Cowboys Depth In Focus: Safeties

One of my very favorite trends is to see a coach switch sides of the football. Think about it, a good defensive line coach should know what it takes to be a good offensive linemen. A good receivers coach ought to be a pretty good defensive backs coach after teaching them how to use fundamentals to beat corners and safeties, he should be able to teach defensive backs how to cover receivers.

I remember a couple of seasons after Jimmy Johnson came to Oklahoma State he went to his defensive coordinator and good friend Pat Jones and asked Jones to move over and coordinate the offense. I remember at the time wondering why Johnson was doing it. It turned out to be a key progression toward Oklahoma State improving and Pat Jones being better equipped to become the very successful head coach that he turned out to be for the Cowboys.

This spring Dan Hammerschmidt, who likes to go by "Hammer," made a return to defense. Hammer had played safety in college at Colorado State after being a widely recruited quarterback out of the San Diego area in high school. He came out of school and started his coaching career on defense, but now after moving over to coach wide receivers in 1996 at his alma mater, 19 years later the Hammer is back on defense.

"I agree, I think it is good to move over to the other side of the football in coaching," Hammerschmidt said after coming to OSU from Houston where he coached running backs in a spread style offense. "There's some truth to being able to switch sides and help the other understand and prepare for, in this case for me, offense. I'm comfortable coaching defense because that is where I started."

Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is comfortable with Hammer as he told us that he will put the veteran coach up in the booth this next season to be his eyes during the game. Hammerschmidt's experience coaching offense will help greatly in that duty as he communicates to Spencer what he is seeing out of the offense with that "video game" type of view.

Now as for coaching the safeties, Hammerschmidt inherited a mixed group that includes a young but veteran player in Jordan Sterns at the free safety and some young pups to go with him. A huge bonus and a player that has quickly made himself at home at safety is track-caliber speedster Jerel Morrow, who moved from cornerback.

"I think a pleasant surprise is Jerel Morrow has showed up," Hammerschmidt said. "I think Dylan Harding is growing up. Obviously, (Jordan) Sterns has been solid. He's a rock back there. Tre Flowers has caused a lot of turnovers. He's getting a lot of points on the board.

"I think we're making progress. I think there's some good competition. I think especially at the strong safety position we have competition, and then we have a bunch of new guys coming in (this summer)."

Sterns agrees with his coach as he is seeing the younger players advance and get better. The cornerback position is so deep and talented that if the safeties can make progress toward that then Oklahoma State could have one of the most talented secondary in the Big 12.

"It's a whole new dimension. Last spring I came in and I was nervous and messing up coverages, things that young guys do," Sterns said toward the end of spring practice. "This spring I just feel like everybody is together. We've played together. Pretty much everybody on our defense is coming back so I think we're just playing better as a whole."

"I think we're pretty deep at first string and second string, but no one is a starter right now so we're all fighting," said strong safety Tre Flowers, who started six games last season and had three tackles in the spring game for the White team. Morrow, his competition, had seven tackles for the Orange team.

Forcing turnovers is an emphasis for the whole defense, but a characteristic that can help with that is the micro goal for the safeties, according to Hammerschmidt.

"Physicality. It's all Coach Gundy wanted to talk about when we all got here, and I believe in that and I think we all believe in that," Hammer added. "The only way you get to the top of the mountain is being more physical than the other guys and practicing that way and hitting people and creating a physical mentality. I think that's all of ours goal."

It's so much easier to be physical when you are confident in what you are doing.

"I'm getting more of the game down, knowing what everybody is doing," Sterns added. "This was my second spring, I felt more in control of things and more of a leader."

Here's a look at what I think the depth chart might look like at safety going into fall camp in August:
Free Safety
13 Jordan Sterns, 6-1, 205, Jr., Cibolo (Steele), Texas
16 Deric Robertson, 6-2, 205, Jr., Killeen, Texas
4 Dylan Harding, 6-2, 190, So., Jenks, Okla.
25 Matthew Newsome, 5-11, 190, RS-Fr., Sugar Land (Clements), Texas

Strong Safety
11 Tre Flowers, 6-3, 190, So., Converse (Judson), Texas (or)
5 Jerel Morrow, 6-0, 190, So., Emporia, Kan.
11 Tre Roberts, 6-2, 202, RS-Fr., Aldine (Eisenhower), Texas

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