Spring Football: Receivers Adding Up

STILLWATER - The Oklahoma State Cowboys were back on the grass practice fields east of Gallagher-Iba Arena again Monday afternoon for a 4 p.m. practice. It was the seventh practice of the 15 allowed in the spring, and this workout ran right around two hours as the word is the team is likely to scrimmage or at least have an extended team period on Wednesday.

After the practice head coach Mike Gundy was asked by Gavin Lang of OSU Athletic Media Relations what he has discovered so far about his team this spring.

"We have a very competitive group," Gundy answered. "I like the defense and our aggressive style of play – challenging the receivers more. Our pass rush has been really good. And I like the tempo of our offense."

Gundy emphasized the play of some of the defensive backs and linebackers, and how they have readily adapted to the new more aggressive profile of the defense.

"Our style of play benefits our corners and their ability to challenge receivers," Gundy said. "Lyndell Johnson has made a nice adjustment at the safety spot and that has made Shamiel Gary a better football player. It allows Joe Mitchell and Caleb Lavey a little more flexibility than what we've had in the last couple years."

The receivers have had their moments too. There are roughly 110 players suited up on a daily basis during spring football and almost exactly one-fourth of those players are receivers.

Of course, the Oklahoma State offense for the past three seasons has being dominated by the passing game, the need for receivers has been paramount.

"We've got a lot of receivers that are really good. It's looking good," said Josh Stewart, last season's leading pass catcher with 101 receptions for 1,210 yards and seven touchdowns. "We just have to learn what the coaches are teaching us, and there's no reason we shouldn't be the best receiving corps in the nation.

"We don't have a reason not to be. We just have to put our minds to it and we can do anything. We've got the talent, the coaching staff and the team to do it."

Stewart and fellow receivers veteran Tracy Moore, back after a medical redshirt season, and Blake Jackson, a big, talented, and explosive athlete who has had problems catching the football, are at different places on the Cowboys depth chart.

Moore is playing both inside and outside receiver. He has already made some highlight-type impressive catches in practice, and last season before his injury flexed his receiver prowess in the desert when he caught four touchdown passes from then freshman quarterback Wes Lunt in the loss to Arizona.

Moore is an NFL prospect who would have been invited to the NFL Combine if he had decided to come out. Instead, Moore made the decision to come back for his senior season to improve his stock both on the field and off of it where he has had some questionable decisions.

"I want to do whatever I can to help the team," Moore said. "Whether they want me to play inside, outside, in the backfield or on special teams, wherever I'm needed. Our goal is to win a Big 12 Championship and a National Championship. I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get to that point."

Blake Jackson is looking to prove to everybody that he is more the receiver that fought off the frigid and wet conditions to make two tough grabs including a seven-yard touchdown than he is that receiver that dropped two touchdowns in the warm December temperatures and sunshine in the loss to Baylor in Waco.

"I'm really tough on myself, so it wasn't fun for me at all when I wasn't doing well," said Jackson, who really is brutally honest about his own performance. "When I had great moments, it helped me to know what kind of player I could be, so it was encouraging at times.

"I really want to show Oklahoma State what kind of player I can be, so it made me hungry to get better this offseason. I've spent a lot of time with the jugs machine, tennis balls and quarterbacks. You can ask anyone around here. I've been on a mission since the season ended, and I will continue to do those things.

"It's an everyday thing. Seven days a week. I've had a pretty good spring so far, but I want to stay consistent. That will be my biggest improvement--to stay consistent and dominate as well as I can on every play."

Finally for Stewart, he wants to stay healthy and continue to have great prodution, which he understands may require not catching as many passes and that the defense have plenty of other targets to zero in on.

"I doesn't matter to me what I catch. I'm a team player and it's my goal every year to be a good team player and make a play when my name is called," Stewart explained.

"Like I said, we have a good team and good players so whoever's name is called is going to make the plays. We're doing the same stuff so nothing's getting changed too much. It's a pretty good transition and we're all working hard and getting ready for the season, we're just trying to get better right now."

The offense hasn't changed much under new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. There is still a quarterback battle but the three receivers all said they don't notice much of a change in the passes thrown by the three quarterbacks Wes Lunt, Clint Chelf and J.W. Walsh.

"They've all improved just from the experience they gained in last year's games," said Moore. "Clint Chelf was the only one with experience entering last spring, so he's just even more comfortable now. Wes Lunt is getting more comfortable back there, and J.W. Walsh is continuing to develop as a running quarterback. They all have their strengths."

"Not many teams have that situation where any quarterback can come in and make plays," Stewart added. "To have that is a real good thing for us receivers. We have confidence going in and when you have confidence, it's hard to be stopped on offense.

"Having those quarterbacks is a good deal for us and they are only getting better. They're fighting for a starting spot because no one has it yet. Anything can happen. Look at last year, all three of them played. You never know what can happen. They're just working hard and waiting for their moments."

And all three of those receivers and more, like Austin Hays. who has been moved inside because he has shown the ability to excel from that spot. Plus, there are others like Charlie Moore and youngsters like Jhajuan Seales, David Glidden, Blake Webb, C.J. Curry, Brandon Sheperd, John Goodlett and Nick Rockwell that are good potential targets.

Welcome to the Oklahoma State shooting gallery where footballs are in the air all the time and there are more receivers ever in program history to catch them. Some are veterans that are proven, some are young and have shown "all" caliber talent, and others are in varying degrees of trying to prove or improve themselves. There should be enough good ones to keep the offense moving this fall.

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