Cleyon Laing (3)
Interceptions: Durrell Givens, Jacques Washington* (3)

Spring answers

1. Leaders emerging. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein led vocally and by example for the past few years in Ames, and without that duo, somebody had to fill the void. Jeremiah George did some of that this spring, and Jacques Washington might be counted on for leadership from some of his experience, too. George is a heck of player who's got a good amount of playing time, too.

2. The offensive line is jelling. Four starters who closed the season for Iowa State return, and this should be the strongest position for the Cyclones, who need to find some big-play ability on offense. Center Tom Farniok headlines this unit, but Ethan Tuftee is an experienced senior and ISU should have some good depth there, too.

3. Iowa State's going to focus on the running game. Sam Richardson is still a green sophomore, but the running backs are deep and have tons of ability. James White and Shontrelle Johnson are shifty and productive, though Johnson is coming off an injury, and Jeff Woody is a solid power guy. Reserve Devondrick Nealy broke out in the spring game and juco transfer Aaron Wimberly provides even more depth. ISU will never be short for solid, fresh legs at running back.

Fall questions

1. Can the receivers step up? The Cyclones lost all three of their top receivers from last year's team, and three new starters have to step into bigger roles for a team that's struggled with inconsistency at quarterback. Tad Ecby, Quenton Bundrage and Jarvis West have to help Iowa State's passing game become a bigger threat that defenses must respect. Albert Gary has experience and should contribute, but ISU needs more than 459 yards from its top receiver. Coach Paul Rhoads called this the thinnest position on the Cyclones' team.

2. Is Sam Richardson really the long-term answer? After Jared Barnett's postseason transfer, it looked like the Richardson Era began, but when two of his three career starts ended with completion percentages below 50 percent, it's hard to have a ton of faith in him coming into fall. He' has promise and more accuracy than Steele Jantz and Barnett, but he's not far from being replaced by Grant Rohach if he struggles at some point in 2013.

3. Can Iowa State find a kicker? Three missed extra points is three too many, and Edwin Arceo's senior camp will be spent competing with freshman Cole Netten. Both missed a pair of kicks on a big stage in the spring game, but ISU has a penchant for getting locked into close games. It needs consistency from this spot.
We'll cap our coverage of Saturday's spring games with the Cyclones in Ames.

What happened:
  • Sam Richardson completed 9 of 12 passes for 156 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.
  • Running back DeVondrick Nealy carried the ball 18 times for 142 yards and two scores, and juco transfer Aaron Wimberly added 89 yards on 15 carries.
  • Attendance was 15,000.
  • Linebacker Jeremiah George and defensive back Darian Cotton led all defenders with 10 tackles.
  • Gold beat Cardinal, 41-27.
What we learned:
  • Holy offense, Batman. The biggest issue for Iowa State, even through an amazing first four seasons with Paul Rhoads, has been the offense, but Saturday looked solid. The defense is still adjusting to life after Jake Knott and A.J. Klein, but the big-play ability we saw was definitely something new. The offense turned up the tempo and ran for 535 yards and threw for 362. Nealy was fourth string last year, but Rhoads loved what he saw from the whole position all spring. "I had felt the running back position overall had the best spring,” Rhoads told reporters. "DeVondrick Nealy is running as he was capable. He is going into his third season and that is encouraging to see. James White is James White. He runs hard, smart, and knows everything about the offense. Aaron Wimberly showed why we are excited to have him and why we recruited him. Rob Standard is productive every time we play him." You can only put so much stock in a spring game, but Saturday was definitely a good sign. If you can put up points in the Big 12, you're going to win a whole bunch of games, and it's hard to see Iowa State's defense getting torched next season like it did for much of Saturday.
  • The defense is finding some new impact players. I was a little surprised to see coaches be so open about Willie Scott, a possible future star at defensive end who was arrested earlier this spring for possession of a controlled substance. He was maybe the biggest defensive star on Saturday with a whole bunch of tackles and an interception. "He’s a high-motor guy,” safety Jacques Washington told the Des Moines Register about Scott. "He’s a little undersized as a defensive end, but he’s athletic and closes on the ball well. He’s a guy you can always count on -- like everyone saw [Saturday].” Jeremiah George has a lot of experience, but I like what he showed on Saturday, too. Iowa State's defense centered around Knott and Klein, and though you can't replace guys like that easily, George looks solid.
  • The new offense is taking shape. You're going to see a lot more pistol with Richardson this year, which could mean good news for a decent running game, too. Richardson is a speedy guy, and the more the pistol works, the more you're going to see it. The misdirection that can come from the set is already paying off for the running game, and as that happens, life's going to get easier for Richardson in the passing game. Everybody wins.
  • The kicking competition is still a bit of a mess. Edwin Arceo made just 12 of 18 field goal attempts last season and missed three extra points, part of the reason the competition is open to Cole Netten this spring. Netten, a freshman, was just 2-of-4 on Saturday, but Arceo didn't take advantage, making just one of his own three attempts. The good news for Arceo? His only made kick of the day with a 53-yarder, and his last kick after beginning with two misses. Both of Netten's misses came from beyond 50 yards, but he made kicks from 29 and 45 yards. "I think that shows one, consistency, and it also shows two, we’ve got two guys very capable of playing winning football as kickers at this level," Rhoads told the Des Moines Register.
Four Big 12 teams will kick off their spring games this weekend. We'll be offering quick looks at each game on the blog throughout today.

