"We had a good practice, not great," coach Mike Gundy said. "Ironically, it was a lot like last season's first day."
No Brandon Weeden. No Justin Blackmon. But it was a familiar opening practice for the Cowboys. Gundy said it wasn't a matter of discipline – players were in the right spots – but the tempo and urgency that comes from experience and repetition wasn't quite there.
But there was still an unmistakable new vibe on Friday. With so many unanswered questions, fall camp will become a proving ground for young talent on offense and returning members on defense.
Will this be a team led by the young guns or a stiff defense? The Cowboys want both.
Nigel Nicholas, a senior defensive tackle, has seen the offensive progression over his four years in Stillwater. He's excited for the defense to have more weight of responsibility this season.
"It does feel better having it on our shoulders, but at the same time, we want the offense to do just as good as us," Nicholas said. "It feels good finally having the respect, but we need to go out there and prove a point."
With Wes Lunt at quarterback and the emergence of Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith at running back, it makes sense for the Cowboys to focus more on the run game this season. But sophomore wide receiver Josh Stewart said it's too early to demote the Cowboys' passing attack.
"A lot of people downgrade our receiving crew just because Blackmon left, we don't have Weeden at quarterback," Stewart said. "But if you actually watch our practice, you can see that we have receivers all over the place making plays."
The similarities between last season's first day of practice and Thursday continued with a level of confidence that comes from consecutive double-digit season win totals, but one day at practice won't decide the Cowboys' strategy come Sept. 1 when they welcome Savannah State for the home opener or determine long-term success
On another boiling-hot day in Stillwater, it was the first step toward the Cowboys' hope to reload this season for another BCS run.
"We've prepared all summer for this day," junior linebacker Shaun Lewis said. "It's finally here, so everybody is just anxious to get out there, even though we calmed a lot of nerves out there just by getting on the field."