Oklahoma State Preview 2006 - Defense
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Posted Jul 31, 2006

Oklahoma State Cowboys Preview 2006 - OSU Defense

What you need to know ... Few teams had to fight through more defensive growing pains than Oklahoma State, and despite the return of plenty of experienced players, the back seven is very, very young and needs another year of seasoning. The line, which should be better after the return of some key injured players, is where the experience is with four senior starters and senior tackle Xavier Lawson-Kennedy rotating in. This group has the depth and talent to be far better against the run, but there needs to be a second pass rusher to help out Victor DeGrate. Most importantly, this group has to force more turnovers after picking off a mere five passes.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Rodrick Johnson, 74
Sacks: Victor DeGrate, 5
Interceptions: Calvin Mickens, Donovan Woods, 2

Star of the defense: Senior DT Ryan McBean
Player that has to step up and become a star: Sophomore CB Jacob Lacey
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman LB Chris Collins
Best pro prospect: McBean
Top three all-star candidates: 1) McBean, 2) LB Rodrick Johnson, 3) SS Donovan Woods
Strength of the defense: Defensive line experience, back seven potential
Weakness of the defense:
Proven run defense

Defensive Line
The OSU line has been on the verge of big things for the last several years, but nothing has happened. Injuries have been the biggest issue, but if tackle Xavier Lawson-Kennedy can get a good year out of his knees and end Marque Fountain and Nathan Peterson are 100% healthy, there's reason to get excited about this group. Ryan McBean and Larry Brown form an excellent tackle pair that'll only be better with Lawson-Kennedy playing when he can. Victor DeGrate appears ready to turn into an big-time end.
The key to the unit: Stop the run. OSU finished dead last in the Big 12 in run defense, but with so much beef and so many good tackles to work with, there's no reason there can't be a huge improvement.

Defensive Line Rating:

Projected Starters
- DE Darnell Smith, Sr. - 25 tackles, 3 TFL
A key backup over the last few seasons, Smith is a smart player with more than enough experience to take over on the left side and be solid. He was used more as a pass rusher in his sophomore season and has the ability to get in the backfield, but at 270 pounds, he's more vital as a run stopper.

- DT Ryan McBean, Sr. - 37 tackles, 3 sacks, 5.5 TFL
McBean might be the Big 12's best unsung tackle. The star JUCO transfer of last season is extremely quick and very active on the inside. After a year of experience, he should be a disruptive force and an even better interior pass rusher.

- DT Larry Brown, Sr. - 9 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL
Brown will rotate with Xavier Lawson-Kennedy getting about half the reps. The former JUCO All-American caw time in every game last year and now needs to use his 295 pounds to be more of a presence against the run. After being more diligent in the weight room and in the conditioning program, he's expected to become a major force.

- DE Victor DeGrate, Sr. - 53 tackles, 5 sacks, 11 TFL, 3 broken up passes, 3 forced fumbles
The former linebacker worked his way up to a solid 250 pounds and became one of the team's best defenders. He maintained his quickness and speed when moved to the line turning into a good pass rusher on the way to honorable mention All-Big 12 honors. It'll be his job to get to the quarterback on a regular basis.

Top Backups
- DT Xavier Lawson-Kennedy, Sr. - 12 tackles, 3 TFL
A superstar recruit for the program four years ago, Lawson-Kennedy hasn't been close to living up to the hype thanks to knee problems that prevent him from being an every down defender. The 6-1, 310-pound senior will end up rotating with Larry Brown and needs to be dominant when he gets his time on the field.
- DE Nathan Peterson, Jr. - 19 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 4 TFL
Peterson came back from a torn ACL only to struggle through a variety of injuries last year. He finally appears to be 100% and should be a terror on the left side as more of a pass rushing threat than Darnell Smith. It'll be a shock if he doesn't end up starting at some point.
- DE Marque Fountain, Jr. - 3 tackles, 1 sack
Never right last year thanks to a slew of injuries, the 6-1, 260-pound junior is healthy and close to becoming a dominant presence in a rotation with Victor DeGrate. He has good quickness to go along with 25 games and 56 tackles of experience.

It's never a positive to have to play true freshmen in key roles, but Chris Collins and Donnell Williams might be worth the growing pains. Rodrick Johnson leads an inexperienced group that has good hitting ability and the potential to be decent if former Air Force Falcon Marcus Brown can shine in the middle and if the true freshmen play like seasoned veterans.

The key to the unit: Overcome the inevitable mistakes by being aggressive. This will be a killer crew next year, but in the meantime, the goal has to be to simply make plays until everyone can figure out what they're doing.

Linebacker Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- Rodrick Johnson, Jr. - 74 tackles, 1 sack, 5 TFL, 3 broken up passes
The 255-pound Johnson has a fantastic combination of size and speed with the experience to be one of the leaders of the defense. He finished second on the team in tackles last season highlighted by a 17-stop game against Texas A&M, and he showed he could be a disruptive force either in the middle or on the outside.

