Grading the Cowboys: Fall Practice

It's really hard to give a team a grade after three weeks of preseason practice as the real grade is earned when the season begins Sept. 3 against the University of Louisiana (formerly Louisiana-Lafayette). But Robert Allen gives it a try in this edition of "Grading the Cowboys."

Defensive Line - B+
It could be better but that residual grade will have to come sometime early in the season based on what we see in games. The strong play of senior defensive ends in bigger, stronger, and just as fast Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones leads this off.

Those two really were able to get increased pressure on the quarterback, and part of the reason for that was defensive tackles Nigel Nicholas at the three and the combination of Christian Littlehead, Anthony Rogers, and freshman James Castleman being physical and getting push to the inside.

The run game has been slight with gains inside and most have been bounced out. Add candidates like newcomers Maurice Hayes from junior college and Mike Mustafa from high school and the tackle position has the possibility of becoming really deep.

Linebackers - B
The injury loss of Johnson for part of camp has been tough but the mental and physical play of Caleb Lavey in the middle has been huge. Lavey has always been recognized as a student of the game but now he is playing more physical and faster than anticipated.

The improvement of Blinn Junior College transfer Alex Elkins at weakside has also been anticipated but not taken for granted. The play of freshmen Ryan Simmons in the middle and Joe Mitchell and freshman Kris Catlin at weakside creates better depth than anticipated going into the season.

The star position is in great hands with Shaun Lewis and James Thomas, and both those guys make it to the field some in certain personnel packages.

Secondary - A
When a quarterback like Brandon Weeden and a wide receiver like Justin Blackmon call the secondary out as being a challenge in practice and a group that is really strong, then take notice. Head coach Mike Gundy calls it the best secondary in his time as head coach. Bill Young just gushes with compliments when asked about the secondary.

Markelle Martin and Johnny Thomas at the safety positions and Brodrick Brown at corner are the leaders. Now the improvement of Justin Gilbert at corner, along with the play of Devin Hedgepeth and Andrae May at corner and Daytawion Lowe and Zack Craig at safety make this unit good and deep.

Quarterbacks - A
Weeden continues to impress and is just better and better with experience. He is a massive leader with this team as everybody on offense and defense has confidence in him. The best news here is the continued improvement of Clint Chelf as the backup. You don't want to count on him but you never know when you would need him.

Running Backs - B
Other than some fumble problems with freshman Desmond Roland, which he seemd to overcome, the camp was solid here. Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith really ran well. The freshman combination of Herschel Sims and Roland continue to improve. Kye Staley is not only a great sory but a solid fullback that has proven to not only be a willing but a good blocker.

Receivers - B-
Camp started out great with so many guys getting off to strong starts. Hubert Anyiam is a good example as he was outstanding the first week but then had some fits with drops over the last week and in scrimmages. He seemd to recover.

Tracy Moore was inconsistent at times, but spectacular at others. Going opposite of Anyiam and Moore, Michael Harrison started out slow but came on strong at the finish of camp. Justin Blackmon remains Justin Blackmon and had a quiet but excellent camp.

Josh Cooper was Josh Cooper and that is good. Isaiah Anderson, Colton Chelf, and Charlie Moore have really improved and everybody recognizes that. The talk of camp was freshman Josh Stewart, who earned playing time and will also be trusted to return punts too. Fellow freshmen David Glidden and Isaiah McCoy could also end up playing some.

Offensive Line - A
Four returning starters are in the starting lineup and one, Nick Martinez, is poised to be a catch-all type of utility offensive lineman that could play anywhere other than center.

Joe Wickline has developed not only strong starters with Outland candiate Levy Adock, Rimington candidate Grant Garner, and another preseason award candidate in two-year soon-to-be three-year starter Lane Taylor, but he has also really developed depth that features a second line and even a third line that can move the football. They have been very solid in camp. The increased ability on the defensive line has helped too in drills and team periods.

Special Teams - A
They have all looked good in work in practice. It's nice when you have two punters crushing the ball like Quinn Sharp and Michael Reichenstein. Then Sharp nails a 62-yard field goal, his longest ever, to finish camp. Add to that return talent like speedster Justin Gilbert and freshman Josh Stewart.

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