Iowa State

When: Saturday, 2 p.m.

What you need to know:
  • Admission is free.
  • You can see a further preview on
What to watch:
  • Sam Richardson's progress. Iowa State is one of two Big 12 teams that will have the same quarterback starting Week 1 that it had to end last season. Sam Richardson played well in a blowout win against Kansas, but struggled in the Cyclones' final two games of the season -- against West Virginia, and in a lopsided bowl loss to Tulsa. Can he show some progress? The biggest thing I want to see is a vast improvement in his completion percentage, which plummeted to below 50 percent after a blistering 85 percent performance against KU in his first real action. He needs to be more around 60 percent to be really effective.
  • The new-look defense. The past three seasons, Jake Knott and A.J. Klein have run the show for Iowa State's defense. For one, it needs new linebackers, but more than that, it needs new leaders, too. Jeremiah George looks like he might be ready for that role, but Jevohn Miller and Jared Brackens are likely to open the season as starters, and will have to show off what they learned from watching Knott and Klein. Miller got some valuable first-team work last spring after Knott had surgery, but this will be a whole new ballgame.
  • The new-look receiving corps. The Cyclones' top three receivers are gone from last season's team, but it should be interesting to see what ISU has at what has been a position of weakness for them for a few years now. Freshman Tad Ecby has fought his way to a possible starting spot, as has fellow freshman Dondre Daley. Jarvis West, Albert Gary and Quenton Bundrage have a little more experience, but those guys have to help Richardson get adjusted.
Less than half of Big 12 teams have a chance to see one of their players selected in the first round of next month's NFL draft, but Texas is certainly one. Safety Kenny Vaccaro was on display at Tuesday's pro day, but after Vaccaro did only position drills for the NFL teams in attendance (including Pittsburgh, represented by head coach Mike Tomlin), the biggest headline was a player long gone from the 40 Acres.

Texas' last national title figuratively came from the hands of quarterback Vince Young, but literally came from his feet as he got loose for the scramble the Longhorns will never forget. He's been through a lot since then -- a Rookie of the Year award followed by a knee injury and a slide off NFL rosters in the midst of financial troubles -- but he was back Tuesday to try to revive his career. He didn't work out or speak to the media, but he went through a throwing session and received largely positive reviews.

"Somebody's going to hit the lottery" if they sign Vince Young, coach Mack Brown told reporters.

That's an ambitious statement, sure, but following Young's road over the next few months should be fascinating.

Vaccaro didn't run a 40-yard dash on Tuesday because of a hip-flexor injury, but the Longhorns' offensive speedsters were on display, too. Receiver Marquise Goodwin already made a big splash with a 4.27 40-time at the combine, but the Olympic long jumper also posted a 42-inch vertical Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeMarquise Goodwin, Terrance Bullitt
Michael C. Johnson/US PRESSWIRE"I am really just trying to get one team out of the 32 to fall in love with me," Texas receiver Marquise Goodwin, right, said of his NFL hopes.
"I am not a track guy trying to play football. I am a football player. I got invited to the Senior Bowl, did well. I got invited to the combine, did really well. Now I am here at Pro Day, and I did really well here," Goodwin told reporters. "So hopefully people recognize that I actually am a football player by now. I am really just trying to get one team out of the 32 to fall in love with me."

