Tim Duffie didn't need to say anything to Shamiel Gary to alert him that his starting job was going to be challenged when Lyndell Johnson moved from linebacker to strong safety in the spring.
“The one thing is you can't fool players,” the Oklahoma State safeties coach said. “We don't move players over there just to sit on the bench, from the standpoint of how many plays Lyndell made (last season).
“It didn't take much (for Gary to think), ‘Hey, I better get myself going or I'll be running with the 2s.'”
Johnson quickly evolved into one of the Cowboys' most dynamic defensive playmakers as a sophomore last season, using his long wingspan, speed and athleticism in nine games as a backup hybrid outside linebacker to nearly fill up an entire defensive stat line: 28 tackles (6.5 for loss), two sacks, two interceptions, one pass breakup, one quarterback hurry, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
But Johnson's move to the secondary has also pushed Gary to improve, particularly when it comes to attention to detail and competing for balls in pass coverage, Duffie said.
Which is why Duffie said that Gary is still the starter, “but it's close.”
Johnson is currently the Cowboys' nickelback, a position they will need plenty when facing the Big 12's spread offenses that come with a wide variety of three-, four- and even five-receiver sets. Zack Craig and even starting free safety Daytawion Lowe could also fill that nickelback role, if needed.
THREE OSU COMMITMENTS RANKED IN UPDATED RIVALS 250
Recruiting service Rivals.com updated its top 250 prospects for the 2014 class Tuesday, with three OSU commitments cracking the list.
Broken Arrow running back Devon Thomas came in at No. 164, while teammate Gyasi Akem (linebacker) is ranked No. 211. Houston Alief Taylor receiver Keenan Brown, who committed after attending OSU's scrimmage less than two weeks ago, took the No. 217 spot.
The Cowboys also remain in play for Monroe (La.) Ouachita Parish wide receiver Cameron Sims, a Top 100 overall prospect according to Scout who is scheduled to announce his commitment Saturday.