SCOUTING REPORT As sure as Pistol Pete wears a 10-gallon hat, the Cowboys' offense will put plenty of points on the scoreboard. Never mind that Dana Holgorsen, who oversaw OSU's third-ranked offense last year, has moved on to become head coach at West Virginia. New coordinator Todd Monken has promised to make little more than tweaks, meaning Brandon Weeden will still fling footballs to Justin Blackmon for gobs of yardage, and Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith will gain ground behind five returning blockers.Questions do remain on the defense, where coordinator Bill Young faces an imposing task: coaxing a championship-level performance out of a unit that yielded more than 26 points per game last fall and has lost important players at linebacker and defensive tackle. Young is confident that a series of platoons will help fill the gaps.Up front that job falls to a four-man stable of tackles manning the pair of spots between senior defensive ends Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick. Junior Nigel Nicholas, an agile 279-pound former end, headlines the group of tackles, which also includes juco transfer Maurice Hayes and redshirt freshman Christian Littlehead. "We've got four young players that need to get the same production that we were getting out of two players last year," says coach Mike Gundy.Behind that line, sophomore Caleb Lavey and 25-year-old former baseball prospect Tyler Johnson will try to replace Orie Lemon's experience with their athleticism at middle linebacker, while a trio will fight for reps at Justin Gent's old spot on the weak side.More certain is the group's strongside linebacker (Shaun Lewis returns) and the secondary, which brings back starters Brodrick Brown, Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas. Those four players were responsible for half of the Cowboys' conference-best 34 turnovers a year ago. "I can guarantee you no one in America -- college, pro or high school -- talks more about turnovers," Young says before mentioning the gassers that his players must run if they don't create at least five in a spring practice.In the end, though, Young understands how his unit can truly thrive at OSU. "The best defense is a good offense," he says, chuckling. "Always has been, always will be." Pistol Pete can hang his hat on that.
THE BIG IF Will attention to detail (and all those gassers) pay off for Martin and a passing defense in dire need of improvement?
TELLING NUMBER 0 -- Road losses last season for the Cowboys, the first time OSU has been perfect away from Stillwater since 1945.
KEY RETURNEES Justin Blackmon, WR, Jr. -- The surprise star began last season with 125 yards and three scores in the opener against Washington State and didn't slow, registering at least 100 yards and one touchdown in all but one game.
Shawn Lewis, LB, So. -- Despite starting only the last six games of the season, the Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year was fifth on the team in tackles (58), forced a team-best three fumbles and had three picks. On a front seven full of uncertainties, the ball-hawking Lewis is a sure thing.
Markelle Martin, SS, Sr. -- A shoulder injury limited the leader of the Cowboys' secondary last fall, but spring surgery and plenty of rest should mean he'll return to his hard-hitting self.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Sr. -- The onetime MLB pitching prospect -- he was drafted by the Yankees -- set single-season school records with 4,277 yards and 34 TDs in his first year as a starter. Expect more of the same from Weeden, 27, whose healed right thumb (he ruptured a tendon last year) means more snaps under center in the spread.
Levy Adcock, RT, Sr. -- Five linemen are back from a year ago for the Pokes, but it's their 6-foot-6, 322-pound mountain of a right tackle who anchors the unit. Opponents had just 10 sacks in 2010, and none came against Adcock, an All -- Big 12 pick.
BREAKOUT PLAYER Joseph Randle, RB, So. -- He showed flashes while spelling Kendall Hunter as a freshman last year, averaging 5.5 yards per carry, rushing for 452 yards and catching 37 passes for 427 yards. With Hunter gone, Randle should take the lead role this fall in a tandem with fellow sophomore Jeremy Smith and provide the same quality performances in greater quantity.
TOP RECRUIT Herschel Sims, RB, Fr. -- For now the high school All-America from Abilene, Texas, will wait behind Randle and Smith, but once his time comes, expect Sims to shine. His 4.5 speed and ability to change direction help compensate for a smallish frame (5-8, 190 pounds).
This team preview originally appeared in Sports Illustrated Presents' Big 12 Preview.
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