Running back D.J. Monroe -- he of "Why can't Texas get him the ball?" fame -- only made those questions louder with an impressive 4.38 40.

"I just wanted to show them that not only can I run, but I can also catch passes, too. So I lined up in the slot, which is another of my favorite positions, which I kind of played growing up," Monroe told reporters. "So I showed I can line up in the slot and do things that I normally did, or did things I did when I was little or in high school."

Defensive end Alex Okafor also posted a 4.88 40 time and bench-pressed 225 pounds 21 times.

"For the most part I am happy,” Okafor told ESPN HornsNation. "I am still getting some of the rust off and getting to 100 percent. Running, I could have done a little better. But I’m not too disappointed. Out here on the field where it counts I thought I did really well."

Up in Ames, Iowa, meanwhile, a pair of linebackers had a lot to prove. A.J. Klein tweaked his knee at the combine, but went through position drills after posting a 4.66 40 time in Indianapolis last month.

His teammate, Jake Knott, missed the second half of the season after undergoing shoulder surgery, but his 20 reps on the bench press made it seem like his recovery has gone well.

He also went through position drills.

"I think they just needed to see me move out there for the first time," Knott told the Des Moines Register. "From what I heard after, they liked a lot, which was good."

A pair of unheralded Cyclones who didn't get combine invites also made a splash. Receiver Josh Lenz posted a blazing 4.35 in the 40-yard dash and bench-pressed 225 pounds 21 times. Considering he's only 6-feet tall and 200 pounds, that's pretty impressive.

Defensive lineman Jake McDonough reached 37 reps on bench press, which would have been third-most at the combine.

"It’s building up to like the biggest day of your life,” McDonough told the Register. "It’s deciding whether or not you’re going to make it to your dream job, basically. We’ve worked our tails off to get to that point."
Iowa State is the ninth Big 12 team to begin spring practice, with only Kansas State left to get started. Let's take a closer look at the Cyclones.

Schedule: Today is the first of Iowa State's 15 NCAA-allowed spring practices. They'll be capped by a spring game on April 20.

What's new: Nothing on the coaching staff, but Iowa State will definitely feel the loss of two of the league's best players and best leaders, linebackers A.J. Klein and Jake Knott. They led vocally and by example and helped Iowa State consistently field a solid defense in a brutal Big 12. Jeremiah George and Jevohn Miller will try to fill their voids with some experience.

On the mend: Running back Shontrelle Johnson fought back from a serious neck injury in 2011 to rush for 504 yards, two scores and start half the year, leading the Cyclones in rushing in the regular season. It seems all too unfair for him to find himself rehabbing a knee injury this spring that he suffered during a bowl practice in December. Here's hoping he's back healthy this fall, but this spring, the running back responsibilities fall on power back Jeff Woody and the shifty James White, who finished with 505 rushing yards last season.

New faces: Four of Iowa State's 25 signees in the 2013 recruiting class enrolled early and will be suiting up for spring practice. They're headlined by juco transfers RB Aaron Wimberly and TE Emmanuel Bibbs. Wimberly was a juco teammate of All-American Jake Waters, who signed with Kansas State. High school talents Shawn Curtis, an offensive lineman, and Alton Meeks, a linebacker, will also be on the field this spring, getting a jump on their careers.

All eyes on: Quarterback Sam Richardson. Iowa State's made the postseason in three of the last four years without any true consistency at quarterback, but Richardson looks the part of a pure passer and showed some promise, though he struggled in his final two starts to close his redshirt freshman season in 2012. Jared Barnett transferred, so barring major Richardson struggles or a spring charge from Grant Rohach, this is Richardson's job. He needs to take some major steps this spring and show he can be the guy for Iowa State. The program can't take the next step and consistently win seven or eight games a year without great quarterback play.

Breaking out: Wide receiver Jarvis West. Somebody's got to step up on Iowa State's offense, and West, a dangerous return man already, is the most likely candidate. He's shown a few sparks, but needs to show a whole lot more. He caught 31 balls for 290 yards and three scores but Iowa State's three top receivers are all gone. West had just two catches in the last four games of 2012, but he's got to do more next year. That starts this spring.

