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OSU football: How good can the Cowboy defense be?

STILLWATER — Oklahoma State has a defense without a face.

That doesn’t mean it’s a defense without stars. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s a defense without talent.

But there’s no posterboy for this defense, no singular player who holds the keys to making the unit special.

It’s a defense of many faces.

And that’s why everyone involved — from coach Mike Gundy to defensive coordinator Jim Knowles to every player who has spoken to the media this preseason — has had strong words to say about the quality of the OSU defense leading up to the season opener against Tulsa at 11 a.m. Saturday at Boone Pickens Stadium, televised by ESPN.

“They will have a chance, with the depth and the maturity they have, to be the best team that we’ve had on that side of the ball since I’ve been here for 16 years,” Gundy said on ESPN last week.

Depth, maturity, experience, confidence. All those intangibles make the Cowboys feel good about what they’ve got on defense.

“We’ve got guys that have been with each other for a while,” Kolby Harvell-Peel said. “I think we got the pieces this year to do something special.”

When you start listing the stars of the defense, Harvell-Peel’s name should be near the top. If the junior safety returns to form after last year’s torn ACL, he should be up for Jim Thorpe Award consideration as the top defensive back in the country.

Linebackers Amen Ogbongbemiga and Malcolm Rodriguez each had over 100 tackles last season, a testament to their reliability. They don’t often miss tackle opportunities. And they’re backed up by two players with starter-level talent in Calvin Bundage and Devin Harper.

Defensive end Trace Ford has been one of the brightest stars of camp, prompting Knowles to use the phrase “All-American prospect” while talking about the 6-foot-4, 248-pound true sophomore.

And that’s hardly the end of the list of potential stars.

Neither coaches nor players have held back when talking about how good they think this defense could be.

“I think we are poised to really take the next step,” Knowles said. “The leadership is great. Everybody knows what they’re doing. They’re in the right places and playing fast.

“It’s been full speed ahead and I think we got a real chance to be good.”

The words have gone beyond the typical preseason coachspeak. They’re being spoken with passion and being echoed throughout the ranks.

“As a unit this whole camp, we’ve been locked in,” Murray said. “We got a different type of swagger, different type of mindset going in.

“The defense this year I feel like is gonna be really good. This camp is really showing how good we can be.”

Of course, no defense in the Big 12 can be good without a strong secondary. Aside from Harvell-Peel, the Cowboys have returning safety Tre Sterling and fourth-year starting cornerback Rodarius Williams.

Jarrick Bernard-Converse started two years at safety and has moved to cornerback, with Tanner McCalister and Thomas Harper filling his old spot. Plus, graduate transfer Christian Holmes has blended in well to help with depth at cornerback.

“I feel like we can be the best that’s ever been up here,” Bernard-Converse said. “We’ve got really good potential. We just gotta go out there and focus and lock in.

“The experience we’ve got coming back, the trust we have in each other, and the scheme Coach Knowles has for us… with how much talent we have, the sky’s the limit for us.”

Related Photos
<strong>Oklahoma State's Kolby Harvell-Peel (31) lines up for a play in the Cowboys' 34-27 win against TCU last season in Stillwater. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]</strong>

Oklahoma State's Kolby Harvell-Peel (31) lines up for a play in the Cowboys' 34-27 win against TCU last season in Stillwater. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6ee23fb33c144bfabea6eaa5013e1dc7.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma State's Kolby Harvell-Peel (31) lines up for a play in the Cowboys' 34-27 win against TCU last season in Stillwater. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma State's Kolby Harvell-Peel (31) lines up for a play in the Cowboys' 34-27 win against TCU last season in Stillwater. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma State's Kolby Harvell-Peel (31) lines up for a play in the Cowboys' 34-27 win against TCU last season in Stillwater. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-e6bdb7db3dde6a502fe15e8bae5498fe.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma State's defensive players believe they have a chance to be a special group this season. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] " title=" Oklahoma State's defensive players believe they have a chance to be a special group this season. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] "><figcaption> Oklahoma State's defensive players believe they have a chance to be a special group this season. [Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman] </figcaption></figure>
Scott Wright

A lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, Scott Wright has been on The Oklahoman staff since 2005, covering a little bit of everything on the state's sports scene. He has been a beat writer for football and basketball at Oklahoma and... Read more ›

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