2011 Oklahoma State Preview – Defense
Oklahoma State SS Markelle Martin
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Oklahoma State Cowboy Defense
Preview 2011 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: The defensive stats are always going to be a bit skewed considering the yards fly off the board from teams desperate to try to keep up with the OSU offense. That’s why the run defense wasn’t as strong as the No. 2 Big 12 ranking – no one ran the ball – and the 115th ranked pass defense wasn’t as bad as it seemed. There’s phenomenal athleticism and talented depth all across the board for defensive coordinator Bill Young, but the consistency has to finally be there. The ends should be strong with Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick each shining in starting spots, and Shaun Lewis is one of the best young outside linebackers in the country. The secondary gets three starters back, led by strong safety Markelle Martin and tackling machine corner Brodrick Brown.
Star of the defense: Senior SS Markelle Martin
Tackles: Brodrick Brown, 77
Sacks: Jamie Blatnick, 5.5
Interceptions: Several at 3
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore LB Caleb Lavey
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Jamie Blatnick
Best pro prospect: Martin
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Martin, 2) LB Shaun Lewis, 3) DE Richetti Jones
Strength of the defense: End, Secondary Experience
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Passing Yards
State of the Unit: The defensive line did a solid job against the run, and while the pass rush was good at times, it wasn’t consistent. Both starting ends are back, and they’re good ones, but it’ll be sink or swim on the inside with two new starting tackles.
On the outside, Jamie Blatnick (6-3, 256, Sr.) and Richetti Jones (6-3, 256, Sr.) have split from playing the same side and now Blatnick has moved to the “Leo” end position and has adapted well after making 27 tackles with 5.5 sacks. He has good size and good smarts, but he doesn’t have the raw speed to be a top pass rusher even with all the attention paid to Jones on the other side. Jones came up with 34 tackles with 4.5 sacks and 7.5 tackles for loss. He was considered one of the nation’s top end prospects before suffering a hip injury late in his high school career. He has been fine, but he hasn’t been the great player originally expected. However, he has turned into a bit of a pass rushing specialist
Christian Littlehead (6-3, 320, RFr.) and Nigel Nicholas (6-3, 285, Jr.) will take over the starting jobs on the inside, and the pressure is on. Littlehead brings the size and brawn inside and he’ll be asked to gum up the works. He might not be an interior pass rusher, but he’s mega-strong and has good lateral movement. On the flip side, Nicholas is a speedy athlete for 285 pounds, and now the former end with a little starting time making two sacks and four tackles for loss with 13 tackles.
The depth will be ultra-reliant on the JUCO transfers, with the goal and the hope to see them be major factors right away.
Maurice Hayes (6-2, 323, Jr.),
Josh Thompson (6-3, 280, Jr.), and
Caleb Thyer (6-2, 290, Jr.) are expected to help immediately. Hayes is a huge body with surprising ability to get into the backfield from time to time.
Incoming freshmen, led by James Castleman (6-4, 270), will play a big role, too. Ashaad Mabry (6-3, 290) and
Mike Mustafa (6-4, 270) are big, strong prospects who can move. They’d be ideal 3-4 ends.
Watch Out For … Castelman. He was a late signee, and a big one. A star basketball player, even for his size, he’s athletic, strong, and has the ability and potential to become a devastating interior pass rusher. With his drive and motor, he wants to get into the mix right away.
Strength: The ends. Now that Jones and Blatnick will each get a full-time job and they’ll each try to fly in from the outside. 266-pound Davidell Collins and 242-pound Ryan Robinson can move and could become decent specialists.
Weakness: Defensive tackle experience. The potential is there for a good year if everyone can stay healthy, but the key will be to find a good rotation with help from the JUCO ranks. It might take a little while for everything to come together.
Outlook: It’ll be a good line, and there’s a nice combination of size and athleticism across all four spots, but the depth is thin on experience and the consistency might not be there early on. Line coach Bill Young wants to come up with a steady rotation, but that’s asking a lot right away.
