STILLWATER — Glenn Spencer’s first year as coordinator successfully rebuilt the image of Oklahoma State’s defense.
Year 2 now requires a full rebuild.
The Cowboys lost seven senior starters from last season’s group that ranked among the top 25 nationally in seven major categories, plus veteran and versatile safety Lyndell Johnson, who has been dismissed from the team for “personal reasons” as announced by head coach Mike Gundy.
Such was the stark reality Monday, the first day of spring practice at OSU.
“Today, we’re not very good,” Spencer said of his side of the ball. “But thankfully, we don’t keep score today. And we’ve got many opportunities to get these unproven guys ready to compete at this level.
“The fun part about it is, I think this young group is really hungry. They’re hungry to show what they can do. They’re hungry to learn. And as a coaching staff, we can hammer in the core principles and values of what we believe in.”
The new-look storyline extends throughout this team, which is without 37 members of its 70-man travel roster. Gone are 28 seniors, plus Johnson, centers Jake Jenkins and Travis Cross – who graduated and have decided to move on in their lives with eligibility remaining – and receiver Josh Stewart, who opted to leave early and enter the NFL Draft. Recovering from injuries and sitting out the spring: offensive linemen Devin Davis (knee) and Brandon Garrett (leg) and running back Desmond Roland (shoulder). And safety Larry Stephens and linebacker Demarcus Sherod will be limited.
Along with the significant defensive holes, the Cowboys are also in need of a new quarterback, three starters for the offensive line and new go-to guys at receiver, although that’s at least a position brimming with potential and possibilities.
“We’ve got some work ahead of us just to catch up,” Gundy said. “What that means is we have a lot of young players we have to bring along in the next few weeks. But we also have to be a little careful how we handle them from a rep standpoint, and bring them along slowly.
“And we need every practice we can get.”
At least the offense offers some known commodities, like young receivers Jhajuan Seales, Brandon Sheperd and Marcell Ateman, who dazzled with potential last season.
Even at quarterback, J.W. Walsh has started and won games over the course of two seasons.
On defense, however, the mass turnover is concerning, even for Spencer.
“As far as the numbers who are going to have that opportunity, that are unproven,” Spencer said, “there’s a lot more than what I’ve been around.”
And for now, there’s also a search for defensive leaders, compounding the challenges of restoring the unit ASAP, considering the seriousness of next season’s opener against defending national champion Florida State.