One area and one player in particular that Gundy has to feel he can count on to do the right things leading up to fall camp in August is Gilbert.
A year ago at this time Gundy and anybody else talking about Oklahoma State was saying Gilbert was a short timer because he was definitely heading to the NFL after the 2012 season.
The fastest player on the team, Gilbert was college football’s most dangerous kickoff return specialist and was coming off being named the Defensive Player of the Game in the win over Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. He tricked and picked the first draft choice in the entire NFL Draft in Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
Something happened on the way to an early entry into the NFL Draft as Gilbert didn’t trick or pick anybody last season. He woke up some with a kick return for a touchdown against West Virginia, but overall 2012 was a disappointment and the NFL would wait.
"Justin played very average last year, and he would be the first to admit that,” said Gundy after watching a rejuvenated Gilbert make two interceptions in last Saturday’s Cowboy Spring Football Finale.
“He's certainly very talented, and he was in position to make plays today, and that's what he needs to do for us. He needs to be a guy who has several interceptions and runs the ball back. As fast he as he is, if he's in the right area, he can get the ball off a tip, and that's what he did today. He played very well," said Gundy.
Gilbert doesn’t sound unhappy or frustrated that he’s back in Stillwater. He has a good attitude, but he is aware that his college clock and his NFL audition is entering its final season.
“I’m not looking back and not getting down on myself,” said Gilbert, who also said he feels like his freshman season again when he had to fight for playing time.
“I’ve got tunnel vision and looking straight forward. When one play is over, you have to bounce to the next one,” finished Gilbert.
His teammates expect a lot from him including his fellow seniors.
“He just makes plays. He was moving around, and he’s healthy,” said linebacker Caleb Lavey. “He’s going to be a huge asset in the fall for us. Him playing well was a good sign.”
Although it wasn't apparent in the spring game the Cowboys will play more aggressive in schemes and coverage next season. There was no need to show Mississippi State or any other opponent just what the changes are in the Cowboys defensive repertoire. What fans saw in the spring finale was the more aggressive attitude that is born out of the more aggressive schemes.
"I enjoyed it. I know the crowd here is not used to it,” said Gundy after the spring finale that had a whopping 17 offensive points scored. “We dropped some passes on offense that contributed to it, but I'm really excited about the play we're getting on defense.
"In the long run, we're going to move the ball and score a lot of points here because that's what we do and who we are. But if we want to consistently compete for a championship, we have to play better on defense. I'm excited about our group, I think their attitude is different and I think they have a chance to be better this season.”
“Coach Spencer has really harped on us getting after it with our effort and doing some things we haven't done around here,” said Lowe. “It's different, but he's getting us better. Everybody is seeing that and can see how much better we can be if we learn and buy into the system that he's trying to do.”
Next to Lowe, the move of former star linebacker Lyndell Johnson to strong safety to compete with returning starter Shamiel Gary has made both players better, and will create continued competition in the fall when injured Zack Craig will also be back out there.
The move of Van Malone from safeties to coaching the corners and bringing in new safeties coach Tim Duffie has changed things up and created a new awareness and intensity, which is just what Spencer was looking for.
“We’re looking for a little something different intensity-wise,” explained Spencer. “We still don’t think we’re there yet. We’re going to try to test their toughness every day; we’re going to challenge them physically and mentally.”
Spencer is looking to get it all the way there, and one gets the feeling the defensive staff won’t quit until it happens.
“There’s really a sense of urgency on my part to make sure nothing is missed and if there are corrections to be made or planning that needs to be done, that I’m a day ahead so when I get everybody in the room, there’s no wasted time and I’m as efficient as possible,” said Spencer.