Vast improvement. The Cowboys need it to battle the likes of Oklahoma and Texas, and to that end hired veteran coordinator Bill Young, and Oklahoma State graduate, as their new coordinator.
Young, who gained recent experience in the Big 12 as an original member of Mark Mangino’s staff at Kansas before spending last season at Miami, refuses to move slowly.
“I want people to have high expectations for us,” Young said. “We have high expectations.”
The problem is convincing veterans on that unit to walk, and play, with some swagger. Oklahoma State allowed 405.5 yards and four touchdowns (28.1 points) on average last season. The struggles on that side of the ball were tough to overcome, even for an offense that rushed for 3,191 yards and passed for 3,149.
Firepower will not be an issue after the Cowboys finished 9-4 overall and 5-3 in the Big 12 last season. Quarterback Zac Robinson again triggers the attack, which features the Big 12’s two leading yardage producers among receivers (Dez Bryant) and rushers (Kendall Hunter).
With that in mind, Oklahoma State spent the spring massaging its attack, while attempting to instill a nastier mindset within its defense.
“We’re trying to convince our players that they are going to be a great defensive team. That’s our goal,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. “You’ve got to believe you’re good before you can be good.”
–The loss of TE Brandon Pettigrew, who is a high pick in the NFL draft, would seem to be devastating, yet Oklahoma State has built considerable depth at that position. Justin Horton appears to be the top receiver in the mix, while Wilson Youman and Cooper Bassett are considered good blockers. Jamal Mosley may offer the best combination of both traits.
–Oklahoma State closed the spring game with a team cheer of “Big 12 champs.” Last season, motivational bracelets were given to the players with the date of the Big 12 championship game inscribed.
DT Derek Burton — His move from defensive end could bolster the defensive front, though Burton will have to add weight after reporting at 265 pounds last season. Creating more pressure is a defensive objective.
DE Jeremiah Price — Could emerge as the pass rusher who generates the most pressure after recording two sacks in the spring game.
WR Hubert Anyiam — Performed well in the spring game, leading all receivers with 106 yards on six receptions, including a 52-yard strike on the first possession from starting QB Zac Robinson. Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper also figure to play second fiddle behind Dez Bryant.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “There’s more excitement and enthusiasm than there has been. You like to sit back as a coach and not have to say, ‘Let’s go guys, pick it up.’ ” — Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2009 OUTLOOK: With almost its entire offense returning after ranking among the top 10 nationally in total offense, scoring, rushing and passing efficiency, Oklahoma State cannot be ignored in the Big 12 South. Sure, the Cowboys will still be tabbed as a darkhorse with Texas and Oklahoma reloading. If Oklahoma State can produce key stops, look out. Not many opponents are going to stop this offense.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Cowboys’ balance last season was remarkable. They gained more than 3,000 yards, both on the ground and through the air, and produced almost exact numbers with each phase of the attack. Main contributors such as QB Zac Robinson, WR Dez Bryant and RB Kendall Hunter return. Each can be listed among the best at his position, both in the Big 12 and nationally. Concerns up front begin with the loss of C David Washington.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This is where Oklahoma State must improve. New coordinator Bill Young knows the Big 12 after coaching at Kansas. He knows a better pass rush is needed to take pressure off the secondary. The Cowboys ranked last in the Big 12 in sacks, and now must replace three starters out of the back end.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: P Matt Fodge was among the nation’s best after averaging 42.9 yards, with 17 of his boots downed inside the 20. He will be missed. The Cowboys have an exceptional weapon in Bryant, who not only was the Big 12’s leading receiver but also led the league with a 17.9-yard average on punt returns.
–WR Dez Bryant didn’t participate in spring drills while recovering from offseason knee surgery.
–Several players missed the spring game because of injuries, including S Victor Johnson (arm) and DT Shane Jarka (leg). LB Deron Fontenot and S Walker Smith also were out with undisclosed injuries.
–WR Bo Bowling was suspended from the team and must stand trial for felony and misdemeanor drug charges, which were amended to include possession of an anabolic steroid. Bowling pleaded not guilty to all charges on Feb. 10.