Cowboys will score plenty, but can they play defense?

BY JOHN HELSLEY, Staff Writer, jhelsley@opubco.com Published: August 4, 2011

As Oklahoma State opens preseason football practices Friday, there's an abundance of optimism and an absence of question marks.

Except on defense.

Same old, same old for a side that has surrendered yards and collected critics in recent years? Not necessarily, as the Cowboys don't come off as overly concerned, despite an apparent reliance on unproven players, even true freshmen, to help anchor the front seven.

Not yet, anyway.

OSU's record-setting offense returns nine starters from a year ago, including the dynamic pitch-and-catch tandem of Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon. Scoring doesn't appear to be a problem, one reason the Cowboys opened at No. 8 in the preseason coaches poll Thursday.

Preventing points is another issue. And with the team's primary position battles all among the front seven – at defensive tackle and two linebacker spots – the questions marks are clearly focused.

“Right now, I think those questions are deserved,” senior safety Markelle Martin said of the defense. “But I think the seniors and the guys who have been around, we're going to make sure those young guys are ready.

“We want to be one of the best in the Big 12. We believe in it, and we're going to try to go out and do it.”

At defensive tackle, the Cowboys lost senior starters Chris Donaldson and Shane Jarka from a year ago. While neither was dominant, they were experienced and dependable.

Now, consider what OSU is looking at to fill the void: a cast of characters with a combined three career starts.

There's hope that junior Nigel Nicholas is ready for a breakout and that redshirt freshman Christian Littlehead has progressed and true freshmen James Castleman and Mike Mustafa are ready to contribute immediately, at least in supporting roles to a position of true no-names.

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