Secondary An Emphasis For Cowboys

STILLWATER - Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy loves to get into a routine. With this the sixth day of camp it is a time when Gundy hopes his team is adapting to a grinding routine that will prepare them for the start of the season and initially for a season opener at AT&T Stadium against defending national champion and the top-ranked team heading into this season in Florida State.

Wednesday the Cowboys were in full pads for the second day in camp. The practice schedule and routine has been consistent since Sunday when the team added shoulder pads to the helmets and shorts.

Those periods include special teams period, lots of positions drills, installation on both sides of the ball against scout teams, inside drill, one-on-one passing drill, pass protection, seven-on-seven, and a team period.

Today for the first time the Cowboys ventured off the turf fields in the Sherman Smith Center and immediately adjacent to the indoor facility to the grass fields for work. Those grass fields are in excellent condition.

The practice went for close to two hours, as have most of the practices.

"It went OK," cornerbacks coach Van Malone said after the practice. "At the end of the day, we have a lot of guys that we’ve got to see in different places; that we have to stress in different ways and that’s happening, so it went well. We’re excited about tomorrow.

"Coach Gundy says that if we can just be a little bit better than we were today, tomorrow, then we’ll be OK."

The secondary is a vital area for the Cowboys in developing as they lost three out of four starters from a year ago, including Cleveland Browns first-round draft choice Justin Gilbert and Daytawion Lowe, who is in the Philadelphia Eagles training camp.

The one returning starter is cornerback Kevin Peterson, who some assistant coaches in the Big 12 recognized as one of the best cover men in the league. Malone points to him as a cornerstone of the new Cowboys secondary.

"He’s one that, since he’s been here, he’s worked," Malone said. "He’s a guy who studies himself, who wants to be perfect on his technique, and at that position, it’s so technique driven that you have to have a guy who has that kind of emphasis.

"When you watch the young guys, they’re not there yet in those terms. We’re excited that he is and has been so focused and it starts to show as you continue to go through camp. He has some plays that they make on him, but overall you can count on him.

"We’ve been able to count on him as coaches to be consistent, playing the proper technique, playing the proper assignment. Next we’re going to keep driving him to be able to create turnovers, make big plays for the defense."

Peterson is not the only older guy in the mix and, honestly, Peterson is still fairly young as a true junior this season. Back at safety Larry Stephens returns from a knee injury that took place in the opening game of the season against Mississippi State.

With the trio of young safeties ranging from 6-3, 190-pound Tre Flowers, big hitter Jordan Sterns, and dependable Deric Robertson, Stephens return has kind of been forgotten. He is back and will play a lot and provides valuable leadership at the position. He has shown that throughout camp workouts so far.

"Basically, I have to be the leadership of all the safeties," said Stephens, a fifth-year senior out of Galena Park North Shore High School in Houston. "I'm just out there showing all my examples to those young guys. Action-wise, I have to be there because I'm not much of a talker. Whenever they have questions I give them the best advice on what to do to improve their game."

As far as those young bucks at safety, they know they are the future. Sterns and Robertson were prepared some last season as they played as freshmen on special teams and were able to get some work in at safety. Flowers redshirted but he had a strong spring with a lot of reps to prepare for this fall. The coaches love his 6-3 frame back there at the safety position.

"My spring I was really focusing on trying to make my team better," Flowers explained. "I wasn't selfish, but I was working on my feet and watching a lot of tape. Through my spring I felt that I did really good."

"I think our styles kind of compliment each other a little bit," Robertson said. "Tre is more the longer, kind of rangy guy. Jordan is kind of the hitter, and I'm the combination of the two. All of our playing styles kind of compliment each other to help the defense."

The three young safeties are close. Flowers and Sterns were rivals in high school with Flowers at Converse Judson and Sterns at Cibolo Steele in Texas.

"There is comfort, and we were roommates too," said Sterns. "We were rivals in high school and we beat them every time we played them. We all got here and really clicked pretty good. I've learned film study is really critical in preparing for the game."

These young safeties will have to play and play a lot in the opening game, and they will be staring down a returning Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Jameis Winston of the Seminoles.

"You are working your hardest every day and you know it is going to pay off," Flowers said. "Hopefully, that day will be against Florida State."

The young and old have mixed well. Stephens, as mentioned, is a veteran. Even though he was somewhat forgotten coming into the season he has a strong attitude, even a "mother hen" approach to helping the younger guys.

"Just a little bit, but my mindset was just to get back in the offseason. I wanted to have a good offseason of workouts and good summer workouts," he said. "I wanted to be the best that I could and be really good in my comeback."

Now with the younger guys that have shown improvement from the spring and seemingly are following the Gundy request of being better each day. They have a lot of pride and their competitive spirit with each other is strong.

I asked each of three, who has the mean streak? Who is the best looking of the trio?

"I think we all have a mean streak in us," Sterns said. "I think we are all prepared to pump guys."

Robertson disagreed, he pointed directly back at Sterns for that honor. "When Jordan gets mad you better look out," Robertson said. "I feel sorry for anybody that gets in his way when he is mad because Jordan is going to try to clean your clock."

The best looking honors were more selfish in nature. "I have to say myself on that, I'm the best looking," Sterns said.

"No. I'm the best looking. The tall guy is always the best looking," Flowers threw out there.

"I'm going to say myself but that is a confidence thing," Robertson said before being the most considerate of the trio. "I will also say I think all three of us look good."

Gundy, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, and safeties coach Tim Duffie are hoping they all share that view as the 2014 season progresses.


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