Don't forget about: Safety Jacques Washington. Washington was second on the team last season with 91 tackles, and he made a bunch of plays in the secondary with four pass breakups, three interceptions and a forced fumble. He also added two tackles for loss, and it was his second consecutive season with at least 90 tackles. He's a playmaker for a Cyclones secondary that needs one to stomach the losses of Durrell Givens and Jeremy Reeves.
We're moving on with a new series today looking at the players across the Big 12 who have to replace program legends. We might as well call this the Nick Florence Memorial team, but let's talk Iowa State Cyclones.

Big shoes to fill: Iowa State's secondary

You know about the losses of A.J. Klein and Jake Knott, so we'll take a closer look at some other big shoes to fill for the Cyclones: The secondary. The defense is perennially underrated, and the guys at the back of the defense were consistently overshadowed by Klein and Knott. The biggest piece missing next season is safety Durrell Givens, but cornerback Jeremy Reeves is gone, too. Givens forced nine turnovers on his own last season, including six fumble recoveries, and Reeves capped his career with an interception for a touchdown in the Liberty Bowl. Jansen Watson, Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washington return, but if ISU is going to continue to give its inconsistent offense some additional breathing room, it must plug the holes in the secondary. I'd expect Broomfield to move over and assume a starting position, but filling the cornerback spot will be an interesting competition during the spring. Senior Cliff Stokes and sophomore Sam Richardson (the reason quarterback Sam B. Richardson has a middle initial on his jersey, and yes, that is amazing) were reserves a year ago and should get the first crack at the gig, but look for sophomore Kenneth Lynn to be in the mix, too. I don't expect a lot of growth from Iowa State's offense, and getting back to a bowl game will require the defense to grow up quickly. It can't do that without finding suitable fill-ins for Reeves and Givens.

See more shoes to fill.

Looking ahead to Big 12 pro day schedule

February, 28, 2013
The NFL scouting combine has come and gone, but there are still plenty of workouts left on the table and guys who can make a name for themselves in the next month and end up getting drafted.

Campus pro days will kick off in March, and here's when the Big 12's teams will be holding theirs, according to

Baylor - March 20

Iowa State - March 26
  • You'll be able to get a look at A.J. Klein and Jake Knott here for sure. Klein missed a few workouts this week after suffering a knee injury, and Knott is still waiting for his shoulder to heal up from surgery. Both should be on display at this workout.
Kansas - March 15

Kansas State - March 12
  • An injury kept Arthur Brown from recording a 40 time and doing a handful of other workouts, so expect a whole lot of NFL teams to show up in Manhattan for this one. We'll see if Collin Klein sticks with his plan to stay at quarterback or does some other position work at pro day, too. I'm betting on the former, but you never know. This is probably the most interesting pro day of any in the Big 12.
Oklahoma - March 13
  • Kenny Stills was blazing and did a nice job on the bench press at the combine, so expect him to take a seat for much of Oklahoma's pro day, but we'll see what Landry Jones has to offer, too.
Oklahoma State - March 12
  • Not a ton of intrigue in Stillwater, but I'm interested in seeing if Joseph Randle can improve on a poor 40 time at the combine. He tallied a 4.63 40 time in Indianapolis. He doesn't have breakneck speed, but that seems about a tenth of a second slow for him. Something in the 4.55 range would help him out. He can get there. Randle should also do some position work and the bench press after sitting out following thumb surgery at the end of the season.
Texas - March 26
  • Marquise Goodwin did some major damage at the combine with the fastest 40 time of anyone in attendance, but his position-specific work could talk more scouts into him and improve his stock. He's got to show a better ability to track the ball and haul it in.
TCU - March 8

Texas Tech - March 6

West Virginia - March 14
  • Not a ton to see here. Geno Smith sounds like he was the best of the QBs at the combine, but USC's pro day when Matt Barkley throws may have more impact on Smith's stock. Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey are who we thought they were after a strong combine.
Former Iowa State linebacker A.J. Klein says a report he suffered a major knee injury at the combine on Monday is false.

