Cornerbacks A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams have made more than three dozen combined starts during their respective Oklahoma State careers. Their experience and production will anchor the OSU defense in 2019, but plenty of other questions about the defense remain unanswered. Like this one:
How good is OSU’s defensive front going to be?
OSU lost Cole Walterscheid, Trey Carter, Enoch Smith, Darrion Daniels and Jarrell Owens from last season’s front line defensively. That is a lot of turnover, even for a program that’s recruited pretty well under coach Joe Bob Clements.
The turnover will put the pressure on newbies or young guns that really are just cutting their teeth up front. Brock Martin is going to play a huge role. Mike Scott, too. Cam Murray, Israel Antwine and Tyler Lacy are all going to play massive roles as potential starters.
Great talents, those players are. But they’re also wildly inexperienced. Antwine played one season in the Pac-12. Lacy redshirted last season. Murray played sparingly last season and even more sparingly the season prior. To say the defensive line will be youthful next season would be like saying the defensive line will be youthful. Because, well, it’s true. Inexperience — and a whole lot of wait, what’s the last name of the player that made that tackle? — is going to be a consistent theme in 2019.
It’s possible the defensive line comes around. Like I noted: recruiting at the position group is good — arguably better than ever before in OSU’s history.
It’s also possible, even likely, the OSU defensive line is as easy to puncture as cottage cheese.
I’m a little more optimistic than the dairy outcome I propose as potential reality. Grad transfer Sione Asi will help. The addition of Israel Antwine — and his subsequent waiver of immediate eligibility being granted — is huge. And I’m cautiously optimistic that freshman Jayden Jernigan might be a full-blown dude. But the odds are that the defensive line’s performance is going to fall somewhere between terrible and great. Good, probably not great, and more likely a step below average.
In the Big 12, a below average defensive front can be OK, though. The pigskin flying around the yard the way it does in this league, Green and Williams’ experience in the secondary — coupled with Malcolm Rodriguez, Jarrick Bernard and Kolby Peel — should buoy OSU’s expectations of improving defensively in Year 2 under Jim Knowles.
But if it doesn’t — and if the defensive line replacing nearly all its parts evolves into a bucket of cheese curds — the onus of improvement will be on OSU’s linebackers, its secondary and its stable bunch of corners to hold down the fort and keep it from folding from the front on down. And with less than a month until opening kick, it seems the only belief in the defense that’s crystallizing is the consistency of the secondary.
“This is a safety-driven defense,” says Jim Knowles. “Anytime you play with five DBs all the time it’s safety-driven. Now those guys have had a thousand reps so they’ve gone from rookies to veterans pretty quick and it’s starting to show up. It’s going to help us a ton in terms of giving up big plays.”
The safeties, the corners, the five DB scheme — it’ll all help OSU recover from immense losses across the front. I’m dubious it will be enough. But cast doubt on the unit at your own peril.
“They’re putting us down,” says Mike Scott of the defense and its front-line of linebackers and defensive linemen. “Just because we lost some great guys, which we did. Coach recruited some great guys. We’re young, but they’re cold. It’s the best team that I’ve ever been a part of.”
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