STILLWATER — Oklahoma State lost All-Big 12 defensive tackle Calvin Barnett... and got better up front?
That’s the value of depth, which Mike Gundy said has never been better along the defensive line in his time as Cowboys head coach.
“I believe we’re better than we were last year,” Gundy said.
And the Cowboys were good last year.
But aside from Barnett, everyone returns. And those who are back have worked and developed into what OSU coaches consider a formidable front.
It starts with tackle James Castleman, entering his third season as a starter. It includes rising star end Jimmy Bean. And Emmanuel Ogbah, the starter opposite Bean, could be on the verge of his own breakout.
Where Barnett formerly dominated, Ofa Hautau steps in as a powerful plug to enemy road games.
And there’s more than ample depth, too. Backup ends Trace Clark and Sam Wren are starter quality and fit for heavy play in a rotation. Freshmen tackles Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor, along with sophomore Eric Davis, represent the next wave.
Still others are impressing and pushing for playing time, too.
“I think we’re getting good play up front,” said OSU defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, who is rebuilding elsewhere. “Those older guys, like Castleman, Ofa, Jimmy, Sam and Trace, give us some good ends and some good defensive tackles.”
Cowboys defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements is hesitant with praise, yet admits that his group is “getting closer and closer.”
I’m pleased with the way they’re working,” Clements said. “I’m pleased with the way my depth is developing.”
Just in time for Florida State.
“As far as feeling at ease with who we’re getting to match up with, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel that good about it,” Clements said.
“We’ll play hard and we’ll be as ready as we can possibly be.”
92 Jimmy Bean;;6-5;;250;;Jr.;;Denton, Texas
Starting every game a year ago, Bean improved steadily as the season progressed, emerging as a threatening edge rusher. He finished with 41/2 sacks and 91/2 tackles for losses.
38 Emmanuel Ogbah;;6-4;;270;;So.;;Houston, Texas
He played in every game as a redshirt freshman a year ago and has moved into a starting role as a sophomore. He could be this season’s breakout lineman.
89 Sam Wren;;6-2;;255;;Sr.;;Palestine, Texas
A solid contributor as a junior college transfer last fall, Wren has made great strides in his second season in the system.
90 Trace Clark;;6-4;;255;;Jr.;;Wichita, Kan.
Clark played in and contributed in every game last season, providing premium depth. His role will increase as the Cowboys look to broaden their rotation.
95 Vili Leveni;;6-3;;270;;Fr.;;Hurst, Texas
A player getting much buzz in the preseason, Leveni is pushing for playing time as a redshirt freshman.
87 Victor Irokansi;;6-3;;240;;So.;;Pflugerville, Texas
Another young player on the verge of breaking into the rotation, if there’s room. The talent is there.
91 James Castleman;;6-2;;300;;Sr.;;Amarillo, Texas
With 24 career starts, Castleman is the most veteran player on the Cowboys roster. Entering his third season as a starter, his athleticism and toughness inside also play well in an increased leadership role.
98 Ofa Hautau;;6-2;;290;;Sr.;;Salt Lake City, Utah
Hautau played and contributed as a junior college transfer, but coaches expect much more in his second season, after a strong offseason.
96 Vincent Taylor;;6-3;;290;;Fr.;;San Antonio, Texas
A redshirt freshman, Taylor was a key piece in OSU’s 2013 recruiting class. Already, he’s bidding to become a factor.
70 Ben Hughes;;6-3;;310;;Fr.;;Waco, Texas
Pulled out of Baylor’s backyard in Waco, Hughes is another redshirt freshman who projects strong at the tackle position.
97 Eric Davis;;6-3;;290;;So.;;Tyler, Texas
Davis played in four games as a redshirt freshman and continues to develop as a potential future starter.
63 Deonte Cruse;;6-0;;300;;Sr.;;Murfreesboro, Tenn.
A junior college addition a year ago, provides depth inside.