Backup Quarterbacks Showing Improvement

STILLWATER - The weather was a little warmer on Wednesday with temperatures in Stillwater climbing into the mid to upper 80s and head coach Mike Gundy gave his team a break as the Oklahoma State Cowboys used their third of the three mandatory abbreviated practice sessions (not full pads).

The uniform of the day for the two-hour, 15-minute practice was helmets, jerseys, and shorts. The emphasis in the practice was on special teams and overall execution on both sides of the ball.

Among the observers at practice was former OSU head coach and ex-NFL assistant now Fox Sports Southwest analyst Pat Jones and former Miami Hurricanes head coach Randy Shannon.

Bill Haisten did a nice story in this morning's The Tulsa World on Brandon Weeden and whether he can fulfill Gundy's prophecy that he will improve as a quarterback after deciding to skip the NFL Draft and come back for his senior season.

We have gone on record as stating that Weeden is already better than a year ago, and we believe he will be the best quarterback in college football next season.

All that said, you still have to have a quality backup. Unlike times when Weeden and Alex Cate were backing up Zac Robinson, the daily effort by the backups has not lacked intensity. The trio behind Weeden of redshirt sophomore Clint Chelf, sophomore Johnny Deaton, and early reporting freshman J.W. Walsh are busting their tails to impress the coaching staff and their teammates on a minute to minute basis.

Wednesday's practice was no different.

"They look great. It's nice that they get more reps and things are starting to slow down for them," said Weeden. "I know how it is, you're thinking a lot and this guy is doing this and you are trying to read coverage. It's not easy.

"Everybody in the stands thinks it's easy, but it's not. Overall, I think they are doing a great job. They are asking questions all the time of Coach (Todd) Monken and myself, and I try to help them as much as I can. I think all three of them have improved."

"Competition is the best teaching tool there is," stated Gundy. "The quarterback position behind Brandon, we have three guys that are competing there every day to one, be a backup in case we need one of them to play, and two, put themselves in a position where they can take control a year from now when Brandon moves on.

"They are competitive players and they have got better, especially when you look at Chelf and Deaton and see how much those guys have improved from this time a year ago. They have made great strides and that is a great example of what this offense offers us, a lot of reps and a simple offense that allows you to learn it and get better more quickly than you would in a more traditional offense," added Gundy.

All three have looked good. Chelf greatly improved his throwing through his first year on campus and that has continued. The off-season program has helped him as well.

Johnny Deaton, like Chelf, really improved his throwing mechanics and ability in the first year, and the physical appearance of Deaton after the off-season program was dramatic. That duo appears to be the top flight of the competition for the back-up to Weeden.

You cannot dismiss Walsh. Physically, he comes in with better form than Chelf or Deaton did as true freshmen, but he is still behind. However, he is a fast learner and his first possession at quarterback in a full scrimmage was good for a 65-yard touchdown drive.

Chelf agrees with the head coach about the offense aiding in his development. He is the only one of the three that saw the other side and learned another offense in his first year.

"My first year with the old, old offense I didn't know any of that coming in," said Chelf of his first year. "We had three guys here that all knew it and I would just go down and run the scout team. It's nice to know the offense and be able to play."

Like Weeden, Chelf agrees that Monken has been the perfect addition as offensive coordinator.

"It's been great and he is a good guy," said Chelf. "It's been different in that he has come in and learned our stuff. He has brought somethings to it and we have helped him out."

While Deaton is in the final weeks of the Gundy media apprentice role of freshmen not doing interviews, Walsh is a full year away from talking to the media. Chelf has to do as a spokeman for the reserve quarterbacks.

Chelf feels really good knowing the offense and having the confidence to even make changes at the line of scrimmage. Honestly, all three have moved the ball with Chelf and Deaton doing it against the first- and second-team defenses. Walsh is seeing mostly third-team reps.

"I can tell now I know it so much better because if I want to check out of something, I have freedom," said Chelf.

The biggest problem in having a decided opinion on the back-up quarterbacks is that we also see Weeden, and after watching the 27-year-old former pro baseball player show off his arm throwing the football it is hard to grade the other guys. You hate to say it but Weeden kind of spoils you.

In an interview we did Wednesday morning with Gundy on Triple Play Sports Radio, the Cowboys head coach talked about a lot of different aspects of Oklahoma State football and then he got very serious about his plea for fans to show up and make the Orange-White Spring Game a special happening. Admission is free for the 2 p.m. kickoff on Saturday, August 16.

It will be a real football game between two equally chosen teams. Gundy and his staff always bring back the former players that weekend. They also will bring in many members of the recently signed new recruiting class that will join the program this summer. They also invite junior prospects that will be the recruits of the class of 2012. Gundy is looking for Cowboys fans to help him and everybody else in the program make the spring game a showcase event.

"Our spring game, very seldom do I really reach out to the fans in a very serious matter, but if there is a time that you say, 'Hey you know what, I'm going to go to a spring game and make it happen, then this is the year to do it,'" said Gundy.

"Look at where we're at, look at what these players have accomplished, and that is what we want you to do and come out and support the guys (players) that are paying the price."

Gundy called the position the football program is in as "unchartered territory" coming off an 11-win season and with an anticipated top-10 preseason ranking to start the season, the opportunity to go to a sixth consecutive bowl game, and make it a BCS bowl game.

He's hoping that fans will make the spring game, which as recent as the early years of the last decade would draw less than a 1,000 fans, into a major event.

"We rally together as a group of Oklahoma State people and we show our support for the program," said Gundy. "We get together and we celebrate what we've done and the direction that we're going.

"If there is ever a time to hit the 30,000 mark then this is the time to do it. All these guys bust their tails, and then you've got (Justin) Blackmon and (Brandon) Weeden that say I'm coming back for Oklahoma State. I want to be a part of this team.

"We need to show them our support and appreciation for that. We've got to grow as a group our team, our University, our department, our fans. We all have to grow as a group, everybody. It takes a village to raise a kid. The same concept has to take place in OKlahoma State football. We all need to sell out and do this thing and make it happen and then make it a little better each year."

It just makes sense as Oklahoma State strives to be a prominent program in college football. Schools like Alabama, Tennessee, LSU, Nebraska, Ohio State, and Penn State have been attracting spring game crowds ranging from 70,000 to 100,000. Coming off of a 5-7 season in 2010, Texas had an announced crowd of 45,000 for its spring game last Sunday.

Gundy understands the situation with kids and their sports games. He has three sons and is always trying to get to their games. That is why the Orange-White game kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m., to allow morning practices and games to be over and allow out-of-town fans time to get to Stillwater. Plus, it also will allow fans to get to Oklahoma City for the Bedlam baseball game that night.

The Cowboys continue working toward the Orange-White game with practice No. 12 in full pads on Friday.

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