How One Position Change Could Make All the Difference for Oklahoma State
While you’re here, we’d like you to consider subscribing to Pistols Firing and becoming a PFB+ member. It’s a big ask from us to you, but it also comes with a load of benefits like ad-free browsing (ads stink!), access to our premium room in The Chamber and monthly giveaways.The other thing it does is help stabilize our business into the future. As it turns out, sending folks on the road to cover games and provide 24/7 Pokes coverage like the excellent article you just read costs money. Because of our subscribers, we’ve been able to improve our work and provide the best OSU news and community anywhere online. Help us keep that up. Ask any OSU fan what most excites them about this coming fall and chances are you’ll get answers regarding the offense. Mason Rudolph’s Heisman hopes. The ridiculously deep and talented receiver pool. Will Justice have its day?!But in order for Mike Gundy to take his place on the recently-vacated Big 12 mountaintop, it’s the defense that is going to have take a step forward in 2017. That defense, self-labeled with the “We’re Takin’ It Back” moniker has always seen its effectiveness directly tied to its ability to dispossess the opposition.Mike Gundy recognized that fact when discussing the similarities between his upcoming squad and the one he coached to a Fiesta Bowl win in 2011.AdChoices广告“The good news is that we may be better on defense than we were then,” Gundy told media members in early spring “but those teams were really good at forcing turnovers which allowed us to get more opportunities so we could outscore you.“A lot of what we do in this league has come down to that anyways. The strategy that we talk about, based on what our personnel is and what we think we can do in all three phases.“There are a lot of similarities. I hope it turns out that way.”While scheme and a calculated emphasis on forcing turnovers in practice definitely helps, the best of Gundy’s defenses have featured at least one dynamic playmaker in the secondary.The 2008, 2009 and 2010 teams had opportunists like Perrish Cox and Andrew McGee. The Cowboys finished in the top 15 nationally in interceptions each of those three years. In 2011, Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown led the Cowboys to a No. 2 finish nationally in picks.Since then, it’s been a seesaw of sorts. OSU was 65th in interceptions in 2012, 55th in 2014 and 35th in 2016. In the odd-numbered years they’ve fared drastically better. No. 2 in 2011. No. 3 in 2013 and No. 14 in 2015. Those seasons’ results corresponded to win totals of 12, 10 and 10, while the Cowboys’ dip in turnovers resulted in seasons of eight, seven and 10 wins during the even-numbered years.If the recent trend is anything other than coincidence, Oklahoma State should be looking at another top-15 finish in picks. And if that’s the case, who will that playmaker be?There’s Adrian Baker, the grad transfer from Clemson. Or possibly one of the young corners that Gundy and Co. seem to like so far. But the strongest candidate to be the lead ball hawk has been on campus for four years.Ramon Richards has settled nicely into his new role as a full-time safety. It’s a move which puzzled many when Mike Gundy announced it this past spring, especially since Richards was the only cornerback on the roster (at the time) with any starting experience.But this is not the first time Richards has undergone a position swap. He played defensive back occasionally during his last two years of high school but Richards was known as a state champion quarterback.After being thrown into a starting corner role as a true freshman, Richards took his lumps. But over his three seasons in orange, he’s gone from a reckless gambler who could follow up any huge play with a blown one, to a more consistent defender and a vocal and spirited leader of the Cowboy defense.But Mike Gundy knows that some of that recklessness will never leave Richards. And that’s what he’s counting on.“My personal opinion, I’m not a defensive guy,” Gundy admitted during his opening spring press conference “but he’s [Richards] better out there roaming around than he is locked into a certain area.”Gundy talks about Ramon like that middle child who sometimes makes you want to pull out part of your mullet but that you also love just a little more than the rest.“He’s like one of those people that you work with that you’re talking to and they never look at you because they’re thinking about something else and working over here on something,” Gundy said. “That’s how Ramon is, so he’s better roaming around and freelancing and seeing what’s going on out there.”And Ramon has little trepidation about the change. He’s confident in his instincts. Richards has either led the team or shared in the lead in interceptions the last three seasons. He also enters 2017 as the active career leader among Big 12 players.“It’s been great. It’s been amazing,” Richards said through his signature smile. “I love the position and I’m excited for the potential that I have. For one, ball skills. I’ve got my hands on a lot of balls. I got to make sure that I catch them. Two, bringing the young guys up and letting them know that they are not just here to fill in. They are here to make plays and go a step further.”As Gundy and Richards enter their last fall together, expectations couldn’t be higher. The dynamic duo of Rudolph and Washington have decided to return for their final years. The schedule sets up nicely as the Cowboys welcome the Big 12’s big boys to Stillwater. It’s an odd year(!) If Gundy’s Cowboys are going to reach their potential in 2017, believe that Ramon Richards will be a big part of it.