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A quarterback competition between Austen Arnaud and Phillip Bates will be the most-discussed aspect of Iowa State's spring practice, but building up the defense may be a more important issue. The Cyclones posted three victories in their first season under coach Gene Chizik and reversing those fortunes figures to depend on improving a defense. The Cyclones return seven starters on defense, but lose their top tackler. Here's a look at Iowa State as it begins spring drills.
IOWA STATE CYCLONES
Gene Chizik will try to improve Iowa State's defense this spring.
Defense?7: CB Allen Bell, SS Chris Brown, E Rashawn Parker, CB Chris Singleton, FS James Smith, LB Jesse Smith, E Kurtis Taylor.
Offense?5: T Doug Dedrick, WR Marquis Hamilton, C Brandon Johnson, T Ben Lamaak, G Reggie Stephens.
Special teams?1: P Mike Brandtner
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Even though the Cyclones lose record-setter Todd Blythe, they still feel good at wide receiver with returnees Hamilton and R.J. Sumrall. The pair combined for 99 receptions in 2007. Four starters and a host of backups return in the secondary. Now the trick is to turn experience into expertise.
HELP IS NEEDED
The Cyclones must replace two starters at linebacker, including tackle machine Alvin Bowen. Iowa State was OK against the run in '07, but both starting defensive tackles are gone.
KEEP AN EYE ON
TB Alexander Robinson: He finished his freshman year strong and could secure the starting job with a strong spring.
OT Kelechi Osemele: A former three-star prospect, the 6-foot-5, 341-pounder sat out a redshirt season and now figures to make a strong challenge for a starting job.
HIS TIME IS NOW
Junior linebacker Fred Garrin is a former three-star prospect who played some as a freshman and a little more as a sophomore, but he hasn't been able to break in as a starter. He needs to show that potential won't go untapped. With two open starting spots at linebacker, he needs to prove he can do the job now.
Second-year coach Gene Chizik is defense-minded, and the Cyclones showed some progress on that side of the ball as last season progressed. If the Cyclones can develop an eight-man rotation in the defensive line and find adequate replacements at linebacker this spring, they can look ahead to 2008 with some optimism that better times are ahead.
Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.