Position by Position: Defensive Tackles

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A challenge that I have taken on each year is how to make what is a football preview staple, the position by position preview, more exciting and fresh other than what you see in most football preview magazines. In the past we have compared the Oklahoma State position groups to the best in the Big 12, the best all-time at OSU, and others.

This year we are comparing the 2008 team to the 2005 team, Mike Gundy's first squad, the one he mostly inherited. I am often asked, and I have heard Mike Gundy and his coaches often asked, how much better the program is talent-wise since Gundy took over? It is unscientific. Here is a preview of what we did.

We started with the offense, and have now moved on to the defense.

Defensive Tackles
> 2008 vs. 2005
NT 92 Tonga Tea, Jr., 6-0, 300, Sr. NT 90 Xavier Lawson-Kennedy, 6-1, 320, Jr.
90 Swanson Miller, 6-4, 300, Jr. 77 Walter Thomas, 6-5, 350, So.

DT 96 Jeray Chatham, 6-3, 280, Sr. DT 93 Ryan McBean, 6-5, 290, Jr.
94 Quencey Patrick, 6-3, 275, So. 72 Josh Pinaire, 6-5, 280, Jr.

The Cowboys are getting better at defensive tackle for three reasons – 1, the hard work and improvement of the returning players; 2, the addition of Swanson Miller from the national junior college champion Butler squad, and 3, the coaching and attitude of new defensive line coach Glenn Spencer.

Jeray Chatham and Tonga Tea have led the way in improving. Chatham, a former offensive lineman, had heard enough of the moaning and complaining that the Cowboys were just average or below average at defensive tackle, and that lack of strength at that position was a major reason the Cowboys were picked on by opposing offenses. Chatham has a lot of pride and he decided he would be a lightning rod for progress up front. He took all the talk personally.

"You have to and it makes us work harder every day," said the senior defensive tackle. "We know with them bringing in Swanson and other guys we just have to be the men of the group and take over. That is why I think our defense has struggled, because us in the middle we have to be dominant."

"Jeray Chatham has played well," said Gundy. "He has been more physical and he has turned the corner. He is tougher than he was and he understands what it takes to play at this level."

Tonga Tea has lost weight and is playing much better at 300 pounds. "Junior needs to be a guy that can get in that A-gap and stop the run," explained Gundy. "He has some limitations physically toward ever being a pass rusher, but he has to push the pocket and he'll get better. He's moving better now than he ever did last year because he is 20 pounds lighter and he knows the system. He knows how hard everything is and to just go out and do what you are supposed to do."

Miller arrived in January and played well during the spring, needing some of the expected adjustment period.

"The reason that we bring in junior college players is that a guy like Swanson Miller, who is a 300-pounder that runs pretty well, is still a long ways off from competing in this league, but he is going to be farther ahead than a 17-year-old freshman just because he is 19 years old," explained Gundy. "Ryan McBean is the best example. Ryan's first year here he showed up very little. In the second year here he was a really good player."

Beckman will tell you it is not just those three players, but that it is the whole group at defensive tackle that have worked hard to improve and under a coach that as a former defensive tackle himself at Georgia Tech is determined to get the best out of each of them.

We've said it before, the defensive tackles are going to be better and then it didn't happen. This time we think we will be right. The defensive tackles will be better and because of that the defense has a decent opportunity to improve.
Comparison: This one is easy as two of the players listed at defensive tackle in 2005 never played much at all. Walter Thomas and Josh Pinaire were busts, Thomas because he couldn't stay out of Gundy's dog house, and Pinaire because he struggled on the field. Xavier Lawson-Kennedy will go down as a recruiting bust, but the truth is he played well considering he had chronic knee problems from an injury that should have been surgically repaired in high school and was never touched until he came to college. Based on that alone, it is a slam dunk that the Cowboys are better at defensive tackle now. However, you have to remember that Ryan McBean was a fourth-round NFL draft pick who is still with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I'm not sure any of the current inside defensive linemen will be in the NFL one day, but there is strength in numbers.

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