Unit Rating: 7
State of the Unit: After a strong 2010, linebacker is the most up in the air position on the team with last year’s Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and Freshman All American
Shaun Lewis the only definite starter at the hybrid Star position. Part strong side linebacker and part safety, Lewis (5-11, 214, So.) performs is a great fit with a genuine knack for being where the ball is, finishing with 58 tackles, 49 of them solo, with eight tackles for loss. His playmaking ability made the difference in the win over Texas A&M and jumpstarted the Cowboys in the Bedlam showdown against Oklahoma.
Taking over in the middle is Caleb Lavey (6-3, 231, So.), who was the projected starter heading into spring but came out in a dead heat with 25-year-old former Los Angeles Angels minor league prospect
Tyler Johnson (6-1, 237, So.). Both played sparingly last season behind Orie Lemon, with Lavey making ten tackles and Johnson coming up with eight stops.
The weakside spot is even more of a puzzle as Joe Mitchell was moved over late in the spring to bolster the position. Mitchell (6-3, 210, So.) had been at the Star, and finished with five tackles, but now he has to show off his range with more room to move. The trio of
LeRon Furr (6-2, 233, So.), Chris Dinkins
(6-1, 224, So.), and Kris Catlin (6-1, 218, Fr.) were all battling for the spot, with Furr the best options of the lot. He’s very fast and with great range, and he’s tough enough and talented enough to work at any of the three spots.
James Thomas (5-11, 209, Sr.) is the veteran of the corps and was the starter at the Star prior to the expected emergence of Lewis. Thomas still saw plenty of playing time, finishing with 49 tackles with two sacks and a 63-yard fumble recovery for a score against Texas A&M. He traded first team reps with Lewis in the spring and will be in several packages to make sure he’s on the field on a regular basis. With his quickness he should do more as a pass rusher and be better in coverage, but he’s simply a tough, small, undersized hitter.
Sophomore Tyler Johnson will work in the middle behind Lavey after making eight tackles. At 6-1 and 237 pounds he has decent size, and he has the range to work at any of the three positions when needed. 6-1, 224-pound sophomore
Chris Dinkins is a speedster who’ll work on the weakside with the talent and upside to become a dangerous pass rusher.
Watch Out For … Lavey. He’s overdue to be great. At least in practices, he fights through the trash and gets to the ball without much of a problem, and he moves extremely well. He got in the weight room and bulked up, and now it’s time to show why he was considered such a big-time talent who spurned Oklahoma and Notre Dame, among others, to be a Cowboy.
Strength: Strongside linebacker. Lewis and Thomas are both terrific. They might be the team’s two best linebackers, and they have to be on the field at the same time. The coaching staff will find ways to get them both in the mix.
Weakness: Inexperience in the middle and on the weakside. The coaches would rest easier if they knew Johnson, Lavey, or one of the weakside backers became a sure-thing ten-tackle a game performer.
Outlook: In a pinch and if nothing is working, Lewis and Thomas could become starters and someone would fill in the gap at the third spot. Lavey has the upside and potential to be one of the team’s leading tacklers if he can be consistent. All eyes will be on the weakside spot with Furr needing to become a player.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: The OSU pass defense is always going to be a problem yardage-wise. Teams bomb away to try to keep up with the Cowboy offense, and the passing yards pile up, however, all that matters is the pass efficiency defense number. Yes, OSU might have finished 115th in the nation in pass defense, and gave up 276 yards per game, but was 46th in the country in pass efficiency defense. Three starters are back, and the defensive backfield should be solid.
The star of the secondary is Markelle Martin, a 6-1, 192-pound big hitter with 4.4 speed and phenomenal athleticism. One of the nation’s best safeties, the veteran strong safety came up with 55 tackles with three picks and ten broken up passes, getting all over the field in the passing game while providing a huge wallop against the run. How athletic is he? If needed, he could move to corner if he has to. Sophomore
Lavocheya Cooper made eight tackles in his first season, and while he’s not huge at 6-0 and 187 pounds, he can move.
Back at free safety is Johnny Thomas, a speedster who can jump out of the stadium and has the physical ability to hold up against the run. He has excellent range and tremendous speed brought over from the OSU track team, and he has the experience making 25 tackles two years ago and finishing fourth on the team last season with 53 stops with three interceptions and five broken up passes. 6-0, 188-pound sophomore
Daytawion Lowe never got in the mix last season after suffering a shoulder injury, but he has all the talent and all the tools to put up huge numbers whenever he gets a chance. Able to play either safety spot and shine, he’s the total package.
