2007 Oklahoma State Preview - Defense

Posted Aug 7, 2007

Preview 2007 Oklahoma State Cowboys Defense

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 Oklahoma State Preview | 2007 OSU Offense Preview 
2007 OSU Depth Chart | 2006 CFN OSU Preview 

What you need to know:
If nothing else, the defense was certainly interesting with an aggressive style that produced a ton of sacks, plenty of tackles for loss, and gave up too many big plays. New defensive coordinator Tim Beckman will tone things down a little bit while still taking the fight to the offense. The back seven will be terrific with a fantastic linebacking corps, even with top middle man Rodrick Johnson playing end and star Chris Collins trying to get through knee and off-the-field problems, while the secondary will strong as long as injuries don't hit the safeties. Experience on the line, especially at tackle, will be an issue early on, but the starting ends, Marque Fountain and Nathan Peterson, will be all-stars.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Andre Sexton, 79
Sacks: Nathan Peterson, 8
Interceptions: Perrish Cox, Martel Van Zant,  Donovan Woods, 2

Star of the defense: Sophomore LB Chris Collins*
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior DT Jeray Chatham
Unsung star on the rise: Junior CB Jacob Lacey
Best pro prospect: Collins
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Collins, 2) SS Andre Sexton, 3) DE Marque Fountain
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, cornerback
Weakness of the defense: Defensive tackle experience, safety depth

*If Collins is healthy and available.

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
Most lines would be in trouble after losing major producers like starting ends Victor DeGrate and Darnell Smith, but OSU keeps rolling along with two talented pass rushers in seniors Marque Fountain and Nathan Peterson. Fountain, a former linebacker, was finally healthy and turned into a fantastic reserve in the rotation making 35 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. A good sized 260 pounds, he's a consistent run stopper with a quick burst off the line.

Peterson overcame a torn ACL and a variety of other injuries and showed what he could do when healthy finishing second on the team with eight sacks, 12 tackles for loss, and 28 tackles. While not the rock against the run that Fountain is, he's a high-motor player who's always doing something disruptive.

280-pound junior Jeray Chatham might turn out to be the team's most important defensive player taking over on the nose for Larry Brown. The former offensive lineman has gotten his feet wet over the last two seasons playing sparingly, but he needs to make a huge jump to be the anchor the rest of the line can revolve around. The effort has been there in off-season practices; now the production has to come.

Senior Maurice Cummings made five tackles as a little used backup last season despite being healthy for the first time in over a year. While not a space-eater, the 6-4, 265-pounder is quick enough to grow into a playmaker in the backfield.  

Projected Top Reserves: The starters should be fine, the depth will be an issue. Inside, junior Tonga Tea needs to play like the JUCO All-American who clogged the middle for Snow CC. The Anchorage. Alaska native is 320 pounds and a perfect fit for the nose behind Chatham.

290-pound Jonathan Lewis, a big-time recruit for the program, will get the first look behind Cummings, but he has little experience making two tackles in three games last season.

Top middle linebacker Rodrick Johnson spent time in spring ball working at end and could become a key player in the rotation if he doesn't go back to his old position.

Redshirt freshman Shane Jarka will be a good end with a little bit of experience. The 6-4, 260-pound redshirt freshman will be a bigger option behind Peterson on one site, while 265-pound sophomore Derek Burton will start out behind Fountain. Jarka and Burton don't have to be superstars right away, but they have to be able to step in and prove they can get to the quarterback.

Coming in this fall is Richetti Jones, the team's top recruit. He's a 6-4, 240-pound pass rushing machine.
Watch Out For ... Fountain and Peterson to be even more productive than Darnell Smith and Victor DeGrate were. Talent-wise, they have the ability to be the Big 12's most dangerous pass rushing duo; the only question is their past health issues. Now that they've had a year in the rotation after finally shaking their injuries, they should be incredible.
Strength: Getting into the backfield. Everyone along the front is quick and everyone is able to create pressure. This is a smallish, athletic front four with the potential to wreak plenty of havoc.
Weakness: Depth. OSU should be able to replace all four starters without a problem, but the backups are going to need a little time to develop. A plague of injuries at tackle early on could be devastating.
Outlook: It'll be a good line, but nothing special missing the big bodies of last year's front four. OSU should be able to rebuild in a hurry as long as everyone stays healthy early on. Fountain and Peterson will likely combine for 20 tackles, but the real concern is how everyone will hold up against the run. At least for the first few games, the front four will likely have to focus on holding up, especially in the opener against Georgia, and won't be able sell out as much as the coaching staff might like.
Rating: 6.5


