AMES - Talking to Jake Knott about blitzing is like dangling red meat in front of a rabid dog.
"I'm really excited, because I like blitzing people. I like getting after the quarterback," said the Iowa State linebacker. "It's just fun."
If Iowa State has its way this season, Knott might feast on opposing passers. And running backs. ... And anyone on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
"We've got to be more productive at stopping the run," said Coach Paul Rhoads, "and pressuring the quarterback - we've got to challenge the quarterback."
A year ago, Iowa State, which finished 5-7, produced just 11 total quarterback sacks - a number that ranked 116th out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. And, four of those sacks came courtesy of end Jacob Lattimer, whose future with the Cyclones is a bit murky, following an off-season legal scrape.
Iowa State typically rushed opposing signal callers with just four defenders last season. This year, defensive coordinator Wally Burnham plans to often sic five or six defenders after QBs. The Cyclone coaches plan to utilize more zone blitzes, which drop linemen into coverage and send linebackers or the occasional safety on a bee-line into the backfield.
That could be a call to action for Jake Knott and fellow junior-to-be A.J. Klein. Those two linebackers led their squad in tackles last season, combining for 241 total stops and 14 tackles for loss. But they only had one quarterback sack between them.
"We need more sacks," Knott declared. "Sacks, they change the momentum of a game and we need more of those."
Iowa State hopes to receive a pass-rushing boost along its front four from senior nose guard Stephen Ruempolhamer, along with junior defensive ends Roosevelt Maggitt and former juco star Rony Nelson.
The bottom line is, in a Big 12 that features high-powered offenses led by the likes of Landry Jones (at Oklahoma) and Robert Griffin (Baylor), Iowa State needs to get more aggressive defensively.
"In this day-and-age," Klein explained, "it's go-go-go offenses. We have to get after ‘em.
"I think, this year, we'll have stuff put in to get after these quarterbacks."
When asked to assess his team's receivers in 2010, Rhoads was far from complimentary. "In a word, ‘average,'" Rhoads recalled recently. "We did not catch the ball well enough."
Four of Iowa State's top six pass-catchers from a year ago have moved on.
That means a pair of Darius' - Darius Darks and Darius Reynolds - need to step up and lead. That duo combined for just 2.3 catches per game last fall.
"I get frustrated when I hear about the wide receivers being mediocre," Darks noted. "But, the truth of the matter is that's probably true. We (want) to change that."
Rhoads is reasonably pleased with what returns for ISU's air attack. Reynolds, for example, is finally 100 percent healthy. Speedster Josh Lenz, who caught 14 passes last season, has added 10 pounds of muscle and is penciled in as a starter. Jarvis West, a cat-quick, 5-7, 161-pound redshirt-freshman, has coaches excited with his ability to make plays in space. Juco transfer Aaron Horne, who had 12 touchdowns last fall, is a former favorite target of another new Cyclone, quarterback Steele Jantz, and could surprise.
Finally, the new starter at tight end, 6-6 Kurt Hammerschmidt, should, at the very least, be a serviceable blocker.
Iowa State threw for 14 total touchdowns in 2010. Rhoads demands more next season.
"We've got to, schematically, be able to attack more as an offense," said Rhoads, "and that's going to come in the form of challenging defenses more vertically, down the field."
TIP DRILL: By all accounts, Iowa State worked extremely hard in winter workouts. "We've seen a lot more explosiveness," said running back Jeff Woody. "I mean, Josh Lenz had a 42-inch vertical. He just jumped out of the room." ... The Cyclones need new starters at two offensive line positions. Juco transfer Sam Tautolo, a 6-3, 303-pounder, could help quickly. His father, John, is a former NFL lineman. ... Here's an underdog to keep an eye on: senior tight end Reid Branderhorst. The 6-4 senior is a former Division III basketball player at Simpson, and is currently No. 2 on the depth chart.