Junior Broderick Brown isn’t all that big at 5-8 and 182 pounds, but he’s one of the best all-around cover-corners in the Big 12 finishing second on the team with 77 stops, with 64 open field tackles, with two picks and eight broken up passes. Also a member of the OSU track team, he has the speed to stay with anyone in the conference, but he has to prove he can hold up after suffering an elbow injury two years ago. Sophomore
Justin Gilbert will also be in the hunt for time after making 18 tackles with a broken up pass. At 6-0 and 193 pounds, he’s bigger than Brown, and he has the versatility to shine as a nickel or dime defender if needed.
Sophomore Devin Hedgepeth is the lone newcomer to the starting mix, but he got one start as a true freshman and showed he could hold his own whenever he was thrown on the field. Not only did he come up with 24 tackles, but he made a sack with two recovered fumbles. A speedster who was a big play wide receiver before switching positions, he’ll be a dangerous nickel and dime back when he’s not at corner. He’ll be backed up by junior
Andrae May, an ultra-athletic corner came up with four tackles with a pick. Originally considered a top safety prospect, he’s more of a natural at corner with great cutting ability and 5-11, 175-pound size. He’s not going to pop anyone, but he’ll turn out to be great in coverage.
Watch Out For … Lowe. A pure ball-hawker who’ll be a guided missile whenever he gets his chance on the field, he might be a backup to start, but he’ll make things happen whenever he gets a chance. He has a knack of being at the right place at the right time to make a play.
Strength: Three returning starters. Martin is an All-America candidate with great leadership abilities and strong all-around talent. Brown is a strong, veteran tackler who doesn’t miss a stop, while Thomas did a little of everything right.
Weakness: Passing yards. Yeah, teams abandoned the run to try to keep up in shootouts, but the Cowboy secondary still gave up way too many yards. OSU allowed 3,586 yards and 24 touchdowns and gave up over 400 yards twice and 250 yards or more five other times.
Outlook: The Cowboys might have given up plenty of yards, but they also came up with more than their share of big plays with 19 picks taking away three against both Oklahoma and Arizona to close out the year, and taking away three against Tulsa and Kansas State with four against Texas A&M. The three returning starters are solid, and Martin is special. The depth isn’t experienced, but the talent is in place.
Unit Rating: 6.5
State of the Unit: Gone is Dan Bailey, who nailed 27-of-31 field goals and was ultra-reliable throughout the year. With great range, he nailed 11-of-13 kicks from beyond 50 yards. The Lou Groza winner will be missed, but fantastic punter
Quinn Sharp has a huge leg and should bang away, too. He sat out the bowl game with an academic problem, but now he’s back to double dip his duties, at least early on, with his main talent as a top punter, averaging a whopping 46.2 yards per kick with 16 fair catches and 15 put inside the 20.
Justin Gilbert is a devastating kickoff returner averaging 26.8 yards per try with two touchdowns, but
Johnny Thomas will get his chances, too, with great speed and the potential to break a big play every time he touches the ball.
Back as the top punt returner is Josh Cooper, who came up with 9.6 yards per punt return with a touchdown. Gilbert will get his shot, too, but
Colton Chelf will be the No. 2 punt return option early on.
Watch Out For … the freshmen. Torrance Carr, David Glidden, Isaac McCoy, and Herschel Sims all have experience returning punts and kickoffs, and all will be hungry to prove they can provide some flash in their first season. The OSU return game is great, and the newcomers will bring even more pop.
Strength: The punting game. The return game is among the best in the country, but it’s Sharp and the punting that’s truly special. He can blast away out of jams and is great at putting the ball inside the 20.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The Cowboys weren’t great in punt coverage, allowing 9.2 yards per try, but they were disastrous on kickoff returns allowing 27.4 yards per return and three scores.
Outlook: As long as Sharp is strong on kicks from 45 yards and in, the special teams will be fine. The punting game will be stellar, the return game strong, and Sharp will turn out to be fine on field goals. If the coverage team can be a bit stronger, then the special teams will be a major plus.
Unit Rating: 8
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