Justin Gilbert was a Thorpe Award finalist last season for Oklahoma State. He was one of the best cornerbacks in OSU football history. And now Gilbert is gone to the NFL.
And cornerback remains a team strength. Such is the ascent of Mike Gundy’s program that the Cowboys could lose a star and be just fine at the position. Juniors Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin will man the corners when practice starts, and no one is worried. Peterson was a starter last season and should have been on the preseason all-Big 12 team. Lampkin has played very well in spot duty in the past.
Thus the Cowboys, who are terribly thin at linebacker and completely void of experience at safety, are at least set at the critical position of cornerback.
“It definitely is, in what we do, a pivotal position,” said OSU cornerbacks coach Van Malone. “As the coach of the group, I can understand that if these guys can’t play man to man, if these guys can’t do what we have them to do, we can’t be successful in this scheme. And they understand that. That goes into the training of them.”
The Cowboys were more aggressive defensively last season, and to play that way, OSU’s corners have to be able to play on an island. They have to be able to take the challenge of often having little or no help against quality wide receivers.
“They understand, we need Justin Gilbert-esque play to be successful, to be as successful as we’ve been,” Malone said. “And it’s just been really fortunate that you have a Justin Gilbert, and before him you have a Brodrick Brown, and you have these guys who put things in younger players’ head, along with coaching of course, but they just step in understanding what they need to do. They step in understanding what they need to be.”
Malone seems to challenge his players to take pride in the position.
“When you have a guy, we talked about it at the end of the season, we have a guy who was a Thorpe finalist,” Malone said. “It was great to be there. It was great to be at that party. But we got to get a guy to win that award. So that’s what we’re trying to build. What I as a coach is trying to build. That needs to be the norm.”
Malone took no umbrage that Peterson was overlooked by Big 12 voters in the preseason. “Guess what; Justin Gilbert wasn’t on all the preseason stuff,” Malone said. “He wasn’t a preseason Thorpe finalist. So to my guys, I say, OK, you worry about the preseason if you want to be. But in three months, nobody will care who was predicted to win the conference. Nobody will care who was on the preseason teams. Nobody will care, because there will be people who were on it who will not even be existing. There will be people who weren’t on it, who will be leading the league in different categories.
“We’re excited about Ashton and about Kevin and their attitude and their leadership and those things, because we feel like, even more than Justin and Brodrick were, at this time in their junior years, these guys were really — and it’s because of those guys — these guys are well ahead. So by the time they’re seniors, we’re expecting them to be out there far in terms of the things they can accomplish.”
Malone said that at times, OSU has gone 80 percent man-to-man. The Cowboys also have mixed in zone, and disguised a zone with a man-to-man look. And vice versa. But either way, the cornerbacks will be near the line of scrimmage and be aggressive.
“We’re not going to let you nickel and dime us,” Malone said. “We’re going to be aggressive. And our players at the corner position, they understand what’s at stake.”