2016 Oklahoma State Football Thoughts and Preview
2015 Review:10-3 Record
Pts/Game: 29 (86th)
Total Sacks: 40 (5th)
Efficiency Rating: 61.1 (42nd)
Tackle Leaders: *Jordan Sterns (108)
*Jordan Burton (98)
*Chad Whitener (93)
Key Returning Players: Jordan Sterns (S)
Vincent Taylor (DT)
Ashton Lampkin (CB)
Sack Leaders: Emmanuel Ogbah (13)
Jimmy Bean (5.5)
*Vincent Taylor (5.0)
Key Losses: Emmanuel Ogbah (DE)
Ryan Simmons (MLB)
Kevin Peterson (CB)
INT Leaders: 7 players tied with 2 * Denotes Returning Player
Part II of our summer long OSU Football previews focuses on the defense. Similar to *Part 1, Part II is going to be a broad, but comprehensive overview of the 2016 defense. There will be a lot of changes on this side of the ball due to early departures, graduating seniors and super senior transfers. While the defense is returning 6 of last year’s starters, the amount of overall experience is much greater due to some unfortunate injuries late in the season.
It is no coincidence that Oklahoma State’s losses coincided with the loss of two key defensive players. Additionally, during the final 3 games, several starters were playing injured with ankle injuries and shoulder injuries which compounded the problem. Fortunately, OSU had a lot more depth than in recent seasons and there were players able to fill in and play well, but it just is not the same after losing some of your best players in Jimmy Bean and Ryan Simmons no matter how good the player behind them played. The experience and leadership these two brought to the field was sorely missed upon the injuries as it showed over the last quarter of the season.
The loss of the aforementioned Jimmy Bean was bigger than most realized at the time, and now with the early departure of 2nd round pick Emmanuel Ogbah, Joe Bob Clements has his hands full with trying to replace arguably the most combined talent and skill at the two defensive ends position in school history. That is a scary thought regardless of how good you think the remaining DE’s are or may be in the next season or two. Luckily, Joe appears to have some high level, albeit young, talent to work with this season that may weaken the blow of losing Bean and Ogbah. Overall, the defensive line was better than anticipated coming into the 2015 season due to the emergence of redshirt junior, Vincent Taylor. Ranking 5th nationally in overall sacks is something to be proud of and the defense deserved the praises they received. Now, without Ogbah and Bean in 2016 let’s take a look at several areas of the defensive line that either has questions marks or strengths in 2016:
- New Starters- This will be the biggest unknown as we approach the first game in 2016. Replacing two great starters is not easy, but we have witnessed flashes of what is to come. RS Sophomores Jordan Brailford and Jarrell Owens look to be the clubhouse leaders to take the starting spots on the ends. Both have great potential and athleticism. See some of the tape on Owens last year versus Texas and you will see why fans are excited about their future. As of now, pass rushing is their best strength, but that’s only part of being a good DE. Both of these two need to improve on the running game aspect of their position in order to take the next leap in improvement.
- Depth- For DE’s it appears that Joe Bob has a lot of young talent at his disposal. Trey Carter has been rapidly improving and could possibly snag a starting spot by fall. Cole Walterscheid showed signs of being an early contributor last year before a lower leg injury during the Central Michigan game slowed his freshman campaign. Also, JUCO transfer Tralund Webber will be here this summer and he will be one to keep an eye on during fall camp.
- Big Men In The Middle- The Defensive Tackle position is shaping up to be one of the biggest strengths in OSU’s defensive. They are returning every player so that bodes well in terms of another year of development for a lot of these guys. Vincent Taylor is the staple after a breakout sophomore campaign. Lone senior DT, Maile had a good first year for being a JUCO transfer. I would expect to see an increase in production from him. Vili Leveni, a promising talent, has dropped weight since his Achilles tear and is possibly being moved back to DE. Darrion Daniels and new JUCO All-American Transfer Dequinton Osborne may round up a very good 4 deep rotation at DT. Eric Davis, Taaj Bakari and Ben Hughes will all be pushing for the 2 deep. This could end up being the best group of DT’s at Oklahoma State in a while, even better than Barnett and Castleman.
