Van Malone is in his second season at Oklahoma State, but it's his first working with the Cowboy cornerbacks. When Jason Jones left and Malone moved from coaching OSU's safeties to corners, he inherited a mix of experienced players and high-ceiling newcomers. His task this fall camp is melding that group into a solid unit.
With the trio of senior Justin Gilbert and sophomores Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin, Malone has a Big 12 battle-tested one-and-a-half deep. His first task is to find a solid two-deep. Though it wasn't at OSU, senior Tyler Patmon also has Big 12 experience from his time at Kansas. That experience, plus maturity, likely makes Patmon the top candidate to round out the two-deep at corner.
"Because of the fact that he's played in Big 12 games, he's seen Oklahoma State, he's seen this offense, he's seen college football plays" Malone said. "He comes in very different than a high school guy. He comes in with a great amount of awareness in terms of splits of receivers and in terms of why do we make this call. At Kansas, he did some of the things that we do here. The terminology is different. Some of the techniques may slightly be different and the words are in different form, but once he overcomes that, he'll fall right in line with our older guys who have been around here for a while."
Malone views fall camp as the building blocks of success for his unit, and four practices into camp is satisfied with their progress.
"I told them this yesterday. The reason you have fall camp is to make mistakes and to learn from the mistakes. To be challenged as a defensive staff," he said. "Really as an offensive staff, we put them in positions that challenge them on the field that may happen against Mississippi State but may not happen again until the OU game. We have to challenge them with a season full of adjustments, a season full of things that they were not prepared for, so that when we get into the season, we can go back and refer to. As a coach, knowing that's the plan, I just have to expect and demand that they get better every day. I'm pleased with their progression. I know we have a long way to go. I know there has been a lot said about the aggression we're playing with and all those things, but we can't give up any plays. If we make a play, okay, we made that one, but the next play, they have the potential to score, so we can't rest on our laurels on first down. We have to play until we get to the sideline. Once we get there, we have to be ready to play again. I'm pleased with where they are and how they really have come together as a group. They have really accepted Tyler Patmon into the fold and taken the young guys under their wings. That's a mark of some of their leadership, with guys like Kevin Peterson and Justin Gilbert as they move forward."
The Cowboys signed a trio of cornerbacks in their 2013 recruiting class - Darius Curry, Taylor Lewis and Jerel Morrow. Malone noted that his talented freshmen have their heads spinning, but stopped well short of designating any of the three for a redshirt season.
"The first thing is the speed of the game. In recruiting, they always hear 'You're so good, you can come in and start,' but then they recognize (the size of the task)," Malone said. "These guys, the Darius Currys, the Taylor Lewises, they recognize - wow, the calls came in fast, I've got to digest it, I've got to see what formation the offense is in, and then I've got to apply all those rules that I got in the meeting. The speed of it moves a lot faster for these guys. They're learning, but they're expected to do it while they learn. There are not many college programs where they have freshmen come in and they automatically know they're going to redshirt. At this point, it's free game, so those guys have high expectations. When they go onto the field, we as coaches try to keep the scheme simple for them, but when you play against the Oklahoma State offense every day, it may be simple, but it's moving fast. Your reaction, your knowledge of the defensive schemes, your technique, all of that has to be on target."
The lack of recruiting-ranking stars among OSU's recent verbal commitments has alarmed some fans. Some of those are being recruited by Malone. While he cannot talk about any specific prospect, Malone did volunteer some information about what he is looking for in prospective corners at OSU on the recruiting trail.
"The first thing we have to have is speed, the ability to run because the receivers that we face travel down the field at a high rate of speed," he said. "Next, he has to have athletic ability and good size for the position. All of these things - except the speed - we can fudge on them because if a guy has one attribute that is way above the standard, then he can compensate for the ones he may not have. For example, a smaller guy who has incredible speed can still be successful as a cornerback. Then, a guy has to love the game because we ask them to do some things at cornerback that really stress his love. He has to accept a challenge, he has to be competitive, he has to love being out here and competing. Those are the main things that we look for in recruiting a cornerback."
The Cowboys don full pads for the first time in fall camp on Tuesday morning. All OSU fall camp practices are closed to the public.