STILLWATER — Justin Gilbert readily admits he lost something a year ago.
Focus, perhaps. Or maybe some intensity.
For sure he was missing his practice partner.
After growing and thriving as a sophomore through daily head-to-head battles with Justin Blackmon, Gilbert was hardly pushed in practice last fall once Tracy Moore was lost to injury.
Instead, the Cowboys cornerback was pushed around in games, struggling at times in pass coverage and finishing without an interception, after picking off five the previous season.
“I didn't really have the season I wanted,” said Gilbert, who was pegged as all-conference caliber, “so I'm back to fix the mistakes that I made and to play more aggressively and try and focus on those things. It's been motivating so far.”
Moore — who's back and healthy and a handful — has been motivating as well. A physical receiver at 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, the senior wideout presents a major matchup problem for corners on the edge, Gilbert included.
So the battles are back on.
“With me and Gilbert, it's always a battle,” Moore said. “Every day is a battle.”
And the everyday competition should be beneficial to both. Gilbert is counting on it, recalling his clashes with Blackmon.
“It got my confidence level up, going against (Blackmon) in practice every day,” Gilbert said. “So me going against Tracy every day, that's going to get my confidence back up.”
Way up, if you listen to the playful Gilbert.
“I've been winning most of the matchups,” he said, “so it's going good so far.”
Moore, from across the interview room, just smiles and shakes his head.
“Nah, he's lying,” Moore said. “No, we go at it. One-on-one, they're not supposed to win. He needs help. They double-team a lot.
“They try to hide the double-team, Daytawion Lowe is always hiding over the top.”
Clearly, it's on between Moore and Gilbert. And it isn't just chatter.
“They go at it pretty good,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy. “Justin has had a really nice change of attitude in the last few months. He has been more competitive in spring ball than he was over the last 12 months, in my opinion. He is certainly very talented.
“And then obviously Tracy likes to have success. It certainly makes both players better.”
Verbal jabs aside, Moore expresses genuine respect for Gilbert. And recognition of what their daily drama can mean when the play turns real.
Moore figures he won't face any better competition than what he's facing in practice.
“I definitely feel that way,” Moore said. “I don't think I've ever played a corner who has his type of athletic ability. He'll jog with you, because he has so much speed, then when the ball is in the air, he'll turn it on.
“You think you've got him beat and he's always there. That's why I learn form him and I enjoy going against him. We definitely benefit each other.
“He's going to see little, fast receivers all day, but somebody that slows the game down, is more precise with everything he does, bigger body types ... you don't see many of us in the league that can play out wide like that, which is what he's gonna deal with next year in the NFL, too.”