Earlier in the week, we broke down the five Oklahoma State Cowboys offensive players who are most likely to step up into a featured role this spring. Now, we'll look at the defensive side of things.
The Pokes are losing a ton of talent on defense. Justin Gilbert, Caleb Lavey, Shaun Lewis, Calvin Barnett, Shamiel Gary, Tyler Johnson and Daytawion Lowe are all gone. For those of you counting at home, that's seven starters who need to be replaced, and that's not even counting key contributors like Tyler Patmon.
As you can tell, defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has his work cut out for him this spring.
Fortunately, quite a few guys showed off hints of serious skill last year and should thrive with an increased role in 2014.
Is it cheating to put two guys on the first slide? Maybe, but it will probably take both Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin to replace Justin Gilbert at the cornerback position.
Both of these guys saw the field last season and played reasonably well; however, they're going to need to step up if Oklahoma State is going to continue putting its corners on an island as often as it did last season.
Don't expect either of these guys to play up to the level of Gilbert, but these soon-to-be juniors should make a solid one-two punch for the Cowboys.
I'm going to pat myself on the back here a little bit because I named Jimmy Bean as a "young player to watch" before the Cotton Bowl.
He delivered with seven tackles and a sack in the losing effort. Consider that his coming-out party.
Expect him to thrive for the Oklahoma State Cowboys this season and become a regular in opponent's backfields.
The Pokes have quite a few young pass-rushers to watch out for (Sam Wren, Naim Mustafaa and Emmanuel Ogbah, to name a few); however, Bean is the stud of the group and should have a monster 2014-15 season.
Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis were exceptional linebackers at Oklahoma State. Lewis made plays all over the field and excelled in coverage, while Lavey was the heart and soul of the defense in 2013 with his strong play in the middle.
Replacing them isn't going to be easy, but Ryan Simmons is a guy to pay attention to this spring.
He is the only returning starter at the linebacker position, and he'll have to provide a steady presence as new guys like DeMarcus Sherod get acclimated to being bigger contributors.
Simmons may not be the Pokes' best linebacker in 2014, but he's certainly the most important this offseason because of the experience he gained last year.
James Castleman has been a solid presence in the middle for a few seasons at Oklahoma State, but he's always been somewhat overshadowed by the excellent play of the departing Calvin Barnett.
With Barnett no longer playing beside him, expect Castleman to take an increased workload and become the biggest cog in the defensive tackle rotation.
He might not produce at the same level of Barnett; however, his play should improve, and he'll likely help bring along young players like Ofa Hautau.
Again, we're looking at a guy who has been a relatively key player for a couple of season now in Lyndell Johnson; however, he's going to be much more important to the team's success in 2014.
That's because both of the team's safeties are gone, and Johnson will have to fill the void.
He should be up to the task, as he played the position in high school and made the switch back last spring. Look for him to come out and impress this spring on his way to becoming one of, if not the best, playmaker on the Cowboys defense.