Cowboys corners lack experience

Scott Wright The Oklahoman

STILLWATER (TNS) — Oklahoma State safety Tre Flowers was keeping an eye on the Cowboys’ new cornerbacks in Sunday night’s first practice.

But the fifth-year senior didn’t do a lot of yelling, even if he saw mistakes from the mostly inexperienced group that will be in the crosshairs of some talented quarterbacks this season.

“Being a starter for a long time, I know what it’s like to have somebody down your back,” Flowers said. “I try to let them go out there and make their mistakes and learn from them. I try to help them keep their confidence up.”

Whoever it is, the Cowboys will have two new starters at the cornerback spots this year, and Flowers wants players next to him who aren’t playing scared.

“The guys who came before me, they kept me up,” Flowers said. “When I got down, they didn’t let me stay down. That’s exactly what I’m trying to do for them.”

While the cornerback candidates are inexperienced, not all of them are young.

One of the leaders for a starting job is graduate transfer Adrian Baker, who comes in from Clemson having played in eight career games over the last three years.

Baker was working his way into some playing time as a sophomore and could’ve been in line for an even bigger role during last year’s title run. But Baker tore his ACL in the spring of 2016 and missed the season.

Others passed him on the depth chart, and he began looking for a new home, landing in Stillwater in April.

With the move of Ramon Richards and Darius Curry from cornerback to safety, that pulled more experience away from that position.

Sophomore A.J. Green is at the front of the line for a starting job, with sophomore Madre Harper and redshirt freshman Rodarius Williams trying to break through.

“The corners, we’re young, we’re inexperienced, but we play hard and work together. We help each other,” Green said. “With Ramon at safety, he still helps us, knowing that we’re inexperienced. He’ll tell us something we might see in a game.

“We have a lot of great leaders on the defense that help us. It’s important to see that they believe in us, so why not believe in ourselves?”

Green, Harper and Williams were all part of the 2016 recruiting class that included four cornerbacks and no safeties.

It was a deliberate strategy by the defense to bring in more defensive backs with coverage skills, and if needed — as with Richards and Curry — move them to safety.

“We said a couple years ago, in the Big 12 we need a lot of cover guys, so we are going to load up at corner and take some of the bigger corners,” safeties coach Dan Hammerschmidt said.

The best man-to-man cover guys will play at cornerback, and others might find playing time at strong safety, a position that often ends up covering a slot receiver and needs to have cornerback-type coverage skills.

“Instead of recruiting a whole bunch of safeties that can’t cover, we only recruit four or five of those guys,” Hammerschmidt said. “They’ve got to be physical, like (Jordan) Sterns types, and then a whole bunch of cover guys.”

As camp progresses and the season nears, Green wants to see a leader emerge among the cornerbacks.

“All of us are helping each other, but somebody needs to take that leadership role,” he said. “We can play. We’re athletic, and we’re here to win.

“Right now, we’re looking at Ramon and (Flowers), but we need one of the corners to emerge as a leader.”