Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is Georgia-bred through and through. He played defensive tackle in college at Georgia Tech, born in Douglasville, Ga., and played his high school football at Lithia Springs. His first head coaching job was at West Georgia University.
The way Spencer coaches, he should have been from Missouri, because Spencer is a "show me" guy. He wants to see it before he believes it. You can't blame him for that because in this day and age of wide open, spread formation, pass happy football in the Big 12 if you haven't seen it then you probably can't trust it.
Spencer's defense did an interesting rollie-pollie act last season. The first half of the season, largely against lesser talented teams, the Cowboys defense was pretty good. The second half of the season was not as good, from the Texas Tech game on with the personnel losses of middle linebacker Ryan Simmons and defensive end Jimmy Bean and with weak-side linebacker Seth Jacobs and cornerback Kevin Peterson playing with injuries that compromised their play.
As a result players like defensive ends Jarrell Owens and Jordan Brailford, middle linebacker Chad Whitener, weak-side linebacker Devonte Averette, and cornerbacks Darius Curry and Ramon Richards saw more action. That action will pay off and help this season. Personally, I have said the depth and added experience from last season, and talent makes me feel pretty good about a solid defensive effort through the season.
As for Glenn Spencer, it's a new season and he needs to see it.
"It's a new season and I have to see them do it this season," Spencer said going back to the media day at Karsten Creek before camp started. Now there are some exceptions with Spencer, such as preseason All-Big 12 free safety Jordan Sterns. "He's earned that because of how he's worked and how he's dedicated himself to his craft. Everybody on the team respects that."
Spencer has seen a lot of what we are talking about as the defensive tackle position is deeper than it has been. The secondary is also a little deeper than it has been and some of that is the result of playing more players the last couple of seasons. They've had to push younger players like Ramon Richards at corner and Tre Flowers at safety to take over large chunks of playing time. Last season Flowers had 83 total tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and two interceptions. Richards had 15 total tackles but he had two interceptions.
"Now that Ashton is back in competition coming off the spring injury and we've got Ramon Richards, who is experienced, and Darius Curry, who has a little experience, we're in better shape," Spencer said. "Lenzy Pipkins has turned out to be what we hoped and is a nice addition.
"We find out in this league you can't have enough corners, but we don't have enough right now that we feel consistently happy with. We're trying to decide on a couple of young kids to see if they're ready or not and that's a day-to-day evaluation. We have to have a couple of those young guys prove they can help us win."
Back at safety, Spencer acknowledges he has more leadership and trust with the starting pair of Sterns and Flowers, backed up by youngster Kenneth Edison-McGruder, who is becoming much more of a known commodity with his aggressive style of play, and transfer Derrick Moncrief out of Auburn, who is big enough to play linebacker but has safety athleticism and skills.
"Tre Flowers has the same experience that Jordan has, but he's quieter and he's earned the respect of a lot of guys on the team," Spencer said. "Edison-McGruder is becoming more of a known factor with his play and Moncrief is doing the same."
What I like is these guys in the secondary all have their own personalities and the style that makes them unique, but as a group it makes them click.
The former quarterback in high school at Brackenridge in San Antonio, Richards is an honor student that applies his love for math to the field and playing cornerback.
"After a while, it all becomes patterns," Richards said of receiver's routes and defensive coverages. "You get used to seeing certain patterns and applying them. When we're doing nothing, I'll count how many pictures are around or how many people are in here. When I'm bored, that's what I think about. When I'm on the field, counting my receivers and counting my threats. It kind of helps in a sense."
The likely starter back there with Richards, Ashton Lampkin, likes the shape of the secondary and in particular the corner position.
"Ramon Richards has come a long, long way, and he's doing great right now," Lampkin stated. "He's having a very productive fall camp. Lenzy Pipkins is doing very well. Darius Curry is doing well and we have younger guys who are competing as well."
Again, it goes back to the overall leader and that is Sterns, who has told those that will listen that he had a spiritual change in the offseason. He talks openly about his respect and admiration for Spencer, who is also a spiritual person. Sterns talks about how it has made him a better person, a better teammate, and a better leader.
"I feel much better. I come to practice knowing that this is my time to get better and I tell my teammates the same thing," Sterns said of practice. "We only get one opportunity, we have to take advantage of every day, every meeting, every walk-through. We have to act like professionals. I think about the potential every night before I go to sleep. I think about the things I can do to help the team win. That's my biggest focus, doing what I can do to help the team win. Ultimately, I have goals, but my goals can help the team, whether it's interceptions or plays I can make."
Plays that all of the above can make, I believe will make this Oklahoma State defense one of the better ones in years. Those defensive tackles and young ends will help too.