STILLWATER, Okla. — At this time 12 months ago, Oklahoma State had the defensive tackle position circled on its priority list.
James Castleman and Ofa Hautau had moved on, leaving a major gap in the middle and leaving Cowboys fans concerned Oklahoma State’s defensive interior might be easily overrun.
Those fears didn’t become reality as sophomore Vincent Taylor seized his opportunity to become a major part of the defense while helping the Cowboys finish 10-3, including an Allstate Sugar Bowl appearance. Taylor finished with 48 tackles including 8.5 tackles for loss and five sacks while providing an interior presence that allowed defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean to excel on the outside.
“I can never be satisfied,” Taylor said. “But, for being my first year starting, I did pretty good and I had fun.”
This spring, Taylor is in a much different situation. Instead of fighting for playing time, Taylor will be one of the primary players Oklahoma State’s defense will be counting on, particularly with Ogbah and Bean no longer on the outside.
“It’s different,” Taylor said. “My role has changed, it’s time to step up more as a leader. We’re inexperienced right now, and we need guys to step up.”
And Taylor is at the top of the list of guys whom the Cowboys need to step up. An Oklahoma State defense with a disruptive but trustworthy Taylor will be much better than a unit that features the same Taylor who started 13 games in 2015.
“He’s got to [build upon last year] for us to be successful,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “He has the ability to make some nice plays, some penetrating moves and has quick feet. Watching his game closely, he’s got some things to improve.”
Those specific areas are the little things — such as gap responsibilities and chipping off blockers — that could make Taylor a more complete player as a junior and the Cowboys' defense more stout as a unit.
“When you’re a young player, you’re just worried about your world, you’re worried about surviving,” Spencer said. “Just with him buying in, I think he’s going to be a much better player. It might not show in the stat sheet, but it’s going to show in our run defense.”
Ogbah and Bean’s production will be difficult to replace, and they also brought vocal leadership to the defensive line. Taylor is not naturally a vocal leader, but making his voice heard has become one of his spring priorities as he tries to become a building block for Spencer.
“It’s not his norm, not his comfort zone but when we break out [of a huddle], I hear him,” Spencer said. “I’ll hear words on encouragement from him that last year it was Ogbah or Jimmy. He’s trying to do that.”
Taylor’s biggest impact won’t come with his voice but taking on that unnatural role is a good sign that the junior won’t shy away from the increased attention he is sure to get from opposing offenses in the fall. After solidifying a question mark for Oklahoma State a year ago, the Cowboys are confident Taylor can build upon his breakout season with a even better junior campaign.
“He should [improve] this year,” coach Mike Gundy said. “He’s strong enough, he’s mature enough. He should be a guy who shows up considerably this year. He’s ready to do that.”