If there was a definite area of concern for Oklahoma State fans walking out of Boone Pickens Stadium on the sun splashed Saturday celebrating the end of spring football it might have been the running game. The two teams combined for 37 rushing attempts and a net of 14 yards with the White team averaging 0.4-yards an attempt and the Orange team averaging 0.3-yards per carry.
This may be the most important area not to read into what you saw in the Spring Football Finale. After all, Desmond Roland did carry seven times for 28 yards, including a 14-yard run where he busted a couple of tackles and lowered his shoulders for power. We'll get back to that.
Jeremy Smith had six carries for eight yards while Caleb Muncrief had five carries for 42 yards. They were running behind makeshift offensive lines, and running the football was not the priority while putting on a show for the fans.
The run offense will be a much more critical issue come fall and preseason camp in August when the Cowboys have a complete offensive line and the additions of new freshmen backs in Corion Webster and Rennie Childs join the mix.
Our prediction is you will see one or perhaps both of them play next season. To soothe fans that may be worried about run production, it was better in scrimmages throughout the spring, although with the thud scrimmaging that the Cowboys do it can sometimes be misleading.
Smith is a really good back with talent. He's strong, works hard, but he will be challenged to stay healthy and be more all-purpose than he has been previously in his Cowboy career.
"Spring time is pretty much a huge mental thing for me, to make sure I get everything down pat," explained Smith, who was treating the spring the same as he has when competing with Joseph Randle.
"You want to get a feel for the guys, and get those mental reps in, and make sure they're good to go and I'm good to go. Every day is always a competition. You can lose your job in a matter of minutes and days. That's why you always have to work hard and set goals."
The best news in spring was the maturation of Roland as the Dallas Lake Highlands product showed more runs like he did in the spring game where he lowered his shoulders and used his 6-2, 210-pound frame to bust through defenders. He is a good target out of the backfield or lined up as a slot receiver.
Roland showed that same running style in runs throughout the spring, including one particular big gainer in a scrimmage.
"I think I've improved and I understand the role I need to play," said Roland. "I remember the run you are talking about. That is a big part of how I've improved. I have the confidence to go do that and take defenders on."
Muncrief also showed some improvement, and he will need to be ready to be challenged by the talented freshmen.
No declaration here on the answer of what the run game will be next season with the loss of Randle, but also no panic. That answer was always going to come in August rather than April. Another summer with Rob Glass will benefit all of those backs, including the newcomers in Childs and Webster.
There is no doubt about the Cowboys having many multiple threats at receiver. Start with Josh Stewart, who led the team last season. He has had a chance to freshen up and get past a very physical 2012 season where the 101 catches for 1,210 yards did wear him down.
Stewart is a better player, a little stronger and ready to go. He is also excited about inheriting the punt return chores after his return to kick start the Cowboys in the bowl game.
Tracy Moore being back has added to the depth, and he is a proven playmaker. Charlie Moore returns and his speed and experience helps. Austin Hays was the leading freshman receiver a season ago and he has kept it up so much so that he has moved inside to give him more opportunities.
Blake Jackson pledged to work on his hands and becoming more of a sure thing catching the ball. While that was a continual process in the spring it led to a final effort in the spring game that featured some spectacular catches including a one-handed snag of a hot throw from Wes Lunt that brought some oohs and aahs from the crowd.
The receiver position has also seen some young players pick it up to put themselves in position to contribute in the fall. Redshirt freshman Jhajuan Seales wears number 81 and with his bigger, stronger frame evokes memories just by sight of the last guy that wore that number in Justin Blackmon.
Seales and Brandon Sheperd had the kind of springs that showed consistent growth and improvement. Meanwhile, C.J. Curry, a third member of that young group, was blocking well, running good routes, but not getting many chances until the final scrimmage when he had a breakout day.
By far the name that coaches brought up the most coming out of spring was a familiar one, especially for Oklahoma State fans that follow the high school stars in the state. David Glidden is a homegrown talent that followed former Cowboy and now Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Cooper from Mustang to Stillwater. Glidden had struggled with injuries and became somewhat forgotten until this spring.
"The guy that has really shown some things this spring is David Glidden," said receivers coach Kasey Dunn. "That is the guy. Now that he's healthy, he's making a ton of plays for us and adds another dimension. It's fun to have him out there.
"He's a smart kid, puts in the work, he's investing every day in his success and in our success as a group. It's fun to see a guy like that who is putting so much into it. He's used by myself, coach Ray, Yurcich and Gundy every day as an example of how to go out, compete and make the most of a situation. We have to find a way to get him out there because every time it's thrown to him he gets up and catches it. We have to get him on the field."
Glidden had a scare in Saturday's Spring Football Finale when he came off early in the game with an injury. But he came off under his own power and returned to make catches later in the game and showed no signs of a problem.
Completing the skill portion of the offense are a few guys that qualify as targets but also sometimes as linemen in back's numbers.
Kye Staley is a blocking machine and a 245-pound hammer that can run, catch, and even throw the football. Both he and Jeremy Seaton are both extremely valuable. The former quarterback out of Cashion, Okla., is a walk-on that will likely soon be on scholarship having caught his first touchdown pass in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and serving as a multi-purpose fullback, h-back, tight end weapon.
The offensive line has become a little bit of an afterthought, and that is a compliment because fans, media and opponents alike just consider it a given that they will be Wickline built and Wickline approved by the time the first kickoff rolls around.
There is stability in the return of two-year starter Parker Graham, who will make it three when he lines up at either tackle of guard as he played both in the spring. Brandon Webb also returns after starting much of last season at guard. Two tackles with some experience and huge potential to go with size are Daniel Koenig and Devin Davis.
Webb did a lot of playing last season as Jonathan Rush had his health give out and Webb should be considered a returning starter. Jake Jenkins also played some at center when Evan Epstein was dealing with an ankle sprain and Jenkins handled the assignment well and has been very good during the spring.
How about this for an amazing accomplishment? Teams in the gun most of the time usually have a bad snap here and there but the centers under Wickline and Gundy have been amazing going back to Andrew Lewis to Grant Garner and Evan Epstein. Now it's Jake Jenkins.
Depth could be an issue because numbers and injuries curtailed as much experimentation and work that Wickline would have liked to do in the spring. There is a slight chance that a new freshman might find his way onto the two deep which does not happen all that often.
The offense may not have been the star of the show in the OSU Spring Football Finale but with the successful and confident quarterbacks, a solid offensive line, and a receiver corps that may find its strength in numbers, the offense will produce more of the same excitement and scoring in 2013.