Projected Starters
A very good linebacking corps could potentially get even better by the start of the season if sophomore Chris Collins returns to the outside, as expected, after a nasty knee injury that knocked him out of the last seven games. He's 6-2, 235 pounds, lineman-strong, and fast, fast, fast with 31 stops, a blocked punt, a sack, and two broken up passes in just over five games. As long as his knee holds up and he has the same speed and range, he'll be on the All-Big 12 short list. Realistically, considering the severity of the injury, he likely won't be all the way back to form until at least halfway through the year. His bigger issue could be an off-the-field problem involving an alleged sexual assault of a 12-year-old in 2004. He pleaded not guilty, but the case could go to trial.

Until Collins is back to 100%, OSU will be more than fine with Jeremy Nethon on the outside. While not as big, fast or talented as Collins, Nethon did a great job of filling in over the second half of the season highlighted by a sensational 11-tackle game against Alabama in the Independence Bowl. He bulked up to get to 225 pounds, but he maintained his quickness and got better at wrapping up in the open field. If nothing else, he'll be the first one off the bench in the outside rotation.

6-3, 220-pound Patrick Lavine was second on the team with 70 tackles growing into an all-star as his true freshman season went on. With the range to be like another safety in pass coverage and like an end when he has to get to the passer, he's one of the team's most versatile defenders getting time inside and out with Rodrick Johnson likely moving to the defensive line.

Working on the outside in spring ball was Donovan Woods, the former starting quarterback who turned into a decent free safety making 62 tackles and two interceptions. While he still might go back to the secondary, he appears to be a natural strongside linebacker after bulking up to 225 pounds.  

Projected Top Reserves: Senior Rodrick Johnson was a rock in the middle finishing third on the team with 69 tackles, and 143 stops over the last two years, to go along with two sacks and eight tackles for loss.  He has the speed to play on the outside if needed, but his strength and toughness against the run that makes him tough enough to play on the line, which he might end up doing after spending spring ball working at end. However, he spent time in spring ball playing in place of Nathan Peterson on the end and could end up switching positions permanently.

In the middle rotation will be 240-pound junior Marcus Brown, an Air Force transfer who made 18 tackles including four as a starter against Alabama. While he doesn't have the best range, he's a good hitter who's decent a plugging holes against the run.

In the hunt for a job on the outside is junior Alex Odiari, a 240-pound rock who earned Academic All-Big 12 honors and could eventually grow into a pass rushing defensive end. He saw a little big of starting time and became a nice reserve making 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks.
Watch Out For ... the lineup to change several times throughout the year. Will Collins be able to go physically and legally? Will Johnson permanently move to the line and will Woods really stay at outside linebacker considering how thin the depth is at safety? Expect several different combinations with all being productive.
Strength: Playmakers. There are more than enough good linebackers to go around. No matter who's lining up at each spot, the defense will get production.
Weakness: Consistency. In a perfect world, the linebacking corps would probably be Collins and Lavine on the outside and Johnson in the middle. That trio would be the best in the Big 12, but that's not going to happen for a variety of reasons. With so many variables, will this group find a rhythm?
Outlook: A major concern going into last year has turned into one of the team's biggest strengths with more than enough talent and depth to form a good rotation. Once Collins is healthy, and if he's able to go, this has the potential to be one of the Big 12's better corps with experience, speed, and a boat load of talent no matter who's starting. As a group, it needs to play a bit more disciplined and has to be a bit stronger against the run.
Rating: 8.5 (assuming Collins will be back at some point)

Defensive Backs

Projected Starters
The safety spots are undergoing a little bit of an overhaul with starting free safety Donovan Woods moving to linebacker and junior Quenton Moore taking over the full-time job. While 185-pound Moore isn't the big presence Woods is, he has tremendous talent and great range coming over from a backup corner spot. Now his skills have to translate into production when the ball is in the air after breaking up only one pass to go along with 23 tackles last season.

Returning a strong safety is sophomore Andre Sexton, who quickly grew into one of the team's brightest stars leading the way with 79 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. A smart, big hitter who forced three forced fumbles, he'll get more and more of a national reputation and be in the mix for First Team All-Big 12 honors if he starts to do more against the pass.  