The report surfaced after Klein fell in a position-specific drill that came after he posted a strong 4.66 time in the 40-yard dash. That had the Wisconsin native and 2011 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year turning heads during the linebacker workouts, but caused concern after his stumble later on in drills.

He shelved the rest of the day's workout, but says there's no reason for concern and disputed the report that he had suffered a major injury, which would have certainly caused his draft stock to plummet.

"To everyone wondering about my little fall... All is good no serious injury," Klein tweeted.

He added he would complete his shuttle drills and log his vertical jump at Iowa State's pro day on March 26. He also plans to complete his position drills. In a later tweet, he said blamed the report on a bad source.

Klein, like his partner in crime at linebacker in Ames -- Jake Knott -- personifies what's good about college football and is a guy who works hard and stays out of trouble to pursue what he wants to do.

Here's hoping Klein is 100 percent when he gets a shot to show off for scouts next month.

Big 12 defenders take combine field

February, 26, 2013
The defensive linemen and linebackers took their turn working out at the combine on Monday, but the biggest news for the Big 12 was who wasn't on the field.

Former Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown was in uniform and in attendance, but didn't complete a full workout due to a shoulder injury. That was unforeseen, but here's hoping Brown gets a chance to show off his measurables at Kansas State's pro day in Manhattan later this month. I'm betting he impresses.

A few numbers of note from the top performers on Monday:

40-yard dash
  • A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State: 4.66 seconds, 13th among linebackers/D-linemen
  • Tom Wort, LB, Oklahoma: 4.78 seconds, 25th among linebackers/D-linemen
225-pound bench press
  • Stansly Maponga, DE, TCU: 30 reps, 11th among among linebackers/D-linemen
Broad jump
  • Arthur Brown, LB, Kansas State: 116 inches, 28th among linebackers/D-linemen
Three-cone drill
  • Tom Wort, LB, Oklahoma: 7.41 seconds, 13th among linebackers/D-linemen

The Big 12's biggest assets all year were on the offensive side of the ball, so it's no big surprise to see an average performance at the combine from its defenders. Texas' Kenny Vaccaro will probably be the league's first defender drafted, but defensive backs will close out the combine later this week. See more results here.
We'll continue looking at the best at positions across the Big 12 today with the men in the middle of the defense: the linebackers. There's a lot of strength at this position, especially at the top. Let's get to it.

Here's what we've covered so far:
[+] EnlargeBrown
Scott Sewell/US PresswireArthur Brown is ranked the fifth-best outside linebacker prospect in this year's NFL draft by ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr.
1. Arthur Brown, Kansas State: Brown is probably the most instinctive guy on the list, and can make plays from one side of the field to the other that no other linebacker in the league can. He's a star, and he'll be fun to watch at the next level. He made 100 tackles and seven tackles for loss with a pair of interceptions and a touchdown.

2. A.J. Klein, Iowa State: Klein didn't repeat as the Big 12's Defensive Player of the Year, but he finished third in the league with 117 tackles. The 248-pounder plays physically and has been one of the Big 12's best linebackers for three seasons. He picked off one pass this season and returned it 87 yards for a touchdown against Texas Tech.

3. Jake Knott, Iowa State: Knott and Klein have been the Big 12's best linebacker duo in each of the past two seasons, though Knott missed the last five games of the season. He had double-digit stops in each of his last four games and closed with a win over Baylor. He finished with 79 tackles, despite missing the end of the year after undergoing shoulder surgery.

4. Kenny Cain, TCU: Cain helped TCU put together the Big 12's best defense and made 86 tackles with 5.5 tackles for loss and a pair of picks. TCU's linebacking corps was depleted by off-the-field issues before the season, but Cain was a constant for the Frogs.

5. Bryce Hager, Baylor: Hager made a big debut with 14 tackles in a blowout win over SMU. He rallied with a strong finish and played his best ball throughout Baylor's four-game winning streak to close the season. He was all over the place and made 10 stops in the upset win over Kansas State. He finished the year with 124 tackles to lead the Big 12.

6. Shaun Lewis, Oklahoma State: Lewis hasn't quite ascended to stardom like it seemed he would after winning Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 2010, but he's been solid for the Cowboys. He made 58 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss with four pass breakups and a forced fumble.

