Cowboy Football Practice: Day 3

STILLWATER – During the first three days of practice with Cowboy football the wide receiver, defensive tackle, quarterback and offensive line positions have all received plenty of mention. Some of those positions, mainly receiver, because of the loss or Artrell Woods to a freak weight room accident, and defensive tackle, because of graduation, are concerns.

Safety and the secondary has kind of rocked on because there are plenty of veterans and good athletes back there. However, the secondary gave up its share of big plays last season. The defense, overall, was ranked low nationally and in the Big 12. Former Bowling Green defensive coordinator and Ohio State safeties coach Tim Beckman was brought in to replace Vance Bedford and breath enthusiasm and better performance into the defense.

While head coach Mike Gundy, who was absent from Saturday's evening practice in order to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony of former OSU teammate Thurman Thomas, liked what he saw on defense in the Cowboys' first two practices this fall, particularly in the secondary. After all, on the first day he jumped the offense -- and usually when the offense gets jumped by the head coach after practice it is because they were jumped a little by the defense during practice.

Gundy has seen better execution in the secondary. "It's very important when you are playing some of the coverages that we are going to be playing that those guys have to do a good job of route reading and keying number two, and knowing run pass," said Gundy. "The good thing is the guys we have playing back there are intelligent football players and should do a nice job with that. They have got a better understanding of the zone coverages and when I see them covering the field it seems like they are doing a better job with the zone coverages than last spring."

Gundy is getting what he wanted with the change to Beckman, a coach that often runs side by side with his players to where a play needs to be made. The enthusiasm is evident Coach Beck.

"That's the way I coach," said Beckman. "I hope they (players) believe in being energetic. I think that is the way you have to be on defense. You have to be enthusiastic. We are going to show the kids that we love this game just as much as they do."

One other reason for better execution and better performance is competition. There is plenty of it with Jacob Lacey and Perrish Cox battling at the field corner. Martel Van Zant is a solid starter, but Calvin Mickens pushing at the boundary corner. Then at the safety positions it is a depth chart changing by the practice with young veterans Andre Sexton, Ricky Price, and Quinton Moore along with senior Clint Coe.

"The competition right now, we have a lot of competition," said Coe. "Coach moves us around basically every day. If one guy has a good practice that day and the guy ahead of him doesn't then coach is going to give that guy a chance to run with the ones. We've been moving in and out every practice. We have a points system and everyone is real competitive."

"It is competition day in and day out," said junior strong safety Ricky Price. "The fourth strong guy seems just as good as the first team guy, and if the first string guy has a bad practice then the second string guy can have a good practice and he moves up to play. Coach rotates it around every day."

The depth chart shows that Price and Sexton are at the strong safety and Moore and Coe at free safety, but Sexton and Price played well in a secondary together at Cypress Falls High School near Houston. Sexton was the Houston Touchdown Club Defensive Player of the Year and Price was an All-Greater Houston selection. Could we see them together again?

"I don't really have a clue right now," said Price. "We're both competing but we have a lot of good safeties out there right now. He might be out there, I might be out there, or maybe we'll both be out there."

Sexton said, "At first, coming into the first practice that was how it was (both Sexton and Price at strong safety), but the second day we were both out there at the same time and it was fun getting to play with my old Cy Falls teammate. We were always competing in high school and it's only going to make both of us better, so hopefully we can both be out there, but Quinton (Moore) and Clint are just as good."

In fact, it was Coe and Moore on the starting unit in Saturday night's practice with Moore at free safety and Coe at the strong. On the second team Price played free safety and Sexton was at the strong.

Cornerback is more situated with the new system of putting a bigger, better run-stopping corner that can physically pin receivers on the boundary side (short side of the field) and the speedy corners on the field side (wide side) to cover more ground.

"We are very comfortable with the field and boundary positions and I think having a little speed really works out on the field side," said Lacey. "I feel pretty good about the secondary. We have performed well on the field and we are trying to make everything perfect."

Another emphasis of Beckman's is turnovers. There is a quota and a price to be paid if it is not met.

"One of the things Coach Beckman does to bring us together as a team is to tell us, ‘we need at least two turnovers in this drill,' or we'll have to run gassers (sprints) so we'll do anything to get those turnovers," said Coe."

The first two days and Saturday night at practice it was not unusual to hear defensive players planting a verbal seed and asking for quarterbacks and ball carriers to make a mistake. During Gatorade breaks some defensive players have flat out begged offensive players to turn the ball over.

"No, I didn't hear it and we have to force the turnovers, not beg for them," said Beckman. "The kids realize that they are going to have some extracurricular stuff if they don't get the turnovers. We are talking getting turnovers all the time. I think mindset-wise it (begging the offense) is in a joking fashion, but the players know we need to have 11 guys around the football because we need to make sure we are creating turnovers."

The defense got its quota of four tunrovers in Saturday night's first practice in shoulder pads. The defense played physical and while they did give up some big plays they also had their share. of nice plays. Freshman linebacker Jared Glover, out of Bixby, picked off a Zac Robinson pass and returned it untouched for a touchdown. Al'Darius Thompson also made an acrobatic interception in 7-on-7. Add in a couple of fumbles, one recovered by backup linebacker Orie Lemon, and the defense lived up to expectation in that area.

Safeties have an even added responsibility as they are being pegged as the quarterbacks on defense along with outside linebacker Donovan Woods. They have a responsibility to know what is going on at all three levels of the defense and be ready to make split second adjustments before the ball is snapped.

"Coach wants us to know what everybody does," said Price. "The safeties are the quarterbacks of the defense and he wants us in our playbooks so we know what every position does. That'll make it easier for us to do our job."

"When everybody is on the same page and we know what everybody does then we won't have busts like the ones that cost us last year," added Sexton."

Hopefully, the overall result will be less points for opponents and more opportunities for Larry Fedora and the offensive unit. The initial product is a better feeling about being a member of the defense at Oklahoma State.

"We all feel more unified as a team and toward a common goal than anytime since I've been here," said Coe.

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