STILLWATER — One word can easily describe what life has been like during the past month for new Oklahoma State safeties coach Tim Duffie.
He arrived in Stillwater just as spring practice was beginning, filling the void left on the Cowboy staff when cornerbacks coach Jason Jones took the same position at Mississippi. Now, he's coaching against OSU's high-powered, pass-happy spread offense during each workout.
Duffie talked to reporters earlier this week about his transition, the senior-stacked group he's coaching and how OSU's new defensive approach affects the safeties.
You didn't have much time to get acclimated before hitting the practice field. Can you describe what those first couple days were like?
All I can say is fast. I've heard up-tempo this and that about our offense, but everything is fast — coaching and going and just trying to transition with terminology. It's unbelievable. I've never been though it before, and I can't describe it. I think you can only go through it to experience it and know what it's like. You can't describe how fast and (high)-paced this offense is and trying to coach against it defensively. It's tough. But obviously, we're going to have to do it week in and week out in throughout this conference.
Van Malone has talked about the importance of the relationship between the cornerbacks coach and safeties coach. How has that developed this spring?
It makes the transition really smooth. Obviously, I wouldn't have taken the job if his personality (didn't mesh with mine), since we would be together. I think he wanted a guy that could come in and say, ‘Hey, we're working together. We're as one,' so the kids see that (and) they believe in it. That's why I'm here. I want to work with guys that believe in team. Van is exceptional at that, and I'm glad to be here as a part of it.
How would you evaluate the safety group as a whole?
Better than I've (had as a coach), as far as depth, in a while. Obviously, we're heavy at safety with seniors. To me, that's a good problem to have, at least one year. You want to kind of spread it out where you don't have five or six (players) in one class. But obviously, it's a good problem to have. Great experience. Great guys. Very competitive and hungry to win. I'm excited about who we have in the back end.
What's the battle at strong safety between Shamiel Gary and Lyndell Johnson been like so far?
Very competitive. Obviously, I think good players want competition. The good thing about that group, though, is as competitive as it is, they're still good teammates. I've been in some competitive situations where they didn't speak. But these guys are willing to help each other and learn and grow as a group, and that's why we're going to be very good.
How does the push for a more aggressive approach on defense impact the safeties?
It's imperative, today, to get closer to the guys you're defending, just to try to create some turnovers and get the ball back for your offense and create another possession to score points. Any time you can get the ball for our offense, it gives us a better chance to win. It goes with my philosophy, obviously, to get up and cause some havoc and create some situations where kids can be aggressive. I'm in love with it. I think we're well on our way.
What are your biggest goals for the group this spring?
Be more aggressive, competitive, not afraid to make a mistake and develop depth. And finally, we want to stay injury-free if we can. Just get through it healthy but improve every day.
How key is not being afraid to make a mistake for a safety? As the last line of defense, it's usually easy to see when a mistake happens.
It kind of contradicts the name. You say ‘safety,' but you want them to be aggressive as the last line of defense. We want them to play safety, but we want them to play aggressive, not cautious. (The opposing offense is) going to make a play on you, and we realize that, and we try to minimize big plays. But we want you to be aggressive on third-and-5, not be nine yards deep and off and letting them catch the ball in front of us and moving the sticks. We want to prevent some of that from happening as much as we can.