Spring Review: Who's Going To Replace Sharp?

This is the fifth story in a six-part series reviewing Oklahoma State's spring practice, and what we learned over the past six weeks. This edition takes a look at the Cowboys specialists and how they'll be attempting to replace All-American kicker/punter Quinn Sharp.

OSU fans have been spoiled under Mike Gundy and to be fair under former special teