Versatility is the best route to success in the secondary, and new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer will expect to improve that aspect of the play at corner and safety this spring. He has some very suitable candidates to move that direction and boosts the play at safety with the move of Lyndell Johnson to the strong safety position.
The 6-3, 215-pound Johnson will be the biggest player in the secondary for the Cowboys, but he was never able to consistently weigh more than the 220 pounds that coaches thought he might when he arrived and was earmarked for the "star" linebacker spot.
Last season he was an instrumental playmaker on defense but he wasn't able to avoid injuries playing at linebacker and dealing with offensive linemen getting to him. He is definitely athletic enough to play safety and his 28 tackles, two interceptions and involvement in two other turnovers will help.
He will compete at strong safety with returning starter Shamiel Gary (6-0, 210), who finished the season strong but struggled early with getting comfortable in the defense, and with Zack Craig (6-1, 200), who is a huge special teams contributor and a fixture in expanded packages in the secondary.
Something that levels the competition from the start is that all players will be adapting to some new principles on defense. Spencer will make changes. The presence of Johnson should kick up the competitive element and make this a rocking spring with the defensive backs as a whole.
Daytawion Lowe (5-11, 205) is a dependable and physical leader going into his senior season at free safety, and he had 75 tackles, three interceptions and a huge fumble recovery for a touchdown in the bowl win.
Lowe is a stalwart on defense with veterans Larry Stephens (5-10, 185) and Deion Imade (5-11, 205) providing the depth. Walk-on Elliott Jeffcoat (5-10, 185) is a good athlete who will provide additional depth.
It will help to get the new safeties in during the summer and start working them as Lowe, Stephens, Gary, Craig, and Imade are all seniors.
All the heights and weights listed in this story are updated for this spring and are important as if the Cowboys are going to match up better and be more physical in the secondary then size really matters.
There is experience on the corners with Justin Gilbert (6-0, 200) opting to return when many thought he had his eyes on going to the NFL early. Gilbert has all the tools -- size and tremendous speed -- but badly needs to become consistent playing the position.
It appeared he was there in the second half of the 2011 Big 12 Championship season and earning the Defensive Player of the Game in the Fiesta Bowl victory over Stanford as he became one of the few players to pick off a pass from eventual NFL first pick Andrew Luck. However, last season Gilbert regressed and needs a rebound with this spring being the launching pad.
Two young pups that got lots of playing time last season were Wagoner, Okla., product Kevin Peterson (5-11, 185) and Fort Worth, Texas native Ashton Lampkin (5-11, 180). Both are just a shade under 6-0 and both have shown the ability to play physical while being very athletic and fast.
After those three corners comes Miketavious Jones (5-10, 175) and that ends the experience. There should be an urgency among those four to get better and earn playing time. There is talent there, if all perform as you would hope, to develop a solid two deep.
The other corners on the roster for spring are walk-ons. Like at safety, welcoming in the new class can't come soon enough. If for some reason corners coach Jason Jones doesn't get out of the veteran four what is expected then some of those young pups in the 2013 class will get a quick indoctrination throughout the summer and in August.
The hope is that while a little light on numbers the performance will be high and the secondary will play its role in pushing the Oklahoma State defense to being the better unit that Spencer and his staff are aiming for and that Cowboy fans have been hoping for.