What to Know - Oklahoma State

Cowboys enter rebuilding year with plenty of questions on defense

Ryan Simmons played middle linebacker in high school, so the switch into the heart of Oklahoma State’s defense wasn’t a tough one – and shouldn’t be at all the season.

The much tougher task for Simmons, a junior who has 90 tackles the past two years combined, is replacing the veteran leadership of Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis.

“I’ve seen their preparation and I’ve seen some things they do that have given them the best foot forward,” Simmons said. “I can carry that on and I can show the guys, ‘Look, you have to hold yourself to this standard.’ … It’s a great opportunity for me, being in this leadership role.”

That’s the feel through the entire defense, as Oklahoma State prepares for a rebuilding year of sorts. Oklahoma State lost 17 starters from last year’s team – nine on offense and eight on defense. Lewis (45 starts) and Lavey (39 starts) were the most experienced of the bunch.

“The good thing about having a mature class and a large group of seniors is they help you on game day with experience,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “But the bad thing is next year, they’re gone. But we have good young players on our team who are not experienced.

“We’ve got a ways to go, and I’ve always felt like the only way that players could get good quality experience is game day.”

The defensive line, which returns six key players, will have to be big, but the entire Cowboys’ roster will be going through a bit of a transformation this year.

“We’ve looked into some changes on defense from a personnel standpoint,” Gundy said. “And I wouldn’t say that that’s out of the question based on the depth that we have with the defensive line position. …We have to look at finding a way to put the best 11 players on the field on each play based on the team we’re playing and trying to take away what we think the strength of their offense is each week.”

NUMBERS TO KNOW 4 - during the past six years, Oklahoma State has just four fewer wins than Oklahoma, and just two fewer conference wins. … 80.1 - J.W. Walsh’s career QBR is ranked seventh among returning quarterbacks nationwide, although his starting spot in the Cowboys’ offense is not solidified yet. … 50 - Oklahoma State eclipsed the 50-point mark four times last season. … 1 - Oklahoma State has beaten Oklahoma just once in the past nine games since Mike Gundy became head coach.

Sooners Illustrated Top Stories