Spring Football: Defense Bounces Back

STILLWATER – The Cowboys bounced back from their first week of spring practice and a 59-play scrimmage on Friday with a two hour, 45 minute practice on the grass practice fields east of Gallagher-Iba Arena on Monday. As a scant 20 to 25 onlookers watched the Cowboys went through a drill-oriented practice that installed more of the offense and defense. There was also plenty of skills work as the passing game got a good run through in both 7-on-7 and one-on-one drills.

There was also work on the run offense and run defense with an inside drill, and the offensive linemen and defensive linemen got together for some one-on-one pass protection work.

After practice head coach Mike Gundy met with the media with many of the early questions having more to do with the review of the video of last Friday's scrimmage, which saw the offense break a couple of big plays early and overall control the tempo and have a more successful first scrimmage outing than the defense.

"Obviously, defensively we didn't tackle well," Gundy said of his review of the Friday scrimmage. "Offensively, we executed better in the system for the second year and took care of the ball. We still make some mistakes because our second team center is a freshman right now. At times he's in there with a freshman quarterback and there are some mistakes. As coaches we have to take into consideration what is going on out there.

"Overall, it was pretty good offensively but we still have a ways to go. When you see it on tape you see some technique errors, footwork, and hand placement and some depth on some routes and things like that that you can zero in on and come out and practice today and improve on. We executed about 50 percent of our offense and we'll have the rest in after the next two practices. Throw it all at them and let them go make some plays."

The defense bounced back in Monday's practice. In the 7-on-7 drill Alex Odiari had an interception that he returned some 30 yards the other way. In the one-on-one work there were several interceptions. During the two team periods, which included more work on the running game than passing attack, the defense showed up with some big plays, including defensive end Darnell Smith with a big hit in stopping Julius Crosslin for a short gain.

Defensive tackle Ryan McBean and strong safety Donovan Woods combined for a sack on quarterback Al Pena. Nose tackle Larry Brown disrupted a pass play with a quarterback pressure on Pena, and Brown later had a sack on Pena. Cornerback Martel Van Zant just missed an interception off freshman quarterback Alex Cate, and on the next play defensive ends Victor DeGrate and Darnell Smith met Cate together for a sack. In the second team period DeGrate and Woods each added another sack, and freshman linebacker Chris Collins recovered a bobbled pitch by running back Calvin Roberts.

"It was a better day today by the defense," said Gundy. "I was glad to see that they practiced with more intensity today. The scrimmage the other day, the offense hit them with big plays early and nobody showed any leadership on that side of the ball by stepping up and making sure they played with intensity the next 50 plays. Today they played with some intensity and stopped the run and made some plays, so I was pleased to see that."

Still the defense has a long way to go to make defensive coordinator Vance Bedford happy. Defense is a work in progress with so many young players manning the back half of the defense.

"The thing that concerns me is what we focus on the first few days of practice alignments and assignments, and we did a very poor job of that (last Friday)," said Bedford. "That is something we talked about the other day and we also talked about tackling in pads and how to get off blocks. We didn't do much movement and we just lined up, played technique and said here we are. We are going to teach them how to get off blocks, just how to play the game of football. That's where we are right now, we are a long way off. It's just like keep I telling coaches, there are checkers and there are Chinese checkers and right now we are playing Chinese checkers. We have a long was to go."

The offense had its moments in their work, which was primarily on the running and short passing game. Hamilton broke off a 20-yard run on a quick counter action. Bobby Reid completed an 11-yard pass to fullback John Johnson. The fullback was not thrown a pass in the Friday scrimmage, but coaches say Johnson will play a major role in the passing game next season. Zac Robinson had impressive back-to-back completions in hitting Adarius Bowman over the middle for a 15-yard gain and then hit running back Julius Crosslin on a screen that went 30 yards. Freshman Alex Cate also had a nice completion downfield to Tevin Williams for close to 20 yards.

The Cowboys will work more on installing offense and defense on Wednesday and the defense will work on tackling drills in preparation for another progress check on Friday with a major scrimmage, close to 100 plays. Practices both Wednesday and Friday will begin at 3 p.m. and are open to the public. The Wednesday practice and Friday scrimmage are both scheduled for the grass practice fields unless weather dictates a switch to the stadium.

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