- Coaching- Joe Bob with the help of DC Glen Spencer has become one of the best DL coaches in the BIG 12. Gundy prying him from the grasps of Bill Snyder at KSU was a huge coup and it has paid large dividends the past few seasons in both recruiting and on the field performance. Another year of coaching for these young defensive linemen makes me confident that this could be on the best units on the team next year.
The defensive line is no doubt similar to that of the offensive line in terms of importance. If you are very good upfront then it will allow for more coverage flexibility and scheme changes on the back-end which ultimately makes you a better team. The next position group is vital in terms of being the group that needs to diagnose and react faster than any other unit in order to be successful. That is the linebacker corp. The linebackers are losing two starters from the first game last season, but they are returning a good amount of experience overall. Seth Jacobs would have been a senior in 2016, but was forced to retire due to spinal stenosis and a lingering shoulder injury. Glenn Spencer knows that he will be missed and will be looking for a couple younger backers to step up in the Fall of 2016. The success of the defense in 2016 will most likely hinge on the performance of the linebackers. Here are several things to look for in 2016.
- Middle Linebacker-The loss of senior Ryan Simmons during the middle of the year was like losing Mason Rudolph on offense. He was the quarterback of the defense with a lot of experience. His presence was missed even with the strong play of Chad Whitener filling in for him. Chad is much more athletic than Simmons, but he does not have the experience that Simmons had. Coach Spencer needs to help Chad develop better decision making as he made the wrong reads and hit the wrong gaps on many occasions. Fortunately, Chad is a talented linebacker that plays very hard, so once he understands his role better than our defense as a whole should benefit. His play in 2016 will determine a lot of the success the defense has.
- Depth-If there is one thing this linebacker corp. has it is depth. Burton, Whitener and Averette are the likely starters, yet Justin Phillips (RS So.), McGruder (So), Akem (Jr), Tucker (Jr), and Josh Mabin (So) provide Coach Spencer with a lot of different options depending on the offense. All have considerable experience except for that of Mabin. Some believe that Phillips and McGruder are the next superstars waiting in the wings. For whatever reason, Glenn shortened his rotation last year and it hurt them late in the season. Whitener, Burton, and Jacobs were getting a lot of snaps and they were wearing down late in games. I expect Spencer to allow for a 5 or 6 man rotation in 2016 which will keep our LB’ers fresher and more effective in late game situations.
- Athleticism-Say what you want about the returning linebackers, but they might be the most athletic group we have seen at Oklahoma State. Jordan Burton, the STAR, runs like a safety and hits like a linebacker. He has good instincts and allows for versatility in the formations. Chad Whitener is undoubtedly more athletic than Caleb Lavey and Ryan Simmons, yet he has good size (6’0 248). Playing in the pass-happy Big 12, having an athletic middle linebacker is integral. We saw several times last season where Chad showed off his speed in the open field. Once he can combine his speed with a quick play diagnosis then he could be an All Big 12 player. Devante Averette is similar to that of Seth Jacobs, but with a little more speed. He needs to work on his tackling and play recognition for 2016. The underclassmen behind these 3 players are just as athletic as the starters so we should not see a drop-off in speed during rotations.
- Improved Run Support-This weakness was on display the last 3 games versus Baylor, OU and Ole Miss. Yes, our young DL was getting pushed back, but the linebackers did themselves no favors either. We saw a lot of missed gaps and guesses in the 3 losses. Glenn needs to focus on this aspect as we are still going to have young defensive ends playing upfront with questionable run support. All 3 of them need to improve on their run support in 2016.
Behind the linebackers, is of course the secondary. The defensive backs, coached by Tim Duffie and Dan Hammerschmidt, have had a lot of injuries the past couple season at the corners. The safety position is one of the strongest tandems on the team, but the cornerbacks need to have significant improvement in order to let the safeties do what they do best. Here a few things to consider when looking at the 2016 secondary.
