STILLWATER — “Aggressive” has been the buzzword surrounding a revamped Oklahoma State defense throughout spring practice.
Next Saturday's spring finale should give fans their first chance to see the Cowboys' new look on that side of the ball. But don't expect to see much, if any, full tackling, as OSU has continued its same approach of not taking players all the way to the ground during practice not staging a full-blown scrimmage.
More aggressive yet still no tackling? Those practice tactics might seem to contradict OSU's shift in philosophy.
Coach Mike Gundy doesn't see it that way.
“I don't believe that's been a factor in what's happened here,” he said.
Keeping players fresh and healthy, both physically and mentally, is still imperative for long-term personnel development and success, Gundy said. And he doesn't think missed tackles — a possible byproduct of OSU's current practice habits — are to blame for the Cowboys' recent defensive struggles.
Instead, Gundy consistently points to the pass defense, which ranked 110th in the nation last season in allowing 280 yards per game. He didn't think the Cowboys put enough pressure on the quarterback. And he didn't like the soft coverage from the defensive backs.
To fix those issues, the Cowboy defenders haven't necessarily had to increase their physicality or adapt to a completely new scheme. They've had to tweak their mentality.
“It's got a little bit to do with technique and approach and the style,” he said, “But most of it's just kind of the attitude.”
Gundy thinks his team has started to find that mindset during spring practice. And players and coaches have taken a liking to the new style.
“That was the attitude in the first meeting we had, and it's carried through,” new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “Expectations are high to challenge a lot of different situations and approach them with a more aggressive mentality, and that's what we've gotten out of them. We have a long way to go, but mentally they're catching on to what we want.”
Added defensive tackle Calvin Barnett: “We don't always know what our coverage looks like, and (last season we were) like, ‘Why are we not pressing?' Just little stuff like that. But now we know everything's just getting turned up. As a D-lineman, we are aggressive. Of course that's how we want to play.”
And even though OSU fans will hear quick whistles next Saturday and won't see tackling — except for the occasional hit when guys are running full speed — Gundy believes that aggressiveness will show through at the Cowboys' spring finale.
“Attacking the quarterback and not allowing the receivers to make so many easy catches. That's really what I am looking for,” Gundy said. “I don't know that it has a lot to do with scheme. You don't have to change a lot to do that.”