Oklahoma State was No. 91 in the nation in total defense last season and No. 110 in passing yards allowed.
The Cowboy defense gave us 48 points to Kansas State and 49 points to Baylor en route to a 7-6 record.
Defense coaches see lots of room for improvement this season.
“Tre Flowers is really playing well,” said OSU safeties coach Dan Hammerschmidt. “[Jordan] Sterns is solid. He still needs to pick up his tackling. He’s a good tackler, but he needs to make every tackle. Jerel Morrow has really come on. Reps are going to help him. The more he plays, the better. Dylan Harding is playing well. Deric Robertson is playing well. The young kid coming on is [Kenneth] Edison-McGruder. He had a couple of really good days last week. This week’s scrimmage will be big for him.”
The defense needs toughness.
“We have to be physical, especially in that first game,” Hammerschmidt said. ”They’re going to come out hard if they do what they did last year. I’m sure they’re working on different things and they may have a few different ideas.
“In smash mouth football, if you’re a safety or a linebacker, you’ve got to be able to take on a block, come off a block and make a tackle. We’re going to make plays on balls and things like that when it’s time, but people are going to check out the run game first. That’s where it starts. Stopping the run game, being physical, knocking balls out and making tackles is where it all starts. It’ll end right there too. It starts with the run game and being physical, and then comes all the fancy stuff in the back. We’re athletic in the secondary, but we’re still fairly inexperienced. We’ve got a couple of guys that have played, but we’re athletic. We’ve got talent, but we’ve just got to learn how to play and how to be physical.”
One clear asset for the defensive backfield is speed.
“Speed kills, no doubt, but there have been a lot of fast teams that didn’t hit people and didn’t tackle,” Hammerschmidt said. “I’ve seen a lot of fast teams that didn’t know how to take on blocks. They got cut down and weren’t in position to make tackles. When a 230-pound running back comes at you, you’ve got to dive on the ground and turn it down. I don’t care how fast you are. You still have to be tough and physical.”
The Cowboy coaches are seeing development in their young but talented defensive backs.
“We’re getting some balls out and forcing some turnovers, which is good for us,” said cornerbacks coach Tim Duffie.”You know, it’s been a battle. It’s tough just watching those guys and trying to sort them out. It’s very even competition, even with Kevin [Peterson] in and with Kevin out. We’ve got some guys who can step in and play. There really hasn’t been a drop off, even with Kevin being the most experienced guy. He has proved that. We’ve got some guys who we can play at corner and feel good about.”
Transfer cornerback Michael Hunter has had an impact.
“You know, it’s been interesting,” Duffie said. “Obviously, Michael is a very physical, impressive guy, but people don’t realize that he missed a spring at Indiana, so he didn’t get any reps. He’s been working hard to get back to the speed of the game. Each practice, he gets better. You can see the rust getting knocked off a little bit, and he’s going to really help us this season.”
There are some areas that need improvement to improve the pass defense from last season.
“Tackling in space,” Duffie said. “Making plays on those one-on-one, 50-50 balls. Competing and attacking at the point of play, whether it’s in the run game or with deep pass balls. We always want to see them compete and win on those opportunities. A lot of people don’t realize that we don’t get that many plays in a game. There’s only about seven point-of-attack plays that they have to make, but on those plays, they’re remembered whether they win or lose. We’ve got to be strong when the ball comes at us.”
OSU coach Mike Gundy has noticed some improved defensive players. “Devante Averette, who isn’t really a newcomer, but he didn’t play last year,” Gundy said. “He’s moving around well. Miketavius Jones is having a good camp. He’s been around here for a long time, but he hasn’t played a whole lot in crucial situations. Chad Whitener is making some plays. Trey Carter is making some plays. Vincent [Taylor] is having a good camp. There are quite a few guys that are playing pretty well. Jerel Morrow has improved with a year of experience. We’ve got a number of guys that can make some plays.”