2012 Oklahoma State Preview - Defense
Oklahoma State CB Brodrick Brown
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Oklahoma State Cowboy Defense
Preview 2012 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: It was one of the biggest myths of the 2011 college football season: the Oklahoma State defense was bad. Wrong. The defense was fantastic, but the stats didn't look great because everyone had to bomb away to have any hope of trying to keep pace. Yes, Andrew Luck was Andrew Luck in the Fiesta Bowl, and great running games were able to pound away, but the Cowboys came up with a whopping 44 takeaways with at least one fumble recovery in every game and at least one pick in every game but the blowout win over Arizona. A pass rush has to emerge from the new ends, and the tackles have to hold up better against the run, but the linebacking corps is loaded with athletic hitters and the secondary, despite the loss of strong safety Markelle Martin, will be among the best in the Big 12.
Star of the defense: Senior CB Brodrick Brown
Tackles: Alex Elkins, 90
Sacks: Nigel Nicholas, 2
Interceptions: Brodrick Brown, Justin Gilbert, 5
Player who has to step up and be a star: Senior DE Cooper Bassett
Unsung star on the rise: Junior SS Lavocheya Cooper
Best pro prospect: Senior LB Alex Elkins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Brown, 2) FS Daytawion Lowe, 3) Elkins
Strength of the defense: Takeaways, Back Seven
Weakness of the defense: Proven Pass Rush, Strong Run Defense
The defensive front did a fantastic job of getting into the backfield, but now it's going to take a few new playmakers to keep the production going. Former tight end Cooper Bassett looks like a natural at one end with 6-5, 259-pound size and terrific athleticism and burst. He made 17 tackles with a sack and four tackles for loss in the rotation, and now he'll work in a combination with 6-3, 269-pound senior Nigel Nicholas, a fast speed rusher for his size with the ability to work inside or out. He started all 13 games at tackle making 35 tackles with two sacks and ten tackles for loss, and now he'll move around where needed.
Starting on the other side will be 6-4, 246-pound senior Ryan Robinson, a JUCO transfer from Jones County CC who worked as a good reserve making 21 tackles with a sack and three tackles for loss. He's a pure pass rusher who could be a specialist, while 6-1, 232-pound junior Tyler Johnson is ready to roll after working mostly on special teams and as a reserve making 29 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. The former baseball player with the Anaheim Angels farm system walked on to the Cowboys and was a key playmaker right away before getting banged up.
The combination of junior Anthony Rogers and Christian Littlehead held down one starting tackle spot and they'll handle the work again, the 6-3, 293-pound Rogers made 21 tackles with a sack and 2.5 tackles for loss. He has the potential to grow into a superior interior pass rusher, while the 6-2, 312-pound Littlehead is a big-time run stuffer used to gum up the works. He's came up with a sack and two tackles for loss, but he's not going to get into the backfield on a regular basis making 16 stops.
6-5, 267-pound junior Davidell Collins might be undersized in the interior, but he's feisty making seven tackles and two tackles for loss as a true freshman. He's an elite athlete for the interior. Adding more bulk against the run is 6-2, 296-pound sophomore James Castleman, a strong prospect with good quickness and athleticism off the ball. He made seven tackles getting his feet wet as a true freshman.
Watch Out For … Bassett. He might not be an all-star pass rusher on the outside, but he knows what he's doing and he appears ready to break out after seeing enough time as a key reserve. Don't be shocked if he leads the team in sacks.
Strength: Athleticism. There might not be much in the way of sure-thing experience, and there are some big losses on the outside, but this group can move. The rotation should be terrific and everyone will be fresh. But now someone has to stuff things up for the …
Weakness: Run defense. The Cowboys didn't get ripped up, but they weren't exactly stout up front getting pounded on by the better lines. Stanford blasted away for 243 yards and three scores and Kansas State ran up 276 yards and four touchdowns. Tulsa ran up and down the field for 365 yards and two touchdowns in the wild shootout.
