Young hopes to continue Cowboys’ rise on defense

When defensive coordinator Bill Young looks at the 11 players he
sends onto the field for Oklahoma State’s season opener against
Washington State on Saturday night, he won’t see many of the
starters who helped the Cowboys make a defensive breakthrough last
season.

After putting up the best numbers in Mike Gundy’s five years as
head coach, it’d be only natural to expect Oklahoma State to falter
after losing eight starters.

Not in Young’s eyes.

”We want to be better than we were a year ago,” Young said
Monday. ”We’ve got to do a better job. We’ve got to get more
sacks, we’ve got to get more turnovers and we’ll see how it
unfolds.”

In his first year, Young achieved his predecessor’s goal of
turning Oklahoma State into one of the top 50 defenses in the
country. After never doing better than 75th in either category the
previous four years, the Cowboys ranked 31st in both scoring
defense and yards allowed last season.

All three starting linebackers from that unit completed their
careers, although 2008 starter Orie Lemon is back in the middle
after missing last season with a knee injury. Gone, too, are
three-fourths of the starting secondary and top defensive tackles
Swanson Miller and Derek Burton.

Then training camp brought even more attrition. Three reserve
middle linebackers and safety Daytawion Lowe were lost to injuries.
And Gundy said Monday he still hasn’t decided whether defensive end
Jamie Blatnick, a part-time starter last season, and safety Victor
Johnson will play in the opener following their offseason
arrests.

”We’re putting the pressure on ourselves and on our players
that we need to show up, we need to play,” Young said. ”We’ve got
a lot of talent. We’re a little bit thin and we’ve got to be a
little bit lucky and not get anybody hurt. If we can do that, I
think we can be really good.”

Gundy’s message from the start of training camp has been that
the Cowboys may be lacking in experience, but hopefully can make up
for that with athleticism. He’s trying to be patient, realizing
that there’s no way to instantly give a young player the experience
that his departed starters possessed.

”There’s a lot of uncertainty this year because of guys that
haven’t been on the field,” Gundy said. ”That’s just the way it
is.”

Gundy said the makeup of this year’s team – which also had four
linemen and quarterback Zac Robinson among heavy losses on the
offensive side – reminds him of his early years at Oklahoma State.
Like then, the seniors in starring roles are greatly outnumbered by
freshmen.

”With us being young, it’s made us hungry,” safety Markelle
Martin. ”Everybody wants to play and contribute to the defense.
Everybody wants a role, and I think that’s going to be our
strength.”

Young will be hard-pressed to have his squad match last season’s
improvement that knocked a touchdown and 70 yards off opponents’
per-game averages. Oklahoma State allowed 21.7 points and 332.5
yards.

”Last year, we set our bar kind of medium range where we just
wanted to be a good defense. Now, we’re setting it higher, that we
want to be a great defense,” Martin said.

”We want to force that many more turnovers. We want to limit
the mistakes that we make.”

Young said he reviewed game film of schools in the Big Ten, SEC,
Pac-10 and elsewhere during the offseason looking for ways to build
on his defense’s success.

”Anything we can find that fits our system and gives offenses
trouble, we’d like to incorporate it, as long as it doesn’t involve
too much thinking on our players’ part,” he said.

That thought process has been central to Young’s approach.
Instead of making players learn new terminology when he arrived, he
adjusted his calls to match what players already knew. He’s not
planning to add a layer of complexity just because some players
have had another year to learn.

”We’re trying to base everything on simplicity,” Young said.
”We want to be where we’re a little bit complicated for the
opponent, but we don’t want to be complicated for ourselves.”