Cowboys Open Spring Practice

STILLWATER - It doesn't take an adult to understand the Oklahoma State Cowboys are not the same as the 2011 team that racked up the most wins in school history. You've heard that children are honest and shoot straight. Head coach MIke Gundy got the straight scoop from his youngest son Gage as the Cowboys were preparing for the first practice of the spring this afternoon at Boone Pickens Stadium.

"Where is Justin Blackmon?" questioned Gage Gundy.

"Well, he's going to the NFL," answered Gage's father.

"Okay, where's Brandon Weeden?" questioned Gage.

"He's going to the NFL too," answered Mike Gundy.

"The NFL has taken all of our players," summarized Gage.

His dad explained that wasn't the case, but Cowboys fans can relate to 7-year-old Gage Gundy. It looked quite different on the floor of Boone Pickens Stadium as the Cowboys began spring practice Monday without Blackmon, Weeden, Jamie Blatnick, Markelle Martin, Richetti Jones, Josh Cooper and others.

That's the way it goes in college football.

The Cowboys have eight starters returning on defense, enough recognizable faces on the offensive line, all of the top four running backs, and several familiar receivers, but there were some definite changes.

The quarterbacks that lined up for throwing drills were No. 10 Clint Chelf, No. 4 J.W. Walsh, No. 11 Wes Lunt and No. 12 Daxx Garman.

Catching the football were some familiar names and numbers in No. 82 Isaiah Anderson, No. 87 Tracy Moore, No. 5 Josh Stewart and No. 17-Charlie Moore. However, most fans haven't seen No. 80 Torrance Carr, No. 6 David Glidden and physically impressive newcomer No.18 Blake Jackson out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) C.C. and a mid-term transfer.

Jackson caught the head coach's eye on the first day of spring ball.

"We were good, not great. Our attitude was good. Our body language was good. Our tempo was better than I thought it would be," Gundy said of the practice, the first of three this week before Spring Break.

"I was watching the quarterbacks and those guys did some good things, then at times they were lost. Our incoming players, Blake Jackson, did a nice job. I thought Calvin Barnett ran to the ball really well. Our veteran guys like Joseph Randle, Jeremy Smith, Justin Gilbert and Caleb Lavey all seemed to be starting right from where they left off from the bowl game.

"Torrance Carr made some plays," said Gundy. "Daniel Koenig did a nice job. Shamiel Gary, who is a transfer, showed up and made a few plays. Those are some guys that I noticed that didn't play a lot last year who looked like they had a nice first day."

Obviously, it is the offense and the quarterback position that will be the focus of fans. Everybody wants to know who will be the quarterback for next season, and the competition looks like it is on.

A lot is expected. Chelf has the most experience and gets the first snaps. Walsh, who has really improved his throwing since arriving last year, is close and will be competitive, Lunt looks like a quarterback that just arrived in January, but you can see his throwing ability and that in a matter of days he is likely to become much more comfortable.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken has said he expects ups and downs with the quarterbacks but is confident that they will find the combination that works. But it may take time.

Gundy told the media in a news conference Monday that he would like to name a starting quarterback by the end of spring.

"This summer I would like for the team to know who their starting quarterback is," said Gundy. "The most important thing is leadership, and none of the three have had any time on the field with the offense in a crucial time of the game.

"In my opinion, they'll have a good feel for what we're doing. They're intelligent players. They've been here, other than Wes Lunt. We're looking for toughness and leadership and understanding the offense, and we'll try to put them in as many situations this spring that are game-like to see how they handle themselves. We'll split the reps equally and let them go play."

Why does Clint Chelf feel he will be that guy? "I know the offense, I'm smart, I'm athletic and I believe I can be the leader for this team. I just have to go out and show that," said the junior quarterback from Enid.

Monday was also the first day that Gundy took the freshman no-interview reins off of Walsh. He talked about the opportunity and what he feels he brings to the table, and what he knows he must work on to compete with Chelf.

"I bring leadership and I can make plays with my legs and be creative on the field," said Walsh, who took his last meaningful (game) snaps in the 2010 Texas Class 5A Division II state championship against Cibolo Steele and current Cowboy teammate and linebacker Ryan Simmons. "There are some things I can't do with my arm right now, but eventually, I hope to be there as well."

What does he hopes to improve on? "Just making sure that I know the offense like the back of my hand," added the redshirt freshman from Denton, Texas. "If I can do that, then I can put the ball where it needs to be and get it there on time. Doing that takes away the opportunity for mistakes."

Gundy also believes that while this is the first real quarterback competition since Zac Robinson took the job from Bobby Reid, that the Cowboys are ahead of where they were back in those early days that Gundy was head coach from the standpoint of quarterback depth.

"There's no question that our depth across the board is better now than it was three or four years ago," said the head coach. "It's difficult to replace Brandon Weeden, it's difficult to replace Justin Blackmon, it's difficult for us to replace the experience Richetti Jones and Jamie Blatnick brought to the table, but young players will perform better than you think when it's their turn to play.

"I'm not here to make predictions on what's going to happen at the quarterback spot. I know that we have players that will compete there, that will perform better this spring ... than they would have last year because they knew that they weren't the guy."

As for the other half of the passing combination, it was apparently a good day for the pass catchers as several were complimented by Gundy.

"We have to have some of these younger players contribute, but we do have some maturity coming back," said Gundy of the receivers. "You guys are aware of Isaiah Anderson and Tracy Moore, the guys that give some experience. I say young guy, but we also have Blake Jackson in here, who's a new player for us, but is more experienced.

"So between him, between Justin Horton, you have Isaiah, you have Tracy, and some of those younger players that are on our team. Torrance Carr, David Glidden, those guys, they'll need to contribute. Again, I mentioned this earlier, Blackmon is hard to replace.

"The combination of those guys need to give us enough plays very similar to what we looked for from Jeremy Smith and Joe Randle with the departure of Kendall Hunter. As a group, they have to make plays, but I don't think there's any question the ability that Justin Blackmon had to make a play one-on-one in a crucial point in the game is different than most other players.

"That guy hasn't shown up on our field yet, that's why he's going to be a top-five pick. But as a group those guys have to find a way to overcome that until somebody steps up and ends up being what you call a marquee player at that position."

As for the rest of the schedule this week. The Cowboys take Tuesday off and then come back for the only back-to-back practices scheduled in the spring.

Gundy is not crazy about the mandated acclimatization practices requiring no shoulder pads or full pads. The advent of year-round conditioning insures players are in shape and ready to go. Still, Wednesday will be a shoulder pads and helmet practice with full pads on Thursday before taking off until Monday, March 26, for the first practice following spring break.

"We want to get a good practice in Wednesday before we get into the pads Thursday," answered Gundy. "We have to get some of the players that haven't played as much on game day in the right frame of mind and understand the importance of missed assignments and taking care of the football and/or forcing turnovers. It's really all about the attitude and team chemistry and body language and guys trying to help each other."

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