There are several options at corner with the starters to likely change from time to time. The most interesting of the lot, and certainly one of the more fascinating stories in college football, is senior Martel Van Zant, who was born deaf and uses an interpreter on the field. He's a safety-sized 6-1 and 210 pounds with decent speed and packs a big-time wallop when he gets a bead on a receiver. He finished second on the team with 45 solo stops and fourth with 67 total tackles to go along with six broken up passes and two interceptions.

While he won't be a sure-thing shut-down corner, he's close. On the other side will likely be junior Jacob Lacey, who has the potential to be the team's best coverman. Small but very fast, he made 48 tackles and broke up five passes but didn't pick off a pass. That'll change this season.  

Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Perrish Cox and junior Calvin Mickens are each good enough to start at corner. Mickens, at 6-2 and 200 pounds, can also play safety and will see time in nickel and dime packages. He has the experience all over the secondary to become a key reserve. Cox is a burgeoning star coming off an impressive 24-tackle, two interception, five broken up pass true freshman season. With the most talent of anyone in the secondary, it's just a matter of time before his speed and 6-1, 185-pound size gets him a starting job. As good as he was defensively, he was more known for his kick returns averaging 23.8 yards per try highlight by a 98-yard touchdown against Missouri State.

Safety depth is a bigger issue relying on senior Clint Coe and junior Ricky Price, two major question marks. Price is a former wide receiver who's still learning how to handle himself at safety. He has the tools and could quickly become a key part of the rotation. Coe saw little time last season only making one tackle and likely won't be more than a little used backup.
Watch Out For ... the coaching staff to get creative with the safeties. Moving Woods to linebacker left safety awfully thin and particularly vulnerable if injuries hit Moore or Sexton. Look for the corner and safety parts to be relatively interchangeable.
Strength: Cornerback. With four terrific options to go with, there will be a solid rotation with all four seeing plenty of time in several spots. Under fire, the backup corners could become backup safeties just to get them on the field.
Weakness: Interceptions. OSU only picked off five passes in 2005 and got ten last year. For a defense that does everything possible to force turnovers, the secondary has to come up with more game-changing takeaways.
Outlook: OSU's defensive design is to do whatever's necessary to get pressure into the backfield and generate plays by being aggressive up front. Unfortunately, that leaves the defensive backs on an island and extremely vulnerable. While things will change up a little but under Beckman, the secondary will still be counted on to survive under the stress. This veteran group should be up to the task as long as the safeties play well without Woods to rely on.
Rating: 6.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
The kicking game will be among the best in America with the return of juniors Jason Ricks and Matt Fodge. Fodge had a nice true freshman as the starting punter, but instead of hanging the ball up in the air and going for direction, he started to air it out a bit more as a sophomore and became an All-American averaging 44.9 yards per kick putting 14 inside the 20. He has a huge leg and can pin teams deep from almost anywhere on the field. Ricks came back from missing 2005 with an injury and connected on ten of 12 field goal chances missing from 42 and 40 yards. He has the leg to bomb away from 50+ if needed, and now will take over the kickoff duties from Bruce Redden.

Cornerback Perrish Cox is a fantastic returner averaging 12.8 yards per punt return and 23.8 yards on kickoff returns last year.
Watch Out For ... Ricks to get more chances to bomb away. He has enough of a leg to consistently hit anything inside 50 yards, and now he'll likely get the shot to try from well beyond.
Strength: The kickers. Ricks and Fodge are among the most reliable, consistent kickers around with big legs and plenty of experience. It'll be a shock if they each don't end up on a few All-America lists by the end of the year.
Weakness: The coverage units. This will be a work in progress after allowing a whopping 14.4 yards per punt return and 21.2 yards on kickoff returns. Fodge occasionally outkicked the coverage and might have to sacrifice a few yards to increase the net output. With kickoffs starting from the 30, Ricks has to get everything into his boots.
Outlook: If the coverage units improve just a little bit, OSU might have the nation's best all-around special teams. A little more help for Perrish Cox in the return game would be nice, but that's nitpicking.
Rating: 9


Related Stories
2007 Oklahoma State Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 3, 2007
2007 Oklahoma State Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 3, 2007
2007 Oklahoma State Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Apr 3, 2007

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