Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah was the Big 12 sacks leader. He was and is a player that Oklahoma State opponents have to game plan and account for.
Ogbah was creating his usual havoc Monday as the Cowboys went through arguably the shortest practice of the spring so far. Head coach Mike Gundy only had the team out there for an hour and half in full pads from stretch to finish inside the Sherman Smith Training Center.
There have been some players get banged up a little and it is around this time that coaches start getting protective and even antsy about preserving players and preventing injuries. The goal is to keep any players from injuries that could cost them time during the season, and so far it appears the Cowboys have done that.
Remember it was this time last spring that newcomer and junior college All-American linebacker Devante Averette had an injury thought to be minor that turned out to be an torn ACL. You need the work, but you need the players even more. Let's just say it is around this time that coaches get more careful.
Rudolph realizes as well as anybody what the Cowboys have in Ogbah. The 2014 Big 12 leader in sacks with 11.0 sacks and now 15.0 in his career, Ogbah showed how good he was going to be with two sacks in the opener last season against defending Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Jameis Winston and the defending national champion and at the time top-ranked Florida State Seminoles.
Ogbah really never slowed down. He is ultra quick, has good feet, and is just a third-year junior but Rudolph has learned this spring to keep his eyes peeled for number 38.
"Our defensive line and that guy right there, Emmanuel Ogbah, is quite a load to deal with," Rudolph said last week after the Wednesday scrimmage. "(Zach) Crabtree has his hands full every day. It does make a difference going against guys like Ogbah every practice."
Ogbah may be a load and he may have built quite the reputation throughout the conference last season. He was voted the Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year by the coaches in the league. Now, he has set a rather simple goal for himself and it ties right into the team goal of winning the Big 12 championship.
"My goal is to get enough sacks to help my team every game," Ogbah said in quite a matter of frank way.
Ogbah gets his share of credit now, but he isn't worried about it. In fact, the 6-4, 275-pound product of Bush High School in the Houston suburb of Fort Bend likes to be snubbed better. Forget to mention him with the best defensive ends and sack artists in the Big 12 and that is likely to cause him to put the opposing quarterback on the ground a few more times.
"I mean, I don't feel overshadowed because I like to feel like the underdog," Ogbah explained. "That causes me to work that much harder to get better and be the best for my team. I feel like I can be much better.
"I'm older and more experienced now. I have a better work ethic. I'm trying to get to the next level so I'm going to work to be the best that I can be. I just have to keep working and I don't know how much better I can be. I just have to keep working. I give myself 60 percent (of reaching his potential) and I have much more that I can be."
We have already reported several times that the defense is a big reason that the offense is going to improve. The competition and the level of the defense will automatically make that happen, but Ogbah said give the offense and the offensive line some due. They are better.
"Oh yes, oh yes, they have started to give me more of a challenge," Ogbah expressed. "Crabtree is better and Victor (Salako) is a good player, so they challenge me more and they are a lot better. Last year we were short some guys but that new offensive line coach is making them tough, more competitive and they have more fight right now."
Perhaps the biggest change in Ogbah and an area where he has had to push himself is in leadership. You could always count him as one of those leaders by example, but speaking up is new for the strong, silent type of defensive end. He has stretched himself there as a favor to his teammates and to the head coach.
"Definitely because of experience too. I feel like I have to step up and explain to them what goes on around here," Ogbah said. "That is why I speak up more. I don't talk much but he (Coach Gundy) got me on the spot. I had to talk about what it takes to get to the level that we are trying to get. It takes work ethic, dedication, and we have to have it every day in order to get where we want to be."
Ogbah is special and it is possible he is so special that this could be his last season as an Oklahoma State Cowboy. He is very mature physically and his production could demand that he take his earning power in the NFL and head there early.
In fact, before Cowboys fans get disappointed about that possibility just remember it will take another special season to make that happen and that likely means that Ogbah will have met his goal, to get enough sacks to help his team every game.
Ogbah and the rest of the Cowboys will be off on Tuesday and in the countdown of practices left they will be back Wednesday afternoon for practice number 11, leaving four more to go including the April 18 Orange Blitz and spring game.