With that in mind, and our determination to bring a fresh approach to an age old preseason football magazine chore of previewing a team position by position, we are going to preview the 2009 Cowboys by presenting two scenarios at each position. There will be the best-case scenario in which the team deals with no injuries and no drop-off in production from last season at each position, and what that position can contribute to the season. Then we will follow the best case scenario with what we call the fire-drill scenario. This will present potential catastrophic problems and what can be done and which players could step up to keep the team going and the excitement from the preseason prognostications of an epic campaign alive.
Obviously, we are rooting for the best case scenario but head coach Mike Gundy will be the first one to tell you that in the course of a college football season – especially one where a team plays a schedule with six likely opponents in the Top 25, seven teams that went to bowl games in 2008, and the ultra-rugged Big 12 South – there are always pitfalls and adversity, most in the form of injuries. You have to have a team that is ready to execute a fire drill and get it right.
90-Swanson Miller, 6-4, 300, Sr., Alachua (Santa Fe), Fla./Butler Co. C.C., Kan.
95-Chris Donaldson, 6-2, 286, Jr., Anderson, SC/Coffeyville C.C., Kan.
89-Nigel Nicholas, 6-3, 285, R-Fr., Rossville (Ridgeland), Ga.
46-Shane Jarka, 6-3, 285, Jr., Fort Bend (Austin), Texas
94-Anthony Rogers, 6-4, 260, Fr., North Little Rock, Ark.
96-Horace Hubbard, 6-4, 285, Jr., Gretna, Va./Fort Scott C.C., Kan.
93-Jarid King, 6-0, 273, R-Fr., Plano (Plano West), Texas
97-Jeremiah Price, 6-2, 260, Sr., Collins Miss./Jones Co. C.C., Miss.
50-Jamie Blatnick, 6-3, 252, So., Celina, Texas
99-Richetti Jones, 6-3, 253, So., Dallas (Lincoln), Texas
92-Darius Hart, 6-5, 251, Jr., Poplarville, Miss./Pearl River C.C., Miss.
93-Andrew Hudson, 6-5, 230, Fr., Amarillo (Bushland), Texas
79-Andrew Smith, 6-1, 245, Fr., Tulsa (Union), Okla.
78-Bryce Hutchins, 6-0, 220, So., Keller, Texas
Before the start of spring practice the defensive line was a cause for major concern, especially inside at defensive tackle. It is still a concern, but you can remove the word major, and there were encouraging signs in the spring. New defensive coordinator Bill Young, a former OSU defensive end himself (1966 to 1969), has taken over the coaching of the first line of defenders and has made some moves that helped to solidify the group. He also went back to the basics, from how to step to what to do with your hands, and that has sparked better performance.
In fairness to the defensive tackles, Derek Burton came to OSU as a defensive end, Shane Jarka came to OSU as a linebacker/defensive end, redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas came as a defensive end, and there are three junior college players at defensive tackle. We could probably skip a best case as this may have been more of a fire drill to begin with, but the majority of Division I schools in the nation have to get inventive at defensive tackle too.
Best Case: It's very simple, everybody stays healthy and continues to develop. Burton is undersized, moving from defensive end to defensive tackle, but has really caught on. He isn't that disadvantaged but maybe about 5 to 10 pounds light for the position. His quickness and his continued development are making up for it.
"Defensively, Derek Burton made a nice adjustment to playing inside," said Gundy. "He got better each practice and he became more used to the block inside by the center and the guard instead of the tackle and tight end."
Swanson Miller didn't have a great spring, but he had better have a strong August and then keep right on going. Chris Donaldson made huge strides in the spring and young pup Nigel Nicholas is getting bigger all the time and is hungry to play. He showed in the spring he has potential big-play ability. Shane Jarka is bigger than he has ever been and needs to fight off injuries because he is very capable of playing 20 to 30 snaps a game.
"I'm excited about Jamie, Ugo, and Darius Hart," added Gundy. "Swanson Miller has improved and I know he is an inside guy. Jarka is giving us a little bit, and we need 12 plays a game from him. Then obviously, Derek in there is going to be very active. Chris Donaldson has made some plays. He is showing up, and between Donaldson and Jarka you will need 30 plays a game. As long as that continues then it gives us more freedom on the edge to rush the passer. We get some guys inside to get some push, so those guys on the edge get singled up a lot."
It would also help if Horace Hubbard can improve his strength during the summer and get to the point where he could get on the field and take some snaps in the rotation at defensive tackle. If not, he may need to redshirt.
If the defensive tackles can hold up, the defensive ends have big play ability as Ugo Chinasa and Jeremiah Price have demonstrated they can be excellent pass rushers. Add to that real depth, two deep at each end position, with Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones ready. Blatnick has been very impressive while Jones is playing the best football since he arrived as a much ballyhooed prospect coming off a serious hip injury.
Add to that group new junior college product Darius Hart, who has lots of size and athleticism. The defensive end position is, potentially, the best it has been in almost a decade. If the defensive tackles stay healthy and improve, then the pass rush off the edge will result in massive improvement in the pass rush, which last season was a struggle.
"We're young but at the same time we are awfully talented," said Young. "We feel pretty good about where they are and where we're headed."
Fire Drill: You don't even want to think about it. An injury or two at either defensive tackle or defensive end could create major problems. More problems at defensive tackle, as the depth is thin, and it's not that hard to remember the Cowboys in Gundy's first season having to play a walk-on at defensive tackle in a loss to Baylor. The defensive staff could be forced to get creative if there were a rash of injuries up front. The defensive end position could handle an injury a little better, but the ideal scenario is good health across the board on the defensive line.
One option that likely will be explored early in August is to see how far along they can bring the two freshmen, Anthony Rogers at defensive tackle and Andrew Hudson at defensive end. Both are big kids that report they are working hard in anticipation of their college careers.
NOTE: This excerpt is taken from the Summer issue of Go Pokes Magazine. To begin a subscription and have the magazine delivered to your mailbox, you can subscribe by selecting this link: Yes, I want to subscribe to Go Pokes Magazine