Spring Review: Defensive Line

Did you like that word used in the title, dominant? Head coach Mike Gundy, defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements and especially defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer would likely prefer that word be used only after the proof is in the performance. But what is the spring and summer without a little hype, especially when it is felt that hype is deserved.

When you lose a warrior and a battler at defensive tackle like a Calvin Barnett you tend to think there will be a drop off on the defensive line because, quite honestly, Oklahoma State has not come by quality defensive tackles easily in recent years.

There have been a number of players remembered fondly at the position for overachieving because they were undersized or some were not particularly talented but great effort guys. However, those big, strong, athletic guys that patrol a gap and don't let anything through it then use a cat-like pounce to pursue a sack or tackle for loss have been hard to come by at times in Stillwater.

Those times have changed. Barnett not only played well but he trained his partner in James Castleman, an even more gifted athlete, to lead and play as he did. Castleman is an excellent athlete who while being recruited showed off in basketball with an acrobatic slam dunk that Gundy saw and then said, let's get him and then suggested that it was time to go eat.

Castleman has been awesome for the Cowboys, and improved every season. His abilities are really good and his care factor is even better. Castleman has no limit and he can be as good as he wants to be. The fantastic thing is that he wants to be really good.

Add junior college transfer Ofa Hautau, who was the third wheel at the position last season. He should be improved in his second season at this level. Ofa is very strong and very loyal and determined. He is a classic Tongan player in attitude and ability. Team and family have similar meanings to him. Talk to the OSU offensive linemen and they will tell you he is no fun to try to block.

Now serving the role of understudies and rotation players at defensive tackle are a pair of redshirt freshmen that are coming along fast. Vincent Taylor is 6-3, 290 athletic and plays with a mean streak. Ben Hughes is bigger at 6-3, 310 and is very strong.

Both have lots to learn but have the basic talents and the work ethic to get good in a hurry and they are already well into the progress. Eric Davis is a sophomore that is 6-3, 290 and is also rapidly improving.

It's no wonder that middle linebacker Ryan Simmons, who sees the defense overall as a unit and knows how much good play in front helps both he and his fellow linebackers and the secondary do their jobs, really likes what he has seen out of the defensive line.

"We have a lot of guys on the defense and the defensive line who are pretty experienced," Simmons said during the spring. "They are going to do some good things for us this year. There are a lot of guys with really good size who can move and put good pressure on the quarterback."

When the middle caves in, and it will or at least the middle of the offensive line could be very occupied, then the defensive ends will create some havoc on the outside.

Just stare at Emmanuel Ogbah. The light clicked on for Ogbah around the final third of last season and he began making plays, finishing with 20 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, and 4.0 sacks. Ogbah is now 6-4, 270 and he is intimidating. He looks like a different player, and that 270 is not soft at all, but this guy is ripped.

Athletic and knowing what he can do with his strength and quickness, Ogbah is a real nightmare for an offensive tackle.

Add to Ogbah the group of speedy Jimmy Bean, Sam Wren ready for a second season out of junior college, the experience of Trace Clark, and Vili Levini, a young redshirt freshman who is 6-3, 270 and looking a little like Ogbah, and you have a really talented defensive end depth chart. Keep an eye on Levini because in some situations you could see him inside at tackle pushing the quickness of opposing guards and centers.

This group really is a little scary for the other side. Last season they had 25 sacks and 95 tackles for loss. I could see the first number doubling, even in the spread and quick release world of the Big 12 Conference. Then I could also see 150 tackles for loss. They will greatly assist the younger back end of the defense and force opponents to do some things they really don't want to.

The motto for the summer is stay healthy and keep working. If they do both, then Gundy, Spencer and Clements just might help sing the chorus to the hype once the season gets rolling and the hype turns into performance.

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