Tuesday in Indianapolis the NFL Scouting Combine got under way and by Thursday former Oklahoma State defensive tackle Vincent Taylor, an early departure after his fourth-year junior season, will have had his physical and will have gone through several interviews with NFL teams. You know he will have been in a room with their coaches, scouts, and front office administrators. Taylor could very well be finishing up another off-season with Oklahoma State strength coach Rod Glass and his staff, preparing for the start of spring football next Monday. Cowboys defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer would love to have him, but as Spencer, going into his seventh season as either co-coordinator or coordinator of the defense in Stillwater, told me that is part of what he expects each spring. He and his staff have to answer questions about the recently departed.
“When I’m thinking about spring ball, I’m thinking about who has to come on, who has to take the next step? Who has to be the playmakers? I’m thinking about who has to replace this guy or that guy? You have different combinations, different things that could happen that could allow us to take the next step and be really good,” Spencer said. “There are things that could happen that could make it really hard to get things done.”
The whole situation with Taylor’s early departure is part of that term of things that happen. Pile on to that Motekiai Maile, the Cowboys other starting defensive tackle was a senior and the heart of the defensive line is being replaced. Both players, Taylor and Maile were very active. They made a lot of tackles, influenced a lot of plays and tied up offensive double teams to give the defensive ends and pressuring linebackers opportunities.
At the tackle position, along junior Darrion Daniels, who has played well since his true freshman season, is back. DeQuinton Osborne is 5-11, 310 pounds, but ultra-quick and if he can be more assignment sound will find the field more. It is time for Taaj Bakari to mature and pick up more responsibility and senior Ben Hughes is another possibility. Red-shirt freshman Cameron Murray will get a chance to show what he can do.
“We have a couple of important guys that are coming off of injuries that could be a big factor in (Jordan) Brailford and Vili (Leveni),” Spencer injected.
Yes, Leveni is talented and if he can stay injury free is likely a starter at defensive tackle. Now, Brailford at defensive end would really help after sitting out most of last season with a calf injury that he had surgically bolstered on his other leg his freshman season.
Brailford could be really important because a couple of the returning defensive ends, guys that played big in the strong defensive effort against Colorado in the 38-8 Alamo Bowl win may wind up inside at defensive tackle. Trey Carter and Jarrell Owens have become bigger. Carter has always hovered toward tackle size and now Owens is weighing close to if not over 290 pounds. That helps at tackle, but makes defensive end depth slim.
Cole Walterscheid and Tralund Webber are both back and after that it could come down to incoming freshman Brock Martin being ready early. Martin has said he would welcome that.
Spring will be a time where Spencer and defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements will need to check size and space and make it work. There could be some unique combinations.
“Spring is exciting because you can kind of experiment with a few things,” Spencer added. “I have to challenge the staff to challenge these guys and get up in their grill, you know, coach them hard, love ‘em up hard, and get them ready to make a run at this thing next year.”
On the defensive line, finding balance will be the key. It may mean a salad table for some at the training table. It could also mean waiting for incoming recruits like defensive tackles Fua Leilua (Snow C.C.), Enoch Smith (Butler C.C./Michigan State), and Brendon Evers (Bixby H.S.) to arrive.
It would be nice to have the answers before the end of spring. We’ll see if that happens.