At one point in 2015, the Oklahoma State defense looked like the best in the Big 12, but after a few key injuries, the Cowboys looked overwhelmed and exhausted in losses to Baylor, Oklahoma and Ole Miss to close the season. That’s not a good sign for a defense that’s losing a few key play-makers heading into the 2016 season. Can the Cowboys reload, or is the late season skid a sign of what’s to come?
Key Losses At Every Level
There are some big questions that defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will need to answer this spring. None of them though, is bigger than how to account for the departure of dynamic pass rusher Emmanuel Ogbah. Ogbah led the Big 12 – and finished tied for second nationally – with 13.0 sacks. He also added 17.5 tackles for loss, 19 QB hurries, 4 passes broken up and 3 forced fumbles. That by itself is a lot of production to have to make up.
Across from Ogbah though, senior defensive end Jimmy Bean was no slouch either, and the Pokes will need to fill his spot on the line as well. A knee injury in Lubbock ended his season early, but in just eight games he added 5.5 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss. Bean was on pace for 9.0 sacks and was sorely missed by the Cowboys in their last few games.
The Cowboys also lose two productive linebackers in veteran leader senior Ryan Simmons, and redshirt junior Seth Jacobs. Jacobs retired from football at the end of 2015 due to recurring injury.
The losses keep coming in the secondary as well. The Pokes lose All-Big 12 first-teamer Kevin Peterson, their best cover corner, and another cornerback with starting experience in senior graduate transfer Michael Hunter Jr.
No matter how you slice it, the Pokes have some big shoes to fill at every level of the defense.
There’s Plenty To Be Excited About
With two All-Conference D-linemen gone, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will have to replace a great deal of production at defensive end. The good news is Bean’s injury at the end of last season helped others gain some starting experience. Jordan Brailford looked good in his limited time, and Trey Carter and Jarrell Owens should be in the mix as well. Vili Levini, who was slotted for playing time at tackle before suffering a season-ending injury last summer, is listed as a DE and could be another part of that equation.
Juco Top 100 defensive end Tralund Webber should also have a chance to compete for starting reps. At 6-foot-4 and 245 pounds, the former Minnesota commit will need to spend a little time with strength coach Rob Glass in order to be able to provide major minutes, but he should add instant depth and experience to a position of need.
The defensive line lost its best pass rushing tandem probably ever, but does return a lot or depth in the interior. Vincent Taylor made a name for himself last spring, and Motekiai Maile should also continue to improve. Darrion Daniels came in and gave some good reps as a true freshman last season and could push his way into a starting spot. They also bring in true freshman Cameron Murray at defensive tackle. However, Murray, a three-star recruit from Bryant, AR, will likely redshirt due to the existing depth in the interior.
Oklahoma State lost a lot at linebacker in Ryan Simmons and Seth Jacobs, but return a lot of talent in Chad Whitener and Jordan Burton, who combined for almost 200 total tackles last year. To give those guys some help, Devante Averette and Gyasi Akem were both productive in special teams last season and should factor into the linebacker rotation. Kirk Tucker and Kevin Henry will get a chance to compete as well. Gundy and staff are also hoping a few new faces help to push the competition. Incoming signees include Amen Ogbongbemiga (Calgary, AB), Devin Harper (Knoxville, TN) and big hitter Calvin Bundage from Edmond Santa Fe (Edmond, OK).
In the secondary, Jordan Sterns and Tre Flowers return to provide a lot of experience at safety. The big question will be if junior Ramon Richards is ready to take on a starting role at corner. Richards was thrust into a starting role in 2014, when Ashton Lampkin was lost for the season with injury and has since continued to show promise and improve. Also, Lampkin returns as the cornerback with the most starting experience, and has the skills to headline the group if he can stay healthy.
Reload or Rebuild? We’ll Know Pretty Quick
Oklahoma State loses a lot of production on defense, but there’s still plenty of talent in Stillwater. Unfortunately for coach Glenn Spencer though, he has to put it all together in a way it works in a hurry. The Cowboys, who enjoyed hosting TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma in 2015, will pay for it in 2016 as they travel to Ft. Worth, Waco and Norman. To make matter worse, there will be no soft landing for the Pokes. They open Big 12 play in Waco on September 24, against a healthy Seth Russell and Baylor Bear team that has even more to prove than OSU.