They may not produce eye-popping statistics or jaw-dropping sacks on game day, but the work Iowa State’s interior defensive linemen do allows other players to make plays and the defense to smother opponents trying to run the ball.
Led by seniors Ray Lima and Jamahl Johnson, Iowa State’s defensive tackles and nose guards are one of the few positions which return every single player from the team’s depth chart against Washington State in the Alamo Bowl.
Though they have different names on the depth chart, nose guards and defensive tackles are seemingly interchangeable in the Iowa State defense, with Lima and Johnson rotating for each other. Both players lineup on or close to the offenses center for Iowa State’s base three-man defensive front.
The nose guards and defensive tackles are all important cogs in the Iowa State defense, which only allowed 115 yards per game on the ground during Big 12 play to lead. The Cyclones' average was the lowest in the conference.
Though his statistics may not show it, Lima is ever-important to the Cyclone defense. Lima was co-captain for the team last season — he has the ability to provide push at the middle of the offensive line and beat lineman one on one.
Lima, who will be entering the 2019 season a redshirt senior, was named to the All-Big 12 Second Team after recording 34 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. He was also on the watchlists for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy for best defensive player and the Outland Trophy for best interior linemen.
Lima was one of four Iowa State defenders selected to the 2019 Preseason All-Big 12 Team as well.
Johnson is listed is a nose guard on Iowa State’s roster and depth chart, and when evaluating his tape, Johnson fills that role perfectly.
The senior played in 13 games last season and started one and recorded 13 tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks. But Johnson’s value to the defense comes from his ability to consistently take on and split double teams.
By engaging two or more offensive players, Johnson allows other players in the box to fill holes that could be used in the running game by the offense.
Johnson was usually on the field when Lima was off, but the combination of the two gives offenses no break from interior pressure.
Sophomore Isaiah Lee redshirted as a freshman last year and appeared in two games for Iowa State.
In high school in Illinois, Lee was named to the All-State First Team while notching 65 tackles and 11 sacks as a senior.
At the nose guard position, Lee had already established himself as the No. 2 option behind Johnson at nose guard at the end of last season, with senior Joshua Bailey as the only player challenging Lee for snaps.
A redshirt sophomore, Robertson played in 11 games last season and had one tackle.
At 280 pounds and 6 feet 3 inches tall, Robertson entered Iowa State as a defensive end recruit after registering 31 tackles and five sacks in high school.
Robertson has the ability to play multiple positions on the defensive line, and will likely see action as a rotational player on a stacked and talented defensive line.
Senior Joshua Bailey will challenge Lee for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart at nose guard. Entering his redshirt junior year, Bailey has yet to make an impact on the field. He has only appeared in three games and failed to make any tackles.
At 285 pounds, Bailey still has solid size at the position, but Lee may have already surpassed Bailey during his freshman year.