- Marcus Brown, Soph.
Brown started his career at Air Force but was booted out in 2004 coming off a 34 tackle season. He's a huge hitting 240 pounder who should be one of the team's leading tacklers in the middle.

- Chris Collins, Fr.
The true freshman came to school early and appears to be ready to shine for the next four yards on the strong side. He's a phenomenal athlete who's not only one of the team's quickest linebacker, he's one of the strongest.

Top Backups
- Alex Odiari, Soph. - 3 tackles
The 225-pound Odiari saw a little bit of time as a true freshman and should push hard for a starting spot on the strongside along with Chris Collins. He was a heralded high school prospect with great pass rushing ability; he'll find time in the mix somewhere.
- Jeremy Nethon, Jr.
Nethon is back after taking a redshirt year. He made 26 tackles over his first two seasons and should be used more as a pass rusher on the weakside. He's a fast 5-9 and 190 pounds with decent cover skills.
- Donnell Williams, Fr.
The true freshman got to school early for spring drills, but didn't end up playing after undergoing surgery. He's a huge hitter who made 130 tackles in his senior year of high school, and now he'll push for time in the middle behind Marcus Brown.

Defensive Backs
The secondary allowed too many big plays and needs to pick off more passes after taking away a mere five last season. Step one is to figure out the corner situation and deciding whether or not to move Calvin Mickens to a permanent spot at free safety. That means Jacob Lacey, T.J. Bell, and Martel Van Zant have to be stronger in coverage. Former quarterback Donovan Woods could grow into an All-Big 12 caliber safety once he figures out all the subtle nuances of the position.
The key to the unit: Make more big plays. Five interceptions isn't going to cut it, and more broken up passes on third down would be nice.
Secondary Rating: 6

Projected Starters
- CB/S Calvin Mickens, Soph. - 30 tackles, 2 interceptions, 4 broken up passes
Mickens took over early in his true freshman season and became a surprisingly reliable corner. He has the size at 6-2 and 184 pounds to be one of the team's more physical defensive backs, and that's why he might end up moving over to free safety in a full time role after seeing time there this spring.

- FS Andre Sexton, RFr.
Expected to be a part of the mix as a true freshman, Sexton got hurt in practice and redshirted. He's 6-1, 190-pounds and tremendously fast with the potential to be a star on special teams. If he doesn't end up starting right away, he'll be one of the team's top backups behind Calvin Mickens.

- SS Donovan Woods, Jr. - 32 tackles, 2 interceptions, 1 broken up pass, 3.5 TFL
The former starting quarterback looked like a former starting quarterback when he switched over to safety halfway through last year, but he made plenty of tackles and showed good upside. Now the 6-2, 220-pound junior appears to know what he's doing and looks like he'll be in for a huge season. He showed this spring that he's starting to sniff things out quicker and is better at getting in the right position.

- CB Jacob Lacey, Soph. - 14 tackles, 1 broken up pass
The speedy true sophomore got a little bit of starting work last year and was one of the team's best special teamers. He held up well when thrown into the fire against Texas Tech, and now he's expected to grow into one of the team's top corners.

Top Backups
CB Martel Van Zant, Jr. - 26 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 broken up passes
An excellent sized corner with plenty of experience, the 6-2, 205-pound junior could end up starting if Calvin Mickens moves over to safety. He's a tremendous hitter who'll be one of the team's most physical corners.
SS Quinton Moore, Soph. - 11 tackles
Moore saw time in his true freshman season as a reserve safety and showed a little of his potential. He was one of the team's top recruits last season and should see time in nickel and dime situations and in the rotation behind Donovan Woods.
- FS Grant Jones, Sr. - 4 tackles
Able to play where needed, Jones will start out this season as a reserve free safety and could start at corner if things get shuffled around. He has seen time as a kick returner and a running back along with all his time in the secondary.

Special Teams
It'll be an interesting battle for the kicking job with long range bomber Bruce Redden and 2004's top kicker Jason Ricks, who's back from injury, each able to produce. Matt Fodge is a rising star punter who should be in the hunt for All-Big 12 honors before his career is over. The return game wasn't awful, but it could stand to be a big more dangerous Tommy Deveraux will get the first shot at all the duties. The coverage units could be better.
The key to the unit: Improve the return game. If Deveraux turns into a weapon, OSU's special teams will be a strength.
Special Teams Rating: 8

Projected Starters
- PK Bruce Redden, Sr. - 11-14 FGs, 23-24 extra points
Redden had a great year showing off a huge leg with two 52 yarders, but hell have to deal with Jason Ricks for the job. He earned All-Big 12 honors last year and should save the offense when things bog down.
- P Matt Fodge, Soph. - 65 punts, 1,548 yds, 39.9 yards per kick, 20 inside the 20
Fodge had a fantastic true freshman season showing excellent placement and a great leg able to force fair catches without a problem. He's also going to be used occasionally on kickoffs.

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