Normally, the loss of a former all-conference player would be devastating. That’s especially true when the player in question plays for a team that has made a coaching change after six consecutive losing seasons.
For Iowa State — which suspended cornerback Nigel Tribune following an arrest on Monday — moving forward may be easier than many think.
Even if he wasn’t suspended for violating the student-athlete code of conduct, it didn’t appear that Tribune would take the field often: The spring depth chart had him listed as a backup.
Tribune has been a three-year starter in Ames and was even a second-team All-Big 12 selection in his sophomore season. He ranks fourth in the Big 12 with 26 passes defended in three seasons (the stat only carries to 2005), but that number should have been substantially higher had his momentum from 2014 carried over. Instead, his production dropped significantly from 64 tackles to 37, three interceptions to zero, and 13 passes defended to only seven. He also didn’t limit playmaking receivers (Baylor’s Corey Coleman) as he once had.
While it is abnormal to sideline a once-productive upperclassman after just one down year — partly in favor of a younger player — that appeared to be where the Cyclones were headed with Tribune even before his off-field incident.
Now the Cyclones are looking at a cornerback set of senior Jomal Wiltz and redshirt sophomore Brian Peavy. Both made their on-field debuts last season and should gain substantially more fanfare heading into 2016.
Wiltz owns a 2015 resume not much better than Tribune’s junior campaign, but his versatility as a kick returner and pass defender has suggested that he might carry more potential based on his athleticism. He was listed as the right side corner over Tribune after spring practices.
The more intriguing play is Peavy on the left side. He’s only 5-foot-9, but he has worked around that disadvantage with solid footwork and an aggressive attack on the ball. His freshman campaign of 10 passes defended, two interceptions, and 82 total tackles was even better than safety Kamari Cotton-Moya’s contributions as the 2014 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. That type of production falls right in line with what Tribune provided in his first two seasons.
Peavy and Wiltz will be tasked with improving a pass defense that ranked 116th in the country last season, giving up 275 yards per game against FBS opponents. Clearly, something was amiss (more than Moya’s injury), and moving away from Tribune as a starter could improve those numbers.
If Iowa State puts Tribune as the CB3 (at best) behind Peavy and Wiltz, Matt Campbell will show tremendous discipline. It’s rare to see a senior fall down the ranks, but Campbell’s immediate action in suspending Tribune is a true testament to how he’s taking over this program.