Wickline Continues Pushing His Linemen

STILLWATER - Oklahoma State finished another week of spring practice Friday with the ninth practice. Coming off the heels of the only major scrimmage this spring other than the Orange-White game, the Cowboys were more position- and drill-oriented Friday, and that gave the record number of high school coaches participating in the OSU Spring Football Coaches Clinic a great chance to observe.

One thing was certain this was the best day weather-wise of the spring thus far and that was no joke.

"There were no April Fool's jokes today. In fact, I had forgotten that until I got a text message this morning from my mother, so I was glad she informed me just in case somebody tried to set us up," said Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.

"We had a good practice today and it was quite a bit warmer than it had been, so it tested the players early but they recovered. We had a really good work out. We had our coaches clinic today and we had 180 or 190 or so coaches here. It was good that we could extend ourselves and open it up to coaches from in this state, Texas, Kansas, and Arkansas.

"I thought Johnny Deaton made some plays today," continued Gundy in complimenting individuals in the two-hour, 15-minute practice. "Jeremy Smith continues to play well. Nigel Nicholas is showing up on defense and Deion Imade made some plays for us. There are some guys that show up. Caleb Lavey is making plays and it continues to be an exciting time of the year for me."

Gundy revealed that Wednesday's 115-play scrimmage will be the only full scrimmage with tackling that the team will have until the Orange-White Game on April 16. Gundy also mentioned that they will split teams and go with the format of having a real game. The head coach said any scrimmage work the rest of the way would be "thud" with no tackling to the ground.

So as for the scrimmage on Wednesday, Gundy, defensive coordinator Bill Young and Brandon Weeden all weighed in on how they felt about it.

"I thought it was good and we got the 115 plays in under two hours, which is really good because we want to play extremely fast and have a really high tempo," started Gundy on the scrimmage.

"During this time of the year it is important for us to instill discipline and toughness and play hard and stay in there even though they are fatigued. Offense played better and defense showed some youth, but there were guys that were giving us effort, they were just making mistakes.

"It is going to happen until you get those guys caught up with everybody else. You have some new linebackers and some new tackles and until those guys get caught up they are going to make some mistakes," added Gundy.

"I tell you it was a tremendous scrimmage and we got a lot done," said Young. "Unfortunately, you are always looking for the negative and we had a lot of mental mistakes and loafs that we need to correct."

We asked Young if it was fair to say defensive tackle Nigel Nicholas was one of the stars of the scrimmage on Wednesday? "It is and he needs to be because he is a veteran player with experience, and we expect big things from him," answered the veteran coach.

Weeden said he only went about 40 plays in the scrimmage on Wednesday and he complimented the other quarterbacks in Clint Chelf, Johnny Deaton, and freshman J.W. Walsh, saying they played fantastic and looked good.

Now Weeden looked good too as he took the offense down for scores on his first two series. He says working with a new coordinator in Todd Monken keeps him on his toes.

"Just being around Coach Monken and learning what it is going to be like at that next level," said Weeden. "I continue to get better and I need to get better along with everybody else. (Justin) Blackmon is the best wide receiver in the country and he is working to get better, so I think things are going well and I think the scrimmage was good for us."

Gundy had to bring in three new offensive coaches in new coordinator Todd Monken, running backs coach Jemal Singleton, and wide receivers coach Kasey Dunn. Gundy nearly had to hire a new offensive line coach, but Joe Wickline, who originally came with Gundy's first offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, spurned offers from the University of Texas and the Dallas Cowboys.

The rumor was the Texas offer was for "off the chart" dollars. Wickline has been the constant in the Cowboys offensive development and he has sent four of his offensive linemen (Russell Okung, Charlie Johnson, Corey Hilliard, and Andrew Mitchell) to the NFL, the most of any offensive line coach in OSU history.

Gundy isn't the only one that knows how valuable Wickline is as Cowboys fans go into a panic anytime another school or the NFL even looks at Wickline.

"That is obviously flattering and I'm not saying this for any other reason than I believe it," said Wickline. "You are at a great place with good players, staff, and administration that helps you move forward and you are a part of that and maybe you are so old they think you have some answers or you've been at it so long that you back into it, but the fact of the matter is we've had a lot of success as a team. That breeds not only Joe Wickline but Dana Holgorsen and Robert Gillespie that had opportunities as well. The fact of the matter is that me and my family are fortunate to be here."

Think of this, Oklahoma State has employed three distinctly different offenses during Gundy's tenure as head coach. The Cowboys have been very balanced overall, but they have, at times, relied on both the run and the pass. Either way the ball has moved, the points have gone on the board, and the offensive line is a major part of that. Wickline has his guys ready to get it done.

"I appreciate that, Robert, and I will just say this right here, it is spring time and there is a lot of competition going on out there and we are having a lot of fun," added Wickline.

"Now is the time to develop the technical aspect of the game, your eyes, your feet, your hand placement, everything about run blocking and pass blocking. You get so much better and you only have so many days and I think those guys are all getting better. They have bought in and the best part of it is they have a great attitude."

Last spirng Wickline was trying to replace four departed seniors on the offensive line and at the same time get accustomed to a new offense and emphasis brought in by Holgorsen. That line really developed well and now center Grant Garner, guards Lane Taylor (a three-year starter) and Jonathan Rush, and tackles Levy Adcock and Nick Martinez all return.

Wickline is now shaping up the offensive line depth chart. Behind his returning starters, the veteran coach has a second group that Gundy has bragged about after almost every practice this spring, and there is even a third line that Gundy has said looks better than the second line has in most previous seasons where he has been a part of Cowboy football even dating back to his days as a player.

"As a ball coach all of us are responsible for our room and the depth at the positions they coach," explained Wickline. "What makes it so tough is even though you are sitting okay you have to continuously plan, continuously recruit, and know who is the next year and then who is the year after that and have that worked out.

"At the end of the day, and I know in past years Nebraska was a great example of that, you didn't play until you were a junior or senior unless two things happened and those were either you had a special player or you had a big-time depth issue. Guys never played their first year and a lot of times guys didn't play their second year.

"If players develop right and you don't have a lot of injuries then guys shouldn't play until their third year in the program. Now, I'm not going to tell them they aren't going to play that first year or the second year, but I really think if you are doing things right then that is the year they are ready to play their best football. That is what is happening here. We want to continue bringing in four or five guys to continue that balance and continue not having to play guys so early."

The real challenge with a defined depth chart is to keep the second- and third-team linemen on their toes and working as if they are getting ready to be a member of the starting offensive line. You can't let any of the guys get complacent or bored.

"I think you have to find creative ways to get guys in the mix, but at the end of the day on this level and in this conference and at the next level, you get a reputation that it is tough to play there, but if you do go there then things happen. You are going to get coached, you are going to get schooled, you are going to be around good players," said Wickline.

"That is tough on recruiting sometime, but at the end of the day it all works out and you get the right kind of guys, then you keep going and those guys know they are going to be part of something special."

One thing is certain, playing for and being coached by Wickline is not boring. Ask any of his players, Wickline critiques are famous for getting player's attention and his reputation of moving players around so they understand and are comfortable at other positions are notorious. Show up one day and you are playing center, the next day right guard, and if you aren't careful the next practice second team. Life with Wick is an adventure.

That adventure and the next practice, the 10th this spring, for the Cowboys will come up on Monday.

The Orange-White spring game will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 16. Admission is free.

GoPokes Top Stories