Here's the finale of our in-depth look at Oklahoma State's 2014 squad on a position-by-position basis. Today we focused on breaking down the defense and special teams for the Pokes:
If you missed Part 1 about the offense from Saturday, here is the link: OSU Offense Position Breakdown
Key Returners: DT James Castleman, DT Ofa Hautau, DT Eric Davis, DE Jimmy Bean, DE Sam Wren, DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DE Trace Clark
Key Losses: DT Calvin Barnett, DE Tyler Johnson, DT Anthony Rogers, DT Davidell Collins
Gaining: DT Vincent Taylor (RS), DT Ben Hughes (RS), DL Vili Leveni (RS), DE Trey Carter, DE Jordan Brailford, DE Jarrell Owens
Even with the loss of all-conference anchor Calvin Barnett in the middle and steady Tyler Johnson on the edge, the defensive line enters 2014 as the unquestioned strength of the defense.
James Castleman has been a beast for Glenn Spencer's line on the interior and should be a force to be reckoned with for opposing offensive lines. Ofa Hautau was a reliable contributor in his first year with the program in 2013 and he looks like a virtual guarantee to start next to Castleman, giving the Pokes a stout duo in the middle. Providing depth will be a slew of unproven but skilled youngsters, highlighted by the redshirt freshman tandem of Ben Hughes (6-3, 310) and Vincent Taylor (6-3, 295). Converted defensive end Eric Davis could also push for immediate playing time after making his way onto the field in four games as a redshirt freshman last year.
As good as the interior can be, the defensive ends have the potential to be even better and they have strength in numbers. Junior Jimmy Bean (6-5, 250) is arguably the star of the bunch as an athletic speed rusher who ended on a high note with seven tackles, three tackles for loss and a sack in the Cotton Bowl after starting every game in 2013. Senior pass rush specialist Sam Wren figures to hold down the fort on the opposite side after making a significant impact last year after transferring from Arizona Western C.C.
Wren (6-2, 255) played in every game as a junior and accounted for 22 tackles, 0.5 sacks and a forced fumble playing primarily behind Johnson. Sophomore Emmanuel Ogbah (6-4, 270) figures to be the featured man in the reserve rotation after garnering honorable mention Big 12 defensive freshman of the year honors last year. Junior Trace Clark (6-4, 255) also played in every game last season giving Glenn Spencer much-valued experience across the two-deep at both end spots, which will be counted on for this inexperienced defense. Sophomore Victor Irokansi is another threat to push for time thanks to his quick burst but he's still a little smallish at 240 pounds.
Redshirt freshman Vili Leveni bulked up to 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds and, while listed as an end, he could also provide depth inside if need be. The true freshman trio of Trey Carter, Jordan Brailford and Jarrell Owens shows that the future of the position is bright but it's unlikely any of the three will be counted on to help right away.
Key Returners: Ryan Simmons, Seth Jacobs
Key Losses: Caleb Lavey, Shaun Lewis, Joe Mitchell, Dominic Ramacher (quit football), Kris Catlin (academics), S/LB Deion Imade
Gaining: D'Nerius Antoine (JC), Devante Averette (JC), Josh Furman (Michigan-transfer), Chad Whitemer (Cal-transfer), Gyasi Akem, Josh Mabin, Justin Phillips, Kirk Tucker
Depth and experience are huge concerns for this unit – Huge. Concerns.
Junior Ryan Simmons was excellent in his first year as a starter, ranking fourth on the team with 67 tackles, but there is an unreal amount of pressure on him following the mass exodus from this unit to graduation. That pressure has only mounted throughout the summer with Dominic Ramacher quitting football and projected starter Kris Catlin losing the 2014 season because of academic issues. Junior college transfer D'Nerius Antoine was also unable to qualify academically for this season.
That leaves sophomores Seth Jacobs and Demarcus Sherod as the only other scholarship linebackers on the roster who have ever played in a game. Jacobs (6-2, 220) figures to replace Katlin on the strong side after playing in six games as a redshirt freshman, highlighted by a four-tackle outing against Lamar. Sherod could also push for a starting role on the weakside, or serve as Simmons' backup in the middle after missing the entire 2013 season due to an injury he sustained in last year's fall camp. Sherod played in every contest as a redshirt freshman in 2012, including a start against Louisiana-Lafayette, but only has seven career tackles.
As a direct result of the depth issues in the unit, OSU brought in a whopping eight recruits and transfers. The aforementioned Antoine was unable to qualify, putting extra pressure on fellow JUCO transfer Devante Averette to push for a starting role on the heels of rehabbing from a torn ACL. Averette (6-0, 235) is very athletic, has great speed and was a first-team JUCO All-American after amassing 92 tackles in his sophomore year at Ellsworth (Iowa) C.C.
Michigan transfer Josh Furman was a safety in his three years at Michigan but has shifted over to the “star” linebacker position in Stillwater. He played in 32 games for the Wolverines, starting three, and figures to make an instant impact in the lineup if only for his game experience.
