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This article appears in the August 17, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated

The Cowboys' defense doesn't have to be great -- ?it just has to get better.

It's not that Perrish Cox's considerable skills as a kick returner are unappreciated in Stillwater -- he has, after all, taken back four kickoffs for touchdowns, one more than Heisman winner Barry Sanders did during his glorious career at Oklahoma State. It's just that, with an offense full of game-breakers, the Cowboys won't need the senior cornerback to score points as much as to help prevent them.

The attack is so prolific that the defense doesn't have to stop opponents cold, just hold them off a little better than it did last year, when Oklahoma State allowed 267.7 passing yards (ranking 109th among 119 Division I-A teams) and 28.1 points per game. If Cox, who made two interceptions last season and is the only starter back in the secondary, continues to develop into the shutdown corner that new defensive coordinator Bill Young thinks he can be, it will go a long way toward tightening up the D. "I want to keep doing my thing on special teams, but I'm putting defense first," Cox says. "There's no telling how far we can go if we can improve on that side of the ball."

Coach Mike Gundy brought in Young, the third defensive coordinator in his five-year tenure, to oversee that improvement. Young, 63, has been an assistant at nine Division I-A schools, most recently at Miami last season, and he has a reputation for solidifying defenses by simplifying them. "As coaches, sometimes we tend to make the game more complicated than it needs to be," says Young, who took over after Tim Beckman left to become the coach at Toledo. "I'd like to see us do relatively few things and do them well rather than try to throw every defense under the sun at people."

Expect more zone blitzing in Oklahoma State's manageable bag of tricks, after the Cowboys had only 15 sacks in 13 games last season (ranking 102nd in the nation). Young wants to put more pressure on the quarterback and reduce the amount of time the defensive backs have to stay in coverage. The rest is up to Cox and his fellow DBs, including cornerback Terrance Anderson and safeties Lucien Antoine and Victor Johnson.

Though the Cowboys primarily want Cox to elevate his overall pass defense, they're still counting on him to contribute in a variety of ways -- as he did in a Holiday Bowl loss to Oregon last December with a blocked field goal attempt, a 43-yard kickoff return and an interception. "He can help a team in so many ways, you almost don't know where to start," says Gundy. For Oklahoma State, Cox has to start making more stops.

-- Phil Taylor

Issue date: August 17, 2009