Big 12: Drake Ferch

Since last week, we've been analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring. Thursday, we continue with the Iowa State Cyclones, who released an official two-deep after finishing up spring ball last month:

QB: Grant Rohach (So.) OR Sam B. Richardson (Jr.) OR Joel Lanning (RFr.)

[+] EnlargeGrant Rohach
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesGrant Rohach has the edge in Iowa State's quarterback derby right now, but the competition is far from over.
Building off his strong close to the 2013 season, Rohach had the strongest spring of the three quarterbacks to take an edge in the competition into the summer. The Cyclones, however, are holding off on naming a starter until at least mid-August. That could give Lanning, who has impressed the new offensive regime with his arm strength and his toughness, time to narrow the gap with Rohach before the start of the season.

RB: Aaron Wimberly (Sr.), DeVondrick Nealy (Jr.)

The name of the game here is health. When healthy, Wimberly is one of the best running backs in the league. He was finally healthy again this spring and resembled the running back who rushed for more than 100 yards on Texas. Nealy's emergence gives the Cyclones the luxury of using more discretion when it comes to how many touches to give to Wimberly.

WR (X): Quenton Bundrage (Jr.), D'Vario Montgomery (So.)

WR (Z): P.J. Harris (So.), Tad Ecby (Jr.)

Slot (F): Jarvis West (Sr.), Damien Lawry (So.)

TE: E.J. Bibbs (Sr.), Ben Boesen (Jr.)

For the Cyclones to get to a bowl game and beyond, they really need Bundrage to be a gamebreaker week-to-week instead of every other game. Too many times Bundrage disappeared last season, and he did it again in the spring game, finishing the scrimmage without a catch. The QBs have played a part in Bundrage's inconsistency, but so has Bundrage. Elsewhere, the Cyclones had several receivers step up this spring, notably Harris, Brett Medders and Montgomery. More help is on the way in blue-chip freshman Allen Lazard. If Bundrage plays up to his potential game to game, this could be a very dangerous collection of pass-catchers, which includes Bibbs of course.

LT: Brock Dagel (Jr.), Jake Campos (RFr.)

LG: Oni Omoile (Jr.), Jamison Lalk (Jr.)

C: Tom Farniok (Sr.), Ben Loth (Sr.)

RG: Daniel Burton (So.), Ryan Glenn (Fr.)

RT: Jacob Gannon (Sr.), Jacob Dunning (So.)

The Cyclones actually have the second-most returning starters in the Big 12 up front, trailing only Oklahoma. That isn't just quantity, either. Farniok is a four-year starter who is finally healthy again after an injury-plagued junior season. Dagel suffered an infection after a cut during the spring, but he has the look of a cornerstone left tackle. The new offensive staff also was pleased with the intangibles Burton brought to the line, including toughness and a high football IQ. If the Cyclones can stay healthy up front, and Dagel continues to progress, this could be a top-half-of-the-league offensive line.

DEFENSE

DE: Mitchell Meyers (So.), Darius White (So.)

DT: Robby Garcia (RFr.), Pierre Aka (So.)

DT: Devlyn Cousin (So.), Vernell Trent (RFr.)

DE: Cory Morrissey (Sr.), Gabe Luna (Jr.)

Morrissey and Meyers dominated off the edge in the spring game, but the spring was not a positive for the rest of the D-line. The Cyclones booted tackles Rodney Coe and David Irving, leaving the inside thin and inexperienced. Iowa State did get 2013 starting nose guard Brandon Jensen back following spring ball after he originally quit the team in December. That will help.

[+] EnlargeNigel Tribune
David Purdy/Getty ImagesNigel Tribune is solid at cornerback, but the rest of the Cyclones' secondary is in flux.
SLB: Drake Ferch (Sr.), Jared Brackens (Sr.)

MLB: Alton Meeks (RFr.), Kane Seeley (So.)

WLB: Jevohn Miller (Sr.), Levi Peters (So.)

Transfer Jordan Harris led the juco ranks in tackles last year, but Meeks, a former QB, won the starting job out of spring in the middle. Brackens and nickelback Ferch, a walk-on who also surprised this spring, will rotate on the strong side according to down and distance. When Luke Knott returns from a hip injury, he will likely take over as the starter on the weak side after winning the job last year as a freshman.

CB: Nigel Tribune (So.), Matthew Thomas (Sr.)

CB: Sam E. Richardson (Jr.), Kenneth Lynn (Jr.)

SS: T.J. Mutcherson (So.), Darian Cotton (Jr.)

FS: Kamari Cotton-Moya (RFr.), Kamari Syrie (RFr.)