Outlook: The D line has to replace leading sacker Jamie Blatnick and No. 2 man Richetti Jones. Bassett, Nicholas and Robinson will be solid on the outside, but the interior has to be stronger against the power running teams. The athleticism will make up for the experience problems, but it won't be enough. It will be a decent line, but it won't be a difference maker.
Unit Rating: 7
Junior Caleb Lavey took over the job in the middle and finished third on the team with 74 tackles with a sack and five tackles for loss. The 6-3, 240-pounder was a top recruit for the program a few years ago and is just starting to show why with terrific tackling ability and great smarts and instincts. He's not going to get behind the line on a regular basis, but he'll hold up against the run.
Junior Shaun Lewis flew around last season making 9.5 tackles for loss with 1.5 sacks and 61 stops starting all 13 games on the strong side. At 5-11 and 222 pounds he's not all that big, but he's a fast and athletic playmaker with two picks taking one 70 yards for a touchdown against Iowa State. The honorable mention All-Big 12 performer can do a little of everything, and he has as much experience as anyone on the defensive front seven.
6-3, 222-pound senior Alex Elkins is still learning on the fly after not starting out his football career until he stepped on to the team at Blinn CC, but he was good enough last year to earn honorable mention All-Big 12 honors after finishing second on the team with 90 tackles with a sack and five tackles for loss. A phenomenal athlete, he has defensive back speed and moves as well as any linebacker in the conference working on the weakside.
6-3, 216-pound junior Joe Mitchell is a bit undersized on the strongside, but he can hit making 32 tackles with a tackles for loss. Great in the open field, he doesn't miss a stop. 6-0, 238-pound redshirt freshman Ryan Simmons is a big hitter in the middle who made three tackles in his true freshman season before getting hurt and knocked out for the year. A huge tackler, he was a great recruit for the program and once he's back to 100% he'll eventually be one of the team's top stat-sheet fillers. All the tools are there.
Watch Out For … Elkins. He finished second on the team in tackles on pure athleticism. He's still scratching the surface on what he can become and he's still learning on the fly. One he gets all the subtle nuances of the position, he'll be devastating.
Strength: Experienced tacklers. Time logged in was a concern going into last season, but Lewis, Lavey and Elkins started every game but one, with Mitchell getting the call against Tulsa. Not only is this a veteran group, but it's athletic and still improving.
Weakness: Plays down the field. The linebacking corps can hit and no one's afraid to get dirty, but too many stops against the run came after significant gains. The OSU linebackers had big problems against great rushing quarterbacks. Kansas State's Collin Klein ran for 144 yards and three scores and Iowa State's Jared Barnett cranked out six yards per carry to go along with his 376 passing yards.
Outlook: A big concern going into last year is going to turn into a major positive. The Cowboys have three terrific starters with Lavey, Lewis and Elkins all still coming into their own. As good as they were last year, they should be far better this season with a little more consistency and a bit more toughness against the run.
Unit Rating: 8
The secondary might have given up a slew of yards, but it didn't get beaten up on too many big plays. The star of the show turned out to be junior Daytawion Lowe, a 5-11, 198-pound big hitting free safety who came back after suffering a shoulder injury in 2010 to lead the team with 97 tackles with two sacks with a pick and three forced fumbles. A terrific athlete with all the tools and all the speed to get all over the field, he's a great open-field tackler – he would have finished third on the team on solo stops alone – and he has great range and instincts. With track star speed he's one of the team's fastest players.
Trying to take over for heart-and-soul strong safety Markelle Martin will be junior Levocheya Cooper, a 6-0, 186-pound junior who isn't all that big but he can move. A good special teamer, he made six tackles before getting hurt. Back and ready to go, he should be one of the team's top tacklers and a tone-setter against the pass. He'll combine at the position with Zack Craig, a 6-1, 193-pound junior who turned in a nice year as a key reserve making 20 tackles with a sack. He can work at either safety spot or as a nickel and dime defender.
