Spring Football: Defense Starts Up The Middle

Each year when the Oklahoma State spring practice schedule is released, the list that goes out to high school coaches, recruiting prospects and media includes a disclaimer that states the schedule can change. It encourages potential visitors to call the football office to verify that the day's practice scheduled hasn't changed.

If weather is a consideration, then you can officially consider that disclaimer void. With winter conditions blowing in with a storm overnight, the wind and rain was joined by temperatures that topped out in the high 30s, so what better day than Wednesday to postpone and wait for sunshine and a temperature close to 50 on Thursday?

That was not the case Wednesday as head coach Mike Gundy encouraged his team to take advantage of adverse conditions that could always pop up next November when the Cowboys hope to be driving toward a Big 12 Championship.

The Cowboys went through a two-hour practice inside Boone Pickens Stadium that could possibly serve as a prep for a scrimmage on Friday.

There as a lot of the enthusiasm going around and directed at next season stemming from the changes on defense with new coordinator Glenn Spencer. Spencer has been careful not to boast about the defense.

Some of that went on last season and the Cowboys fell short of the preseason enthusiasm on that side of the ball. Spencer isn't talking prowess on defense just yet, instead he is more about philosophy in the changes.

"Now we've got 10 practices in, so now most of the installation is done and you can see it working through the guys' minds. Maybe the first few practices the guys were slow because they were thinking and now you can see them open up more a little bit and play more aggressive," Spencer said of the process of defensive installation. "That's what is really fun right now. They are catching on to what we want."

The base defense is very similar to what Oklahoma State has run in the past but the responses throughout the defense have changed and they've been tweaked to be more aggressive. Getting defensive players to be more aggressive is a natural.

"We're getting that out of them, but we've got a long way to go," added the former Georgia Tech defensive tackle in his playing days that is in his sixth season at Oklahoma State.

Spencer has two sons that play baseball and he fully understands the general sports theory that when it comes to defense you want to be especially strong up the middle, no matter if it is baseball, basketball or football.

Spencer and the Cowboys have that luxury with a really talented senior defensive tackle in Calvin Barnett, a senior and three-year starter at middle linebacker Caleb Lavey, and senior free safety Daytawion Lowe.

"You start everything from the inside out, and the philosophy of defense is to get the ball spilled and try to run things down," Spencer said. "The biggest way you get in trouble on defense is giving up big plays up the middle in football or baseball, right? Schematically we have to protect the middle and then after that to let those guys in the middle know what to expect."

Remember Super Bowl 44? The defensive play late in the game was courtesy of a microphone on Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews, who was telling the defensive end in front of him to spill the play and it wound up being a forced turnover that led to the winning score in the game. Matthews was caught on the microphone yelling, "spill it, spill it." Those words could show up this season for Oklahoma State.

"With the scheme that Coach Spencer has come up with the offenses shouldn't be able to do anything else," said Lavey. "We spill blocks and push it out to other linebackers and offenses should not be able to run the ball on us. Then if things go down the way they are supposed to they will spill out to the outside linebackers and we will make big plays."

Lavey is a very smart player and the guy behind him in the defense is also a heady veteran that you could say is pretty smart.

"I say he is smart," said new safeties coach Tim Duffie, who has learned plenty about Lowe since arriving for the second practice of the spring. "The good thing about D. Lowe is he is a good player that wants to be great, and I think he is well on his way to doing so."

Up front, Barnett does not have the Division I mileage of either Lavey or Lowe but his results last season spoke volumes. As for how much better the defense will be, Barnett is taking a wait-and-see attitude. No hype in advance, just results when it's time.

"It's a new team and I hope we can get a lot better," said Barnett. "We won't find out until we get to that first game, but I hope we will be a lot better."

Spring Football Note
Tauaalo Visits Practice
Keller (Central), Texas defensive lineman T.J. Tauaalo and his family were guests at practice on Wednesday. The 6-2, 270-pound Tauaalo has recruiting interest from the likes of Baylor, Kansas State, SMU and UCLA.

He is one of the better players off that Central squad. Last season he had 58 tackles with 29 of those were unassisted. He also had four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Tauaalo caused three fumbles and recovered one. Tauaalo is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated prospect.

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