Glenn Spencer climbed up the coaching ranks this offseason by assuming the Pokes' defensive coordinator post, vacated when veteran Bill Young's contract wasn't renewed at the end of the season.
He's already made it clear he wants Oklahoma State's defense to get a reputation as an aggressive defense, something it hasn't been in the past. The transition's been easier for one big reason: The same one that Spencer says makes this season a good one for him to take over.
"I’ll be the first to admit, you’ve got older guys, a lot of seniors on that defense that have played a lot of ball. You can’t coach that. They’ve seen the speed of the game in the conference. They know how to function. They know how to execute," said Spencer, who was promoted from coaching the Oklahoma State linebackers. "Typically guys like that that have played a lot, when something’s going wrong, they know how to fix it. They know how to approach game day mentality. They know how to travel. A lot of things you don’t think about but they make a difference on game day, and I’ve got some."
The Pokes are still trying to find their quarterback, but linebacker Shaun Lewis and cornerback Justin Gilbert are entering their fourth seasons as contributors for the Pokes and headline the unit. Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett grew up late last season after transferring from junior college and safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary can both provide senior leadership for the Cowboys defense that hovered in the middle of the Big 12 last year.
"We challenged certain individuals to play some different techniques just to get a different look. They did," Spencer said. "Not to say we didn’t give up plays here and there and not to say we didn’t fundamentally have a lot of things to improve on, but it’s a building from this spring and summer and keep building on that, but I think they’re buying into it and they’re excited and hopefully the results will show in the fall. That’s really all that matters."
The "results" Oklahoma State might be helped most by is another avalanche of turnovers. Spencer's aggressive style might help that. The Cowboys ranked in the top 11 in turnovers forced from 2009-2011, peaking with an FBS-high 44 forced turnovers in 2011 on the way to a national title. Last season, that number dropped to just 22, 58th nationally.
Oklahoma State's made a reputation for sending tons of offensive talent to the NFL, highlighted by first-round picks Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden in 2012, but offensive lineman Russell Okung made waves after going in the top 10 back in 2010, too. The defense doesn't have those types of talent, but Spencer's out to prove he can field a Big 12 title-caliber defense without one.
I can honestly say this since I’ve been here, going into Year 6, there’s more quality in numbers than I’ve ever had. Is there an All-Pro guy there? No," Spencer said. "There’s a lot of guys that know how to compete and compete in this conference and be successful."