Smith, Randle Ready To Shine

The loss of a two-time All-America running back is a substantial blow to any team but, fortunately for Oklahoma State, few teams are as prepared to reload at the position.

Kendall Hunter was an All-American for OSU in 2008 and 2010 and has since moved on to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL and Hunter was a major part of what made OSU's third-ranked offense (520.2 yards per game) hum a season ago. Hunter finished ninth nationally in rushing with 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2010.

While replacing Hunter will be a challenge, the Cowboys are excited about his replacements in sophomores Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith.

And it's not just that both Randle and Smith are game-breaking backs, it's the different ways in which they do it that will give the Cowboy offense a different element.

"Having two excellent running backs with two different styles makes our offense so much harder to stop and it opens up a lot in the receiving game because Jeremy can beat you up the middle for a 20-yard gain or Jo can come out of the backfield and catch a 20-yard pass, you know people have to watch that closely," said wide receiver Tracy Moore, who was teammates with Smith at Tulsa Union. "... We're so versatile and I don't know how many defenses out there will be able to keep up with us this year."

Randle rushed for 452 yards and two touchdowns but it's his impact on the passing game that really turned heads a season ago, as Randle amassed 37 receptions for 427 yards and a TD. His speed and versatility as a receiver out of the backfield will be hard for any defense to prepare for, especially given OSU's already deep corps of wide outs. "Joe always had an ability to protect in the passing game if he needed to and to catch the ball and run with it afterwards," coach Mike Gundy said. "We worked a lot of that in the spring, and in the summer they worked a lot of that on their own. They give us an opportunity to be a little more versatile on offense when those guys can catch the ball."

Smith, on the other hand, brings an old school, smash-mouth style between the tackles to the running game. Smith Finished second on the team with seven rushing touchdowns, while still managing 4.7 yards per carry despite playing primarily a short-yardage role. Gundy said he has been impressed with the progress Smith has made during the offseason.

"(Jeremy) has matured a lot mentally," Gundy said. "He is a much tougher football player mentally than he was at this time last year; it's not even close. He has developed his body. Coach Glass has done a great job with him, and he's improved himself physically. Mentally, he's changed his life. He's bode up and gotten a lot tougher for us."

Smith said the different styles he and Randle bring to the table will not only help both of them to warrant plenty of carries, it will make an already lethal Cowboy offense nearly impossible to prepare for.

"It's definitely going to help us out," Smith said. "Joe is a great receiver and also a great runner and I like running between the tackles and in goal line situations. We are both pretty well-rounded backs but I think the fact that we have different strengths is definitely a plus and the coaches are doing a good job putting us in a position to succeed in those roles."

With the return of Kye Staley to the backfield, it gives the Cowboys another weapon in short yardage situations. Toss in high-impact true freshmen Herschel Sims and Desmond Roland from Texas and the Cowboys have a stable of capable backs that will challenge the coaching staff on how to utilize them all. Gundy has said he wants to use Sims and Roland in the season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Getting all of them involved out of luxury, not necessity, is a problem any coach would like to have. Gundy said the touches and reps will be delegated by situations and who is hot at the time and finished by saying, "mainly, we will just let them roll and see how they hold up."

Naturally, the lion's share of the work will go to Randle and Smith based on experience and their contributions last season and during fall camp have quarterback Brandon Weeden excited about what the backfield will accomplish starting Sept. 3 in Stillwater.

"It's huge (to have them excel in different ways); we can motion guys out in the passing game, use them in the screen game, there is just so much they're able to do," Weeden said. "They compliment each other very well. Jeremy runs the ball down hill really hard and Joe is a little more twitchy and elusive; they're both great backs and they make our offense better. You can do a lot of things when you have two guys like that."

Smith said OSU fans will like what they have in store.

"Fans are going to see a lot this year," Smith said. "We both bring a lot to the table and I think people are going to get pretty excited about what we have in store for them. We plan on helping this offense run a lot so I think it's something for fans to get excited about; we're ready for it 100 percent."

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