By NICK SNOW
STILLWATER — It’s been a question that’s been on Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy’s mind since the start of spring ball. Who would replace Cooper Bassett and Nigel Nicholas at defensive end this season for the Cowboys?
And while Gundy may not have an answer to that question yet, the picture became a little more clearer after the first scrimmage of fall camp inside the new Sherman Smith Training Center.
“We made some strides at the defensive end spot,” Gundy said. “Guys made plays. I thought they all played very well — better than what I would have thought for the first scrimmage.
“We always try to find four — two deep — and I know those guys were in there. I just liked their effort. They haven’t arrived, don’t get me wrong. But I told you guys in the spring and back in the summer that my concern was those two areas. I feel better now about that position than when I did when I was talking to (the media) in Dallas.”
Finding four guys to fill the gaps hasn’t been a problem this fall for the defense, with guys like Tyler Johnson, Trace Clark and a healthy Jimmy Bean returning. But it was a name that may not be as familiar to Cowboy faithful who really stole the show in the scrimmage.
“Tyler Johnson had a good camp, but I was really impressed with Sam Wren,” Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. “Sam really has a great takeoff and a great lean. He can really get on the edge fast. He’s a quick-twitch guy. It’s just one day and it’s over, but Sam’s done a nice job.”
“It was a continuation,” Joe Bob Clements said. “Sam Wren continues to make plays and impress us.”
Most coaches would be happy to see an area of concern suddenly become a strength in a modified scrimmage — and make no mistake that the Cowboy defensive coaches seemed a little more chipper than normal. But Wren’s improvements also creates a little more fog about who will be starting at defensive end against Mississippi State.
Wren is listed in the Oklahoma State media guide as the No. 2 defensive end behind Tyler Johnson — who also impressed coaches Saturday. Whether Wren switches over to the other side or stays behind Johnson in the depth chart will be a question Clements and Spencer will be pondering over the next few days.
“I told the players on Day 1 that the depth chart is going to be fluid,” Clements said. “At the end of the day, they’ll decide with their actions who will start, who will be No. 2 and who will be No. 3. It’s been my goal from Day 1 to get as many guys as possible to improve to a level that we can win with. Obviously, the guys that are playing the best at that moment will get to be the starters.”
Even if Wren isn’t able to crack the lineup, Clements said his performance Saturday should earn him at least a little playing time against Mississippi State.
“We have a chance to have a deep solid group,” Clements said. “We have to stay healthy, continue to improve and push through this next week. We still got some days left in it. We got three days of two-a-days and then we got another scrimmage on Saturday. They need to get rested (Sunday) and get ready to work next week.”
With three days of two-a-days coming up, both Gundy and Clements are hoping the success the defensive ends had in Saturday’s scrimmage will carry over through the next week.
“They’re all competitive and they all want to play,” Clements said. “I think you can build on the positives and learn from the negatives. They all want to do well, and they’re a very eager group and very competitive. It’s going to be exciting just to continue to watch them develop throughout the camp and the season.”
Nick Snow is a sports reporter for The Stillwater NewsPress.