STILLWATER — All spring at Oklahoma State, the talk was the same.
With only four returning starters on defense, the Cowboys better improve quickly, or else.
And if there was any bright spot on defense outside James Castleman and Jimmy Bean on the line, it was cornerback Kevin Peterson.
Peterson is OSU’s only returning starter in the secondary, and after a two-interception season in 2013, he might be poised to fill in for Justin Gilbert, the No. 8 overall pick to the Cleveland Browns.
Peterson, though, said he isn’t too concerned about the secondary as a whole. That’s where some new talk comes in.
A big reason for that is junior Ashton Lampkin, OSU’s 2013 Special Teams MVP who should start opposite Peterson in 2014.
“We expect not to miss a job next season,” Peterson said. “I know we lose Justin, but we have good athletes everywhere, so we’re going to try to do what we do and try to pick up where we left off last year.”
At 5 feet 11 inches and 180 pounds, Lampkin proved with his 24 tackles last season that he can play to some degree. In the spring, Lampkin took that a step further.
OSU coach Mike Gundy and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer both mentioned Lampkin as one of the most improved players, and Lampkin showed it to the public by intercepting a tipped pass from quarterback J.W. Walsh and returning it for a touchdown in OSU’s Orange Blitz scrimmage.
In that regard, Gilbert’s legacy at OSU is carrying on. Lampkin said Gilbert and cornerbacks coach Van Malone are the biggest influences on his career.
“Those guys always pulled me up when I was down,” Lampkin said. “They always made sure I was staying on track and doing what I am supposed to be doing.”
Much has been made of Peterson stepping into a leadership role, but Lampkin is doing the same, and all indications are Lampkin is more than capable of handling a starting position.
Of course, Spencer is the first to make sure no one jumps to conclusions.
“Ashton’s got so much better,” Spencer said. “It’s just, again, do we need more gains before we line up? Yes, yes we do. They need every practice we can get, but I was impressed with what (the cornerbacks) did.”
For Lampkin, 2014 will be all about opportunity. Judging by what he did in the spring, he appears ready to seize it.
“I’m going to really work on my technique this offseason and just mentally prepare myself for this upcoming season,” Lampkin said.
“It is really a blessing to play here. God has put me in a great position and I’m just really trying to fulfill my dreams this season.”