STILLWATER — Van Malone promises the Oklahoma State cornerbacks will look different next season.
“We're going to do some small things, technically, to change some of the stuff that we did with them to tighten the coverage up just a little bit,” the position coach said.
That should excite Cowboy fans, who groaned and clamored down the stretch of the 2012 season as the OSU defensive backs frequently gave opposing receivers a 10-yard cushion to catch the football and were a large component of a pass defense that allowed 280 yards per game.
It excites the Cowboys, too.
“Soft coverage, that put a little bit of stress on us,” senior Justin Gilbert said. “To allow us to play more aggressive, it's going to be a lot better this season.”
The philosophical tweak first comes from the top in coach Mike Gundy and new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. And it will be carried out by a new voice in Malone, who switched from coaching the safeties to cornerbacks after Jason Jones left for Mississippi and the Cowboys hired Tim Duffie just before spring practice began.
Malone welcomed the position change — pushed for it, actually — because he enjoys teaching the technical aspects of playing cornerback, from controlling the eyes to flipping the hips correctly to knowing how and when to get physical with receivers.
Scheme-wise, the plan isn't to completely overhaul the way the defensive backs play every single snap. The trick is picking the right spots to play bump-and-run coverage — where the corner lines directly up with the receiver and sticks with him for the duration of the play — and executing it well.
“We're not going to be some man-to-man, all-over-the-field, just, hey, wing it and let it go kind of defense,” Malone said. “That's not what we're doing. But we are going to make attempts to be aggressive in situations when we should be, and then not aggressive when we shouldn't be, and then change it up enough so that the offense won't know what we're doing.”
The 2013 Cowboys give Malone an interesting cast of characters to work with.
Gilbert is back after a disappointing 2012 season where he didn't record an interception and learned he couldn't rely exclusively on his athleticism to make plays.
Sophomores Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin will battle for the other starting spot after both got meaningful playing time as true freshmen. Malone called Peterson a film junkie, while Lampkin's tenacity in practice perfectly fits the way the coach wants his corners to play.
Sophomore Miketavious Jones is the only other scholarship cornerback on the roster this spring, meaning the entire group has gotten plenty of reps while matching up with a strong receiving corps in OSU's high-powered offense.
Adjusting to playing tighter coverage more consistently has been a process during the first two weeks of practice. Malone admitted there have been a fair amount of mistakes as the players work to break old training habits and learn new ones. Gilbert noted conditioning will be key in order to keep up with the receivers and avoid getting beat over the top by the deep ball.
But that's what this time of year is for. And Malone believes the shift in philosophy will lead to better secondary results in 2013.