7. Ben Heeney, Kansas: Heeney was a bright spot for KU's struggling defense in 2012, making 112 tackles and 12 tackles for loss for the Jayhawks, who had just 50 in all of 2013. He's has a ton of speed and could blossom under Dave Campo's leadership next season.

8. Eddie Lackey, Baylor: Lackey made waves by winning Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week in the final two weeks of the regular season, thanks to returning a pair of picks for touchdowns. He finished with four on the year, but he was fifth in the league with 104 tackles and made a big impact after transferring from junior college.

9. Jarell Childs, Kansas State: Childs had to play a bigger role for the Wildcats after Tre Walker went down with a knee injury, and he impressed his teammates with the additional responsibility. The Kansas City native and converted running back made 66 tackles and returned a fumble for a touchdown, adding 4.5 tackles for loss.

10. Terence Garvin, West Virginia: Garvin, who missed the spring with a knee injury, played well for the Big 12's worst defense out in Morgantown. He bounced back and made 83 tackles with 11.5 tackles for loss in his third year as a starter.
We’re continuing our countdown of the Big 12's top 25 players from the 2012 season. Here's more on my criteria for the list. You can take a peek at how the preseason list looked here.

We're officially in the top 10 now, so it's about to get heated, I'm sure. If you've got complaints, I've got a Mailbag. Let's hear it.

The official list is locked away in a vault in an undisclosed location, but we'll be revealing one player a day moving forward.

On with the show ...

No. 10: A.J. Klein, LB, Iowa State

2012 numbers: Made 117 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. Intercepted one pass and returned it 87 yards for a touchdown. Broke up two passes and had one sack.

Most recent ranking: Klein was No. 10 in our preseason list of the Big 12's top 25 players.

Making the case for Klein: Consistency is Klein's calling card, and you see that in his preseason and postseason rankings. He didn't move. The 6-foot-2, 250-pounder is a physical talent who might seem out of place for his size in this league, but he's got underrated skills in the open field and is certainly a sure tackler. He's helped Iowa State field a solid, consistent defense for the past few years and finished third in the Big 12 in tackles. Some weakness on the defensive line limits how many tackles he can make in the backfield, but when ball carriers get within his reach, they don't often leave it. Klein earned his status as one of the Big 12's best linebackers the past three seasons, and leaves Ames with a co-Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year award in 2011. Late in the season, he had to fill in for his partner in crime, Jake Knott, after Knott's season ended prematurely with shoulder surgery. That necessitated a position change, and though that affected Klein's productivity a bit, it didn't affect his skill. He'll be fun to watch at the next level.

The rest of the list:
Each season, there's lots of turnover and change for every college program. What do the Big 12 teams need to do before next fall? Let's continue our look with the Cyclones in Ames.

1. Figure out if Sam Richardson is the future of the program. Steele Jantz graduated and Jared Barnett transfered, which means the Richardson Era at Iowa State is officially underway. Will this spring be the beginning of three fruitful years with the Florida native calling the shots? The last couple post-Austen Arnaud years have been very shaky at quarterback for the Cyclones. Richardson is likely more accurate than Jantz or Barnett, but he ended the season with a thud in the Liberty Bowl and looked lost against an average Tulsa defense. Grant Rohach will be around in camp and looking to fight for time himself, but can Richardson separate himself this spring and prove he's truly a quarterback Iowa State can build its program around?

2. Find some new leadership on defense. Jake Knott and A.J. Klein are gone, and it's been a long time since ISU has had to replace a hole that big. Jeremiah George is a promising player, but Knott and Klein were everything right about Iowa State and college football as a whole. Could Jevohn Miller fill that role, too? Jacques Washington and Deon Broomfield might be those guys, too. Iowa State has to replace Knott, Klein and three starters along the defensive line. That's a tough assignment this spring.

3. Develop some offensive playmakers. We can talk about Richardson all day and the failings at quarterback over the past couple years, but the truth is they haven't had a ton of help and consistency in the passing game. Shontrelle Johnson and James White are OK at running back, but there hasn't been a game-breaking receiver or really even an impact player at the position for a long time. The bar is very, very high for receivers in the Big 12, and Iowa State has a long way to go to reach it. The Cyclones are losing their top three receivers from last year's team, so Richardson will have to find some new targets. Jarvis West is elusive, but ISU needs its young talent to step up this spring.

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