AP College Football Writer
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) -- With a new man in charge, Oklahoma State's defense is taking on a new attitude.
All around practice this spring, there's one word that keeps popping up: Aggressive. No more giving up big plays and counting on turnovers to bail the defense out. It's time for a change.
"I just want to be more aggressive on defense and I don't necessarily mean blitzing," coach Mike Gundy said. "But over the last couple years I haven't been happy with the way we approach the game on defense and the way that we defended the passing game. I didn't think that we did a good job pressuring the quarterback, so those are areas I feel like we need to be able to improve in.
"I think that we're more athletic now on defense than we ever have been, so we can challenge offenses more than what we have."
Oklahoma State has been among the worst passing defenses in the nation over the past three years, ranking no better than 107th out of 120 Bowl Subdivision teams while giving up between 270 and 280 yards per game through the air. The Cowboys were still able to be one of the elite teams in the nation in 2010 and 2011, intercepting 43 passes and forcing opponents to keep up with its own offense.
But once the takeaways went away, Oklahoma State struggled to an 8-5 record and fell all the way to the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season.
After the bowl game, Gundy replaced defensive coordinator Bill Young -- who'd directed a defense that created 108 takeaways, 17 more than any other team, from 2009 to 2011 -- by promoting linebackers coach Glenn Spencer.
Right away, he tried to instill the more aggressive mindset among his defenders.
"That was the attitude of the first meeting we had and the first day in shorts. It's carried through," Spencer said. "The expectations are high to challenge a lot of different situations and approach it with a more aggressive mentality. We're getting that out of them."
Cornerback Justin Gilbert, an NFL prospect who had a disappointing 2012 season, said the Cowboys used to back off of quick hitch routes and allow receivers to catch the ball. He doesn't think that will be the case anymore, replacing some zone coverages with man-to-man.
"That allows us to press a lot more, and that's a part of my game that I like," Gilbert said.
The Cowboys will wrap up spring practice Saturday with a scrimmage at Boone Pickens Stadium. Next season starts with an Aug. 31 game against Mississippi State in Houston, the marquee nonconference game before another run through the pass-heavy Big 12 Conference.
As Gundy pointed out, part of the problem for the Cowboys' defense has been a run of NFL-bound quarterbacks in the league -- including Robert Griffin III at Baylor and Ryan Tannehill at Texas A&M, top 10 picks in last year's draft, and West Virginia's Geno Smith, who could be the first quarterback taken in the draft next week.
"When you are competing against an NFL quarterback at this level, it makes it tough," Gundy said. "They are that much better than everybody else. But just being more aggressive and attacking the quarterback and not allowing the receivers to make so many easy catches, that's really what I am looking for."
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