Is Devin Hedgepeth ready to play? The 5-11, 173-pound junior corner is a special athlete with elite speed and great hands. The former big play wide receiver can get all over the field, but he has to come back healthy after tearing his Achilles tendon. Even if he can't go, the corner situation should be set helped by the return of Justin Gilbert, a 6-0, 194-pound junior who started every game last season making 59 tackles with a team-leading five picks with ten broken up passes. Big and versatile, he grew into the job and should be a key starter in the secondary for another two years.
5-8, 183-pound senior Brodrick Brown isn't all that big but he's a terrific all-around cover-corner following up a 77-tackle 2010 with 68 tackles with five picks and a team-leading 15 broken up passes on the way to First-Team All-Big 12 honors. A member of the OSU track team early in his career, speed isn't an issue and he has been able to fight through the bumps and bruises to hold up despite his size. He'll be backed up by 6-0, 188-pound senior Andrae May, an ultra-athletic defender who went from being a top safety prospect to a solid corner and nickel defender making 19 tackles.
Watch Out For … Cooper. He's the lone new starter to the secondary, and the world is being asked of him to replace Martin at strong safety. He's a great prospect who should be a terrific tackler if he can stay healthy.
Strength: Experienced all-around playmakers. Brown and Gilbert are growing into a solid corner tandem, while Lowe is a terrific talent who'll get more national attention. If and when Hedgepeth is healthy, the secondary will be loaded with athletes who know what they're doing.
Weakness: Lots of yards. It's the Big 12 so almost everyone likes to bomb away, but the secondary still gave up too many yards. There weren't many big plays allowed, but quarterbacks had few problems dinking and dunking on the secondary. However …
Outlook: Don't get caught up in the 3,534 passing yards allowed and focus more on the 15 touchdown passes. Everyone had to keep throwing to try to keep up with the high powered Cowboy offense, and OSU's secondary did a great job of not getting shredded by anyone other than Andrew Luck. Yes, Iowa State's Jared Barnett threw for 376 yards, but he had to throw 60 times. RGIII threw for 446 yards, but it took 51 attempts to do it. This is one of the Big 12's best secondaries, even if the numbers won't always be there to show it. There will be lots and lots of interceptions to make up for all the yards allowed.
Unit Rating: 8.5
The Cowboys didn't punt all that often, but when they did, senior Quinn Sharp was fantastic helping the team led the Big 12 by averaging 46.3 yards per kick. While the eight touchbacks were a bit too many, and the 12 put inside the 20 weren't enough, he's still the best punter in the history of Oklahoma State football averaging more than 46 yards per boot over the last two seasons. This year he'll be one of the favorites for the Ray Guy award. While he's known as a top punter, he was supposed to be a step back from Lou Groza winner Dan Bailey, who hit 27-of-31 field goals. Not only did Sharp produce, but was Bailey-like connecting on 22-of-25 field goals while showing decent range. What he didn't do was blast away from beyond 50 yards like Bailey did, but leg strength isn't an issue with a nation-leading 61 touchbacks. The high-powered offense gave Sharp plenty of chances, but still, to be the best kickoff specialist in all of college football for the last three years, and to put 23 more in the end zone than anyone else last season, is jaw-dropping.
The punt return game was miserable averaging 3.43 yards per try. Justin Gilbert will take over for Josh Cooper, who averaged 3.9 yards per attempt. Gilbert is a quick speedster who can't do any worse. An elite kickoff returner, he averaged 27 yards per try with two touchdowns.
Watch Out For … Gilbert as a punt returner. Too quick and too talented to not to provide more of a boost for the woeful punt return game, he should break out and show he's an elite return man as more than a kickoff returner.
Strength: Sharp. Can he double dip? It wouldn't be a total shock if he turned out to be the nation's best punter and placekicker. With kickoffs starting at the 35, forget about anyone ever to come up with a return against the Cowboys.
Weakness: Coverage teams. Even with Sharp blasting away, the kickoff coverage team gave up 24.2 yards per try with a score while the punt return game allowed 11.1 yards per attempt. OSU got destroyed on punt returns and coverage.
Outlook: Sharp is a special all-around weapon who'll be used even more this year in key spots. Gilbert will be an all-star as a returner in all areas, but the special teams have to be more consistent in coverage.
Unit Rating: 8.5
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