Oklahoma State turns to unproven talent at defensive end

STILLWATER, Okla. -- If Oklahoma State hopes to return to Big 12 title contention in the fall, the Cowboys will have to feature a defense that can cause problems and be a driving force that can turn a game around in conference play.

The 2015 version of the Cowboys defense did exactly that, proving to be the difference in road wins at Texas and West Virginia. Bookend defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Jimmy Bean played major roles the wins, combining for 25 tackles, 5.5 sacks, 8.5 tackles for loss, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one touchdown in the two games.

Neither player will return to Oklahoma State’s defense, leaving a major hole in the unit.

There was a time when the Cowboys would have had minimal hope of replacing the duo's production as players like Ogbah and Bean didn’t consistently call Stillwater, Oklahoma home in the past. But now, Oklahoma State could have more options to help fill the void than ever.

“There are a lot of names,” defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “But they’re just names right now.”

They’re intriguing names however. Former ESPN 300 defensive end Jordan Brailford impressed in limited duty as a backup a year ago while Jarrell Owens and Trey Carter each flashed their unique abilities at various times during their first season on the field. Cole Walterscheid could be the wild card of the bunch, having added some bulk to his lanky frame, allowing him emerge as legitimate option for playing time in 2016. All told, Oklahoma State has four promising redshirt sophomores who could end up combining to approach the production of Ogbah and Bean.

“They’re hungry, but it remains to be seen how close to that production we can get,” Spencer said.

Brailford had 23 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and one sack in backup duty and seems ready for an increased role. Owens could be the best pass-rusher of the bunch with three sacks in limited time in 2015. Carter may be the most talented of the foursome but is working to transfer that talent into big plays on the field, while Walterscheid, at 6-foot-5, 254 pounds, offers length and height the others cannot match. None of them have done enough on the field to be considered the clear favorite to secure a starting role.

“A lot of times fans, or (media), might see someone make a play and … that’s the guy,” Spencer said. “But you don’t notice the three other things he did wrong that cost us. And as coaches, that’s what we’re looking at. Our option is to get them good enough to win games for us. That’s the only option we’ll take, to get them to a championship level.”

Fortunately for Oklahoma State, they’ve recruited well enough to actually have a competition to replace Ogbah and Bean as opposed to simply hoping one or two guys could step in without being a weak link.

“You love that as coaches,” Spencer said. “You’re glad there’s not just two guys there. It means (they) have to rise above and (they) should be able to rise each other’s talent level.”

A defensive end rotation seems like the most likely scenario, with Brailford and Owens topping the queue as the most experienced duo. Yet Carter and Walterscheid bring enough unique things to the table that they could secure a role in the defense if they make a jump from their freshman to sophomore seasons.

“They have to toughen up and prove themselves,” Spencer said. “Whoever wins the job or comes out of spring as No. 1, they’re still an unproven name. He may be No. 1, but he still has to prove he can win at a high level for us.”