- Safeties-There is no question that Jordan Sterns (Sr) and Tre Flowers (RS Jr) are proven starters in the Big 12. Jordan has been a constant the last two seasons at his position providing quality coverage and exceptional run support and hitting. Jordan is a 2nd team All-Big 12 player looking to have his 3rd consecutive season with 100 or more tackles, a truly remarkable statistic. Sterns has All-American potential and we will be relying on his leadership and experience during the 2016 season. Next to him, Tre Flowers has developed into a good safety in the Big 12. He has strong ball-hawking skills similar to that of Lyndell Johnson and James Thomas a few years ago. Even though Flowers is around 200lbs, he brings good tackling skills to the safety position along with good speed to keep up with the fast receivers in the Big 12. Look for the tandem of Sterns & Flowers to be among the best in the Big 12 in 2016.
- Lack of Depth at Safety-Opposite of the linebackers, there is not a whole of experience or proven talent behind Sterns & Flowers. This is a little troubling because they play at positions where injuries are common, and if one of them is to go down, it could mean trouble for our secondary. The only returning player with experience, unless McGruder switches back to S, is Jerel Morrow and he is been average at best. Would be junior, Dylan Harding, had to retire from football due to injuries similar to that of Seth Jacobs. Senior transfer Derrick Moncrief is one to look out for and hopefully he can provide great value to our defense in giving a breather for our safeties when needed. The next safety looking to break into the depth chart is “Z” Green. He had a strong redshirt season on the practice squad and it looking to show his talent on the field this fall. His quick development would go a long ways in tightening up our safeties.
- Secondary Coverage-This was a clear weakness last season (see Baylor game) and one that needs to be improved upon in the 2016 season. It will be difficult to do so after losing 4 year starter Kevin Peterson who may have been one of the best man coverage cornerbacks we have had. He shut down many NFL caliber receivers over the course of his career and his talent will be missed as he is currently on the Chicago Bears. Our best returning corner, Ashton Lampkin, has shown flashes of being an All-Big 12 player, but his lack of consistency coupled with injuries as prohibited him from reaching that potential.
- Unproven Cornerbacks- Not only do we need improved coverage in the secondary, but we are going to be hoping to get it from mostly unproven players. Ashton has been inconsistent, but has shown the most potential. Ramon Richards has been even more inconsistent, yet he has shown a huge knack for making big plays. Pipkins started for two years at ULM before deciding to transfer to OSU for his final season of eligibility. He has had injuries throughout his career. Lenzy is a big physical DB with a penchant for tackling, something we can use in our secondary. Behind them we have Darius Curry (RS JR), whom we saw get a little playing time last year as a sophomore and he had an average performance. Then, we have 5 CB’s with zero Big 12 experience behind them in Malik Kearse (JUCO, JR), Bryce Balous (RS Fr), Rodarius Williams (Fr), Madre Harper (Fr), and A.J. Green (Fr.). The corner position is going to be a group to watch during Fall camp to see if anyone emerges as a serious contender. Being in the pass happy Big 12, you want to have 5 dependable CB’s available at any one time for formation flexibility.
- Interceptions- Oklahoma State ranked 14th nationally and 3rd in the Big 12 last year with 17 interceptions as a team, yet not one player had more than 2 interceptions. You could argue whether this is a good or bad thing, and I tend to say while it is definitely not a good thing it appears that some of these interceptions are not “earned” meaning the player did not have to do a whole lot in order to intercept the pass. I would like to see a corner and a safety lead their unit in interceptions next year, but there will be no complaints if OSU’s totals are similar to last.
There’s no doubt OSU’s defense will be good in 2016, the question is going to be how good. As stated above, there needs to be improvement in the secondary with also having 5 deep there. The DE’s and linebackers need to have improved run defense while also being able to apply pressure to the quarterback at a high level. Joe Bob, Spencer and the other coaches have their work cut out for them over the next few months. It will be a joy to watch some of the young guys develop in front of our eyes into superstars as we have the talent. There will be a lot of ups and downs early on, but Spencer will have his eye on the conference schedule.