Cowboy Spring Football - Day Four

STILLWATER – The start of the second week of spring football can be a little monotonous. Players settle into a routine and just try to survive the three practices of the week as they anticipate spring break. But that's not the case this year, and especially not on the defensive side of the ball.

New defensive coordinator Tim Beckman was hired off the defensive staff at Ohio State to not only freshen up the Cowboys approach with their 4-3 defense, but also to push the energy level of the Oklahoma State defenders.

As the players came out for the Monday practice inside Boone Pickens Stadium, the second practice in full pads, they were jumping around acting like they had been waiting all weekend for the practice to arrive.

"He's a real up-tempo guy," said returning strong safety Andre Sexton. "He is in your face, making sure you do everything right. He expects a lot out of us and that is good. You can't take any plays off and he expects us to play together and make plays."

Beckman, a humble guy that uses the words "we" and "team" rather than "I" and "them" has blended well with the existing defensive staff, and is having a similar effect on the coaches he works with that he has had with the players.

"I'm having a blast," said special teams coordinator Joe DeForest, a candidate for the defensive coordinator job that helps Beckman coach the secondary. "He makes it fun to be out here. This is the most fun I've had coaching in a long time."

So, with the upbeat attitude and effort that goes along with it, Beckman appears to have part of the objective Mike Gundy laid out when he hired him in good shape. The other objective has to do with the defense itself. A lot of the practice after a heavy dose of agility, pursuit, and form tackling drills is spent in learning, walking through, and executing the new defense.

Beckman got an early taste of what is now prevalent in college football with the spread offense. While serving his six years as defensive coordinator at Bowling Green he saw plenty of spread offenses as they emerged early in that league. Every day in practice Beckman's team saw the spread attack that was formulated by current Florida head coach Urban Meyer. It was because of his success coaching defense in a spread dominated high scoring offensive conference that he earned the reputation as a guru of defending the spread.

"No guru staff, but when you practice against it every day and Greg Brandon also did it at Bowling Green you know ho to defend it or you think you know how to defend it," said Beckman modestly. "You have some ideas and it is taking away the quarterback. The Vince Youngs, and what they did at Texas there, is what you are up against. In my opinion you have to create different looks to the quarterback. It might be a coverage look, it might be a movement look, a new read, or it can be pressure. It doesn't always have to be pressure. You have got to be able to give that quarterback different things that he must read or key. It goes back to me. It goes back to the old schemes of offenses when Woody (Hayes) was running it. They are running option based running game. They are reading a defensive lineman like they did in the split back veer and you have to create different looks for that quarterback.

"I think again it comes from the disguise," said Beckman getting into the X's and O's. "If the quarterback can read what you are doing under center or back in the gun with an early look then I think you are in trouble. I feel that you have to show three deep, two deep schemes. You have to be able to zone pressure, man pressure, and you have to create different pictures for the quarterback. I know the quarterbacks in this league are great, just like the ones in the Big 10 and you give them a two deep look all game long then they are going to eat you up. We used Tampa , we did it all. We were a man, Tampa , the old two, quarters, probably not as much quarters as I was accustomed to at Bowling Green , and then inverting the safeties into the box is the other thing that has been very beneficial.

"We are going to be in a four man and then all of a sudden we'll be in a three man," continued the Ohio native and former college defensive back. "With our personnel you can easily change by standing up one of those defensive linemen and being in a three man front. Give them different pictures no matter who is making that call whether it is the center or the quarterback, who ever is making those protection calls that if you give them different looks that will create different problems for them, guessing game. We have to get on top of the guessing game. To me it is being able to be multiple and keep it simple so that the kids can understand what we are doing."

It's not just different looks, that is a big part of it as Cowboy quarterbacks Bobby Reid, Zac Robinson and Alex Cate can attest to, but there is also plenty of pressure and the pressure itself will come from all over the defense.

"Different looks, what we call tracks, there are certain tracks that an All-American blitz can go through A gap, B gap, C gap, and opposite A gap and to utilize different people in those tracks is going to make us be able to create different pressure scenes for that quarterback and that is the key, in my opinion, players we can get there from where he (opposing quarterback) least expects it, explained Beckman. "Then we rotate the coverage off that pressure to give the quarterbacks even different looks."

It all sounds fairly complicated and it is supposed to look that way to an offense or a layman, but Beckman and the players insist it is pretty simple in learning and application. The key is keeping it that way so the players have to think as little as possible. That was evident today as the defense had their share of big plays in both team, inside, and seven-on-seven drills.

Overall, hGundy likes the way his team is practicing and with the practice ending "Cowboy Drill," a physical three-on-three smash-mouth battle between offensive and defensive players with a ball carrier, Gundy feels his team is getting the message and not only accepting it but "running" with it.

"One of our goals this spring is to become a tougher football team," Gundy said after the Monday practice that lasted two hours and 30 minutes. "One of my firm beliefs is that the tougher team usually wins in about every sport, and I thought we were somewhat tougher this last season but that's still something we need to do is get tougher both mentally and physically.

"That's why we have our drill at the end of practice, the Cowboy drill, line up and hit and develop toughness. I thought our Cowboy drill was much better today. They started to get fatigued, but in the end they had to get physical and fight through it and I thought they did, and it was much better than Friday."

As for the overall practice, Gundy pointed to a lot of young players showing up in the team, inside, and seven-on-seven periods.

"The young wide outs, (Jeremy) Broadway made some plays, Artrell Woods made some plays. I say young, but (Anthony) Parks is inexperienced and he made some plays. DeMarcus Conner made some plays, and Alex Cate threw the ball really well today," Gundy said in pointing out players he saw stick out. "Defensively, Quincey Patrick showed up on the defensive line. (Derek) Burton made some plays. Kenny Alexander, the high schooler, made some plays at linebacker. Martel Van Zant generally makes a lot of plays, and Perrish Cox made some plays."

The next chance for players to step up and make more plays, and grab the attention of the head coach, will be Wednesday at 3:15 p.m. Gundy also said that they would hold a half-scrimmage, probably about 40 plays, on Friday, which will be the last practice before spring break. All practices are open to the public.

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