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Oklahoma State Football

Knowles Still Smiling, Talking Extra Reps and Advanced Learning for Defense

June 12, 2021

STILLWATER – Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Jim Knowles started the spring by telling media about how well he was sleeping at night as the contingent of defenders with linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez and safeties Tre Sterling and Kolby Harvell-Peel leading the way in announcing they would be in Stillwater for another year playing on his defense. Add to those guys a lot of other experienced defenders like Devin Harper at linebacker and corners Christian Holmes and Jarrick Bernard-Converse along with safety Tanner McCalister all back. Even though there were injuries that would keep a number of guys sidelined in the spring, all of the defensive linemen were back except for senior defensive tackle Cam Murray.

Fast forward to the summer and after a month spent studying the spring and working on plans for the early opponents for next season and Knowles feels even better. Fans are starting to join in with the defensive boss. Across the Oklahoma State fanbase the feeling is this defense could be as good, maybe better than the offense that is usually entertaining for the ticket buyers in Boone Pickens Stadium and dangerous for opposing defenses.

The truth of the matter is both sides of the ball should be stout and the special teams too. When offenses and defenses are loaded then there are more capable and hungry players lined up for duty on special teams. That will be the case this fall.

Pat Kinnison - Chief Photographer
Defense was very aggressive throughout the spring.

On the defensive side, Knowles is excited because with all the numbers of players in the spring, head coach Mike Gundy jacked up the last two weeks of spring with lots of 11-on-11 scrimmage work. Some of the less experienced, but talented players got close to a season’s worth of reps.

“Going against our offense and they always challenge you and getting those 11-on-11 reps there is no substitute for the development of a young player,” Knowles said. “There’s only so much you can do in film sessions and in individual drills in getting out there playing the game at the speed of the game. It is so important, and I look at the linebackers with Kam (Farrar), (Na’Drian) Dizadare, and (Mason) Cobb and the incoming freshman Nick Martin and (they got) 600 or 700, something ridiculous, in team reps. Then like you said, Collin Oliver he really jumped out and we’re missing Trace (Ford) was out, Brock (Martin) was out, (Tyron) Irby was out. So Collin Oliver really got a chance to play and you take him, take Nick Martin, freshmen, who should still be in high school going to their senior prom and they’re getting 500 team reps over the length of the spring. What an advantage that is for them.”

Huge! It will bring those players to a level where they can help the depth of the defense as soon as this fall. In Oliver and Martin, those two freshmen have developed to the point they don’t look or play like first-year players.

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics
Lamont Bishop (11) was one of the players that advanced that advance the most this spring.

Another very pleasant surprise was the development and what those reps did for linebacker Lamont Bishop, a player that was kind of forgotten by fans after he spent most of last season injured. The former standout junior college linebacker took those spring reps and began making major noise in scrimmages. He showed that he not only can play at this level but might be sensational and he has another two years.

That means by the time he is out of here he too might be able to lecture new players on the nuances of the Knowles 4-2-5 and now multiple three-man front defense. Knowles will tell you that players that can teach the defense can play it and execute it at a much higher level. The experience of the returning players and the reps for many of the third and four year players in the defense this spring has more knowledge within the defense than Knowles has ever had at Oklahoma State or at Duke.

“You’re right and we do all kinds of things to help our guys learn the big picture with game shows and things with the kids,” Knowles said. “When you have veteran safeties like Tre (Sterling) and Kolby (Harvell-Peel), you know, Tanner (McCalister), Thomas (Harper) guys that have been around and now they can stand back with me and tell me what is going on. They can be on the sidelines and talking to the young guys.

“It is one thing to be talking to the young guys and encouraging them. It is another to be specifically saying against this formation when you see this then here is what you need to do,” Knowles said going deeper. “That’s teaching and that is making them better because when they have something they have a question about then they are able to come to me. It puts us two steps ahead instead of always trying to play catch up.”

Look out and don’t get on social media and brag about it. Everybody in Big 12 country and the “experts” around the nation on college football believe Oklahoma and Iowa State will have the most dominant defenses in the conference. They believe that Gary Patterson and his TCU defense will be the unit coming out of the woods for this season.

Keep it that way. Then it will be even more of a fun party when Jim Knowles’ defense breaks out all their knowledge this season.

Discussion from...

Knowles Still Smiling, Talking Extra Reps and Advanced Learning for Defense

1,025 Views | 2 Replies | Last: 1 mo ago by Orangeheart72
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I'm eager to see this D play. They look like they could be as good as the '84 & '85 teams that had Leslie O'Neal, John Washington, and Mark Moore. That would be a big leap for us!
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Robert, it seems to me our recruiting has started to pay greater dividends. We had fallen off on the OL side due to coaching turnover so that's a reasonable expectation to upgrade again there with a very good coach bringing stability.

But DL (almost impossible it seemed for years), LB, secondary, rb's, qb's and receivers......just appears we're hitting a different stride involving talented depth and stability.

Do you agree and if so, what factors do you think are the likely change factors/drivers? New recruiting coordinator, staff consistency/effort, just long term winning consistently, ???.

Somewhat interesting too this occurs after the Holder flap a couple/three years back about "recruiting better" (which a lot of us thought was damaging).
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