Four of the true freshman could be pushed in the rotation almost immediately in Broken Arrow product Gyasi Akem, Josh Mabin, Justin Phillips and Kirk Tucker. The good news: all four have the potential to be excellent. Akem (6-1, 210) was a consensus four-star recruit and Rivals' ranked him the No. 9 outside linebacker in the country. Mabin (6-2, 227) was a four-star recruit by ESPN and the No. 21 middle linebacker in America by Scout. Phillips (6-0, 215) was the Houston Chronicle defensive player of the year and was highly sought after a stellar senior season that ended with a 5A Texas state championship, in which he returned a fumble 88 yards for a touchdown. Tucker needs to grow (190 pounds) but should have a bright future at the “star” position after OSU snuck in to get him from SEC country. Tucker picked OSU over offers from Oregon, Ohio State, Stanford and Wisconsin.
Key Returners: CB Kevin Peterson, CB Ashton Lampkin, CB Miketavious Jones, S Jordan Sterns
Key Losses: CB Justin Gilbert, CB Tyler Patmon, S Daytawion Lowe, S Lyndell Johnson (dismissed),
S Shamiel Gary, S Zack Craig, S/LB Deion Imade
Gaining: S/CB Larry Stephens (returning from season ending injury), CB/S Jerel Morrow (RS), CB Darius Curry (RS), CB Taylor Lewis (RS), CB Chris Hardeman, CB Ramon Richards, CB Juwan Offray,
The Cowboy secondary was already going to have a difficult time replacing first-round NFL Draft pick Justin Gilbert and reliable Tyler Patmon at corner, as well as, a slew of departures at safety – namely starters Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary – but things got even worse for the Pokes in the offseason with the dismissal of safety and proven-playmaker Lyndell Johnson. Johnson was the heir apparent at strong safety and finished fifth on the team in tackles a season ago, making it an under discussed loss in the lead up to the season.
The good news is that returning cornerback Kevin Peterson has all-conference potential and plenty of starting experience to anchor the secondary. Junior corner Ashton Lampkin is a seasoned reserve who should effectively fill the starting role opposite Peterson but he will have to compete with lightning-fast junior Miketavious Jones, who saw action in every game as a sophomore last season.
Outside of the aforementioned trio, there is limited-to-no experience remaining at the position but there is plenty of promise thanks to solid recruiting the past few years. Redshirt freshman Jerel Morrow is hyper-athletic, doubling as a long jumper for the OSU track program, and was rated the No. 1 player in Kansas as a high school senior. Fellow redshirt freshman Darius Curry is big, physical corner at 6-foot-1 and was highly-recruited out of high school in Georgia and 6-foot redshirt freshman Taylor Lewis, the son of former Tennessee Titan Rod Lewis, impressed on the scout team and could push his way into the rotation.
Pint-sized newcomer Chris Hardeman (5-9) is perhaps the most likely of the freshman corners to find his way onto the field in Year No. 1. Hardeman was a four-star recruit out of Houston and chose OSU over offers from Ohio State, Oklahoma, LSU, Georgia, Notre Dame, Nebraska and Texas A&M. True freshmen Ramon Richards and Juwan Offrey are redshirt candidates but, given the unproven depth at the position, there is no guarantee they won't factor into the mix.
There is even less proven experience at safety with the departures of Lowe, Gary, Johnson and Craig leading many to expect substantial growing pains. Jordan Sterns is appears to be the closest thing to a shoo-in to start after an impressive freshman year where he played in 12 games and recorded 13 tackles. Vying for the other starting gig will 6-foot-2, 200-pound Deric Robertson, who played in eight games as a true freshman a season ago. Robertson will be pushed by senior Larry Stephens, who suffered a season-ending injury in last year's opener against Mississippi State. Stephens has been a long-time contributor on special teams but has never seen any significant in-game action at safety in his career. Redshirt freshman Tre Flowers could also potentially make an impact thanks to his height (6'3) and athleticism.
Freshmen Tre Roberts and Dylan Harding will get their chance to make an impression in fall camp, as well.
Key Returners: KR Desmond Roland, K Ben Grogan, P Kip Smith
Key Losses: KR Justin Gilbert, PR Josh Stewart, LS Connor Sinko (field goals), LS Andrew Suter (punts)
Gaining: KR-PR Tyreek Hill, P Zach Sinor
Gone is kick return stud Justin Gilbert, as is punt return specialist Josh Stewart. But all hope is not lost thanks largely to the huge expectations placed on junior college running back and preseason Big 12 newcomer of the year Tyreek Hill. Hill could, and most likely will, take over the duties in both roles and should keep the Pokes extremely dangerous in the return game.
Kicker Ben Grogan and punter Kip Smith return but both must be better this season to keep a firm grasp on their starting roles. Grogan was inconsistent as a freshman, connecting on 11-of-18 field goals, while Smith was equally baffling with moments of brilliance (24 punts pinned inside the 20) offset by numerous shanks and ill-timed short punts in conference play.
Both long snappers must also be replaced. Incoming freshman punter Zach Sinor was arguably the top prospect at the position in Texas as a high school senior.