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Oklahoma State Football

Knowles Talks About Sleeping Easier with Veteran Defense

March 29, 2021

STILLWATER – Jim Knowles has a lot of pride. You see he took the 4-2-5 defense that he first learned from now TCU head coach Gary Patterson and he put his one touch on it over the years. He perfected a system in the secondary that was more aggressive. He often had his corners in press man with cover 1 being the dominant coverage but mixing it with cover 2 and cover 3. His safeties were often times coming into the box and playing run first. When he got to Oklahoma State, Knowles had to re-think some aspects of defense after his first run through the pass happy and RPO littered Big 12. He still uses the 4-2-5 but mixes it with multiple 3-man front schemes that become really multiple on the back end behind the three-man front.

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Tim Duffie working with the corners on defense.

The best aspect of all of this adjusting and learning what works best against Big 12 offenses is that Knowles has not had to go through this alone. He’s had relatively the same staff with Joe Bob Clements and Greg Richmond coaching the line. On the backend Tim Duffie and Dan Hammerschmidt have had Knowles’ back. One of the most valuable assistants has been Shane Eachus, who was helping Knowles coach linebackers so he could focus also on the overall defense. Eachus just accepted the defensive coordinator job at Houston Baptist, so Knowles will be looking for help there. It could come in the form of former Oklahoma State and NFL corner Michael Hunter, who is now on the staff.

Not just staff though, Knowles recognizes that he has had a lot of players that he came in with and they are still with him. It is a valuable commodity to have that experience and that loyalty.

“Here I am coming into year four of being here and I have a lot of guys that been with me since I got here. Think about it,” Knowles said. “With Jarrick (Bernard-Converse), Kolby (Harvell-Peel), Tre (Sterling), Tanner (McCalister), and you know, Malcolm (Rodriguez), and Devin (Harper). It is fun out there. We have a great relationship, and it is fun to come to work. Those guys know how I think. They know what to expect and they know what the defense is trying to do. You can talk to them about some next level concepts. We’ve got a good veteran group.”

Oklahoma State Athletics
Malcolm Rodriguez

Rodriguez is a super senior, so is fellow linebacker Devin Harper. Both would have at the very least been signed as rookie free agents. The NFL scouts know who they are. Another year of starting football in Division I will help. Kolby Harvell-Peel had one foot out the door but came back. Others like Sterling and McCalister are juniors that had done enough to consider leaving early but decided to stay.

Knowles says he never advised his players one way or the other. He will be a sounding board, but he doesn’t want to be someone his players can ever blame for advice that didn’t work out. He will send them to sources he trusts. He will talk it out, but he won’t lead them to a decision.

“You never want to get involved with that (decision) because you want to support them either way,” Knowles said of the decision to try the NFL or stay another year in college football. “For a big group like that to make the decision to stay, a group that really make a lot of plays and that defense, with this group, has got better each year. Now since they are all coming back it gives our defense a chance to vault to the next level.

Knowles said all the decisions to stick around Stillwater gave him a lot of nights where he didn’t have to count sheep or anything else like third down stops. He was sleeping like a baby.

“Every time one of them said they were coming back I slept a little bit easier that night,” Knowles confirmed. “It is just really a good, confident feeling to have players of their attitude and ability and their knowledge of the defense.”

While Eachus has left town, Knowles counts all of his returning starters like Rodriguez, Harper, Sterling, Harvell-Peel, McCalister, Bernard-Converse, and all of the defensive linemen as assistant coaches.

Oklahoma State Athletics
Cowboys secondary knows their schemes well.

“I tell them that you really don’t know the defense until you can teach the defense, and I see those guys and they are really mentoring the young guys and I see them on the sidelines, and I see them constantly talking to them in walk thrus or whatever we are doing and they are constantly teaching the young players,” Knowles witnessed. “That is when you can really take your game to the next level is when you know the defense so well that you can teach it then you really have a chance to make more plays.”

While almost all of those guys, really all of them, have a dream and desire to play in the NFL some of them have interest in coaching the game. Knowles was asked if he had any clues on which players were thinking about coaching football.

“Kolby actually wants to be a coach. Tre’s father is a high school principal, so he is involved in it,” Knowles said naming those two. “Both of them could be really good at it. Malcolm (Rodriguez) is too irreverent and he’s always cutting up and having a good time, so he couldn’t do it. He’s always having too much fun.”

I’ve noticed that too. I like it, Rodriguez is kind of crazy, but he is crazy good. That what makes him so much fun to watch and so inspirational as a football player. His teammates, old and young, feed off that now and they’ve fed off it throughout his career.

Defense is likely going to be as fun as offense in Stillwater this season.

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Knowles Talks About Sleeping Easier with Veteran Defense

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