Iowa State has a very good prospect in Tribune surrounded by a whole bunch of questions marks in its secondary. Richardson and Lynn will probably rotate on the opposite side. After losing starters Deon Broomfield and Jacques Washington, safety is a complete unknown, especially after key juco transfer Devron Moore left in the middle of spring ball after getting homesick (it’s unknown if he’ll return). Instead, Iowa State will be relying on one young safety coming back from a torn Achilles (Cotton-Moya), and another who sprained his MCL in the spring game (Mutcherson). Safety is a position the Cyclones can ill-afford any more adversity at.
With spring ball done, we’re re-examining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Tuesday with linebackers. These outlooks will look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): While the future of inside linebacker Frank Shannon remains unclear, the Sooners have a tailor-made replacement in Jordan Evans ready to go. Shannon was OU’s leading tackler a year ago, but Evans was the defensive MVP of the spring game in his place. Blitzing outside linebacker Eric Striker had a huge spring coming off his three-sack performance in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. And the Sooners had another blitzing linebacker in juco transfer Devante Bond emerge in March, which could give them flexibility to move Striker around. Dominique Alexander, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, solidifies OU’s perch atop this positional ranking, even with Shannon’s future in limbo.

2. Texas (2): Steve Edmond sparked controversy with his Baylor comments, but he also impressed coach Charlie Strong this spring with his knack for making tackles. Edmond and Dalton Santos team up to give the Longhorns a reliable combination on the inside. Athletic sophomore Timothy Cole took advantage of his opportunities with the first-team defense during the spring but should fall back into a spot role once Jordan Hicks returns this summer from a second consecutive season-ending injury. This will be a good group of linebackers, but Hicks playing up to his five-star potential is what could make it great.

3. West Virginia (3): After struggling at the “Spur” linebacker spot in 2013, Isaiah Bruce moved back inside this spring, where he starred as a freshman All-American two years ago. Bruce said he didn’t feel as comfortable playing outside and that showed, as he didn’t record a sack last season despite playing off the edge. Taking over in the Spur is converted safety K.J. Dillon, who was as impressive as any West Virginia defender this spring. With the ability to drop back in coverage, attack the run and rush the quarterback, Dillon seems to be a much better fit at the Spur. If he continues to progress at his new spot and Bruce gets back to his old self playing alongside tackling machine Nick Kwiatkoski inside, the Mountaineers will be stout at the second level.

4. Kansas (5): If the Jayhawks finally climb out of the Big 12 cellar for the first time in six years, it will be on the back of Ben Heeney and a Kansas defense that returns nine starters. One of those nine returners is Heeney’s linebacker wingman, Jake Love, who delivered a strong spring game with a scrimmage-high 10 tackles. The Jayhawks have several weaknesses, but the tackling of their linebackers is not one of them.

5. TCU (6): They get overshadowed by the units in front of and behind them, but linebackers Paul Dawson and Marcus Mallet simply fulfill what’s asked of them. The Horned Frogs were surprisingly solid at linebacker last year. They should be even better in 2014.

6. Texas Tech (7): The Red Raiders received a huge boost in the spring from Kenny Williams, who made a seamless -- and voluntary -- position switch from running back to the “Raider” linebacker position. With honorable mention All-Big 12 pick Pete Robertson on the other outside spot and veterans Sam Eguavoen and Micah Awe and Utah transfer V.J. Fehoko manning the middle, the Red Raiders have a solid foundation. Ex-Ohio State linebacker Mike Mitchell, who attended Tech’s spring game, could give the unit another boost in the summer. He was an ESPN 300 recruit last year and could be eligible immediately at his next school.

7. Kansas State (8): Coach Bill Snyder seemed to be reasonably pleased with returners Jonathan Truman and Will Davis, who have locked up two of the linebacker spots. If D'Vonta Derricott, who was in the ESPN Junior College 50 and had offers from Miami, Wisconsin, Arizona State and a host of Big 12 programs, can make an impact at the third linebacker spot, the Wildcats could quickly solidify their biggest question spot defensively.

8. Baylor (4): Middle linebacker Bryce Hager will be fine once he finally recovers from a groin injury. That means Aiavion Edwards, who exited spring as the starter on the weak side, will be the key as the Bears attempt to overcome the graduation of All-Big 12 performer Eddie Lackey. Baylor, though, still has big expectations for juco transfer Grant Campbell, even though he finished spring as a backup on the depth chart. After a shaky first few practices, Campbell began to come on late in spring drills.

9. Oklahoma State (9): The Cowboys picked up a valuable transfer during the spring in former Michigan safety Josh Furman, who will be eligible immediately after getting his degree. Furman isn’t a star, but he has plenty of experience and could be a real asset teamed with juco transfer D'Nerius Antoine at Oklahoma State’s “Star” linebacker spot. On the weak side, fellow juco transfer Devante Averette really shined before suffering some mild injuries at the end of spring ball. The Cowboys will be even better there if 2012 four-star signee Seth Jacobs emerges.

10. Iowa State (10): The Cyclones remain in transition mode at linebacker while working to replace the production of departed All-Big 12 performer Jeremiah George. Redshirt freshman and former QB Alton Meeks was one of the defensive surprises of the spring; he currently sits atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. The other big defensive surprise was walk-on senior Drake Ferch, who beat out returning starter Jared Brackens on the strong side. Jevohn Miller is the third starting linebacker, but he figures to be a placeholder on the weak side until Luke Knott returns from last year’s season-ending hip injury.

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