OSU Focuses In As Camp Draws To A Close

STILLWATER — Sometimes it is the little things that can be the greatest indicators of what's to come. A good example was this morning as the Cowboys were in the first hour of their sixth practice of the week already.

Scheduled intentionally to present a grind and a challenge, Oklahoma State had three days of two-a-day practices this week. Monday and Wednesday are in the books with Friday's last day of two workouts to come. This morning's full pad practice was the only one for Thursday. It could be real easy to sleepwalk or brother-in-law their way through the Thursday practice. Instead the bodies were flying as the Cowboys worked on punt returns against a scout punt unit.

Execution on both sides was good. On the scout punt unit, deep snappers Andrew Suter and Connor Sinko both were on the mark and back-up punter Michael Reichenstein, who coach Mike Gundy has called one of the most improved players on the team, was booming his kicks with good distance and hang time. The best battle was Zack Craig on the return team coming through to press the shield and make sure the ball is kicked and then coming down and battling players on the return. Walk-on tight end John Conaway and Craig hooking it up. Craig wants to show coaches he needs to play more and Conaway is eager to get the eye of coaches so that he might get on special teams. On returns Josh Cooper and Colton Chelf did a good job of breaking through and using the wall of blockers set up.

That kind of effort, especially in the sixth practice in four days, is a great indicator of where this team is from an attitude and effort standpoint. That is a huge positive sign.

The body language at today's practice and the attitude of guys like wide receiver Charlie Moore, who can't wait to get onto the field and are sincerely excited to be practicing are more good signs of what is possible for a team that everyone already recognizes has a lot of talent.

Honestly, all the signs are good and what you really want is for this team to finish up camp with their two-a-days on Friday and scrimmage on Saturday in Boone Pickens Stadium and stay as healthy as they have. Then it is two days off their feet and the start of class on Monday. Starting Tuesday it gets into more of a routine and the work toward the opening game with Louisiana on Sept. 3.

A lot of fans have expressed concern over losing a couple of players earlier this week in camp in linebacker LeRon Furr (medical scholarship) and fullback Montra Nelson (unspecified reasons). Linebacker especially was thought to be thin coming into fall camp. But like defensive tackle, the linebacker position has had positive answers throughout camp starting with Caleb Lavey playing really well at middle linebacker to where even with Tyler Johnson's knee injury the position looks strong.

"Caleb Lavey is a student of the game. It doesn't take him but a couple times to get a read down," said co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Glenn Spencer. "He has a lot of tenacity and a lot of pride. If it matters a lot to them to be a good football player, then they typically do, and it matters a lot to Caleb to be good."

True freshman Ryan Simmons out of Cibolo Steele High School in Texas has had a strong start and is doing well backing up at middle linebacker.

A real satisfying development, and one that Spencer had anticipated, was the strong play of junior college transfer Alex Elkins in earning the top spot on the depth chart at weakside linebacker. Elkins is proving to be what he was at Blinn J.C., a tackling machine.

"Alex Elkins is a wild buck right now, a free spirit," Spencer said. "He plays so hard, which is exactly what we thought we were getting. So much is so new to him. The system he came out of was really, really simple and ours isn't complicated, but there are a lot of reads and adjustments and things can change on the snap, so every day is a new day for him. What you want to see towards the end of camp is that you're wanting that guy to start compartmentalizing and sorting things out. Camp has been a process for him, but his tenacity and his want-to is going to allow him to play a lot for us this year."

Of course, you have the reigning Defensive Freshman of the Year in the Big 12 in Shaun Lewis at the "star" linebacker position.

"Shaun has got a knack for what we call ‘pulling the trigger' when it's time to make a play," Spencer added. "He's got exceptional acceleration to the ball, to the break point. He can close fast when he decides to attack it. Good players can do that. He's just got to improve his ability to get to those situations so he can continue being a big-play guy."

Overall, Spencer is really pleased with what he is seeing as enthusiasm is making up some for lack of experience.

"They're young and eager," concluded Spencer. "They're chomping. There aren't a lot of seasoned guys there, so a lot of times they're making the same mistakes. You miss older guys in the room. Some of the guys that are going to play for us are guys that I'm still having to bring on. They're not veterans that have seen a lot of games and been in a lot of wars. The good thing about it is that there is a lot of competition for a spot and a lot of energy in the group. There's a lot of want-to, which is good. You have guys competing every day, every drill, every period in practice. They're not coasting, because they know if they coast, there's a guy nipping at their heels. That's been the pleasure of it. I'm looking forward to some personalities to come out as they mature together."

The last day of two-a-days starts in the morning with another full pad practice followed by the helmets and shorts in the afternoon. Then it is the scrimmage on Saturday and camp is over at that point.

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