Cowboys Football: Grinding Toward School

STILLWATER - As the Oklahoma State Cowboys were pushing through the second practice of the day Wednesday evening - a shorter one-hour, five-minute practice in helmets, shorts, and jerseys - they were participating in a process that every football team worth its salt goes through heading into the season. They were pushing through "the grind."

The grind is what every team goes through in the latter days of training camp, whether it be in the NFL, at the college level or preseason practice at the schoolboy level.

Oldtimers will tell you in their day it was pushing through long two-a-day practices with no water and coaches that screamed and cussed a lot more than their modern day counterparts. The truth is it really isn't about the severity of the process, but more about the process.

Oklahoma State's players can see the light at the end of the tunnel with two days off on Sunday and Monday, the first day of class, before getting back to the usual season routine. It is about building confidence by showing energy and effort through the dog days of camp.

Coaches will use the work put in here as a reminder of the sacrifice during crucial points in the season, and how you wouldn't want to waste all that effort preparing for the season.

This team is doing okay and the morning practice of two hours and 20 minutes was a good example. Head coach Mike Gundy found a few examples to point out about how the effort could be better, but he was not able to find too many.

The team also received a reminder Wednesday morning of what hard work can lead to as former Oklahoma State wrestler Coleman Scott was back in Stillwater and stopped by to show Gundy, a former wrestler himself growing up, and the rest of the team his bronze medal from the London Olympic Games. Scott was more than happy to serve as a reminder of the rewards of busting your butt for a goal.

"Huge process. It was an odd situation, to say the least, to make the team," Scott told Gavin Lang of Oklahoma State Athletic Media Relations. "We had to go through a lot of ups and downs just to get there. Then once we got there, I knew being here with Coach (John) Smith and Coach (Kenny) Monday I would be prepared. That's the mindset I went in there with, knowing that I was ready and that's the way we went with it.

"Not really," added Scott when asked if his carrer is over. "I'm still really motivated and driven. I want to win. I'm not satisfied with third, so that's really what I'm looking at."

A position group that is really pushing through camp for the Cowboys is the linebackers. Co-defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is preparing this group to be good, and to be ready from starters to the players on the third line of the depth chart. The talent at the position is really that deep.

"There are a lot of twos who are getting reps with the ones now. I'm trying to mix and match to make sure that I'm seeing everybody against the best competition that they can go against in fall camp so I can get a better evaluation of who's getting better and who's playing better against better competition at times," explained Spencer.

"I'm rotating those ones and twos, and the threes are even getting some reps up top, so it goes back to having a lot of guys that can play and trying to develop as much depth as I can, knowing that during the course of a season, that's going to pay off big dividends. We're going to get banged up. We're going to get bruised – those things happen, not to mention limiting the total number of reps that one guy can get so you've got some fresh legs in the fourth quarter."

One of the best position battles on the team is in the middle where Caleb Lavey is a two-year starter. He is being pressed by talented red-shirt freshman Ryan Simmons. It is serving to make both players better.

"Ryan has had a good camp. The deficiency is that there are some mental errors that he'll clean up," said Spencer. "A lot of that has to do with getting repetitions - with him getting some looks over and over again. He's just got a natural flow in the box. He does a great job with his hands. He can pull the trigger once he deciphers what's going on.

"The game is starting to slow down for him as far as what the offense looks like to him. When you're out there as a freshman, everything is really fast. You're playing with the same amount of speed, you're going hard but what you're seeing starts to slow down and it's starting to get that way for him."

Spencer had comments on several of the other young linebackers such as Lyndell Johnson, who came on and played so well last spring at the star.

"He's a very fluid player," said Spencer. "He has tremendous instincts. We're trying to bulk him up a little bit more so he'll be more durable. He gets banged up a little bit. He's learning to play more physically and he wants to play more physically - that part of his game is improving weekly.

"He has an advantage because of his mobility and his moving out there in the perimeter game. He gives us an advantage in a lot of areas, especially with the kind of ball we play in the Big 12."

One of my favorite players to watch last season on special teams, especially kick coverage, was Nico Ornelas.

"He's similar to Lyndell in that he's very good out there on the perimeter. Same thing – we're bulking him up, he's learning to be a physical player," added Spencer.

"Just watching him out there in practice in camp, he's not shy. He loves to stick his face in there. He's a guy that gives you a little bit more in the passing game than in the running game right now. Going back to my whole group, it's great to have guys that have different strengths than others. It's up to me to get those matchups right on the field."

Of course, the starters did return in tact.

"We all have deficiencies to improve on," said Spencer making sure the starters are on alert to work and improve. "I mention that to them every day of their life – things they have to improve on. They're making strides.

"Shaun Lewis is being more instinctive than I've ever seen him. He has a great knack for anticipating. There's a fine line between anticipation and guessing and he pushes the limit there and it allows him to make big plays. He's done that this camp.

"Caleb Lavey is quicker," continued the Cowboys veteran assistant. "He has a great aptitude for the scheme and for getting to the spot where he needs to be and getting there quick and making up for when somebody else might lose their assignment. Somebody up front of him loses their gap and he's going to overlap and overtake it – shoot, you just don't get that out of many people.

"Alex (Elkins) is developing great, just like I thought he would," Spencer added. "It's just a continual process with him. From fall to spring and now from spring into camp. Every day, I see the light come on for him for different things. It's a process, but none of them have arrived. It's a journey that we're all on, but yes, they have made improvement."

The Cowboys will have just one practice Thursday and are scheduled to go twice again on Friday with a scrimmage to wrap up fall camp at 6 p.m. Saturday in Boone Pickens Stafium. All practices and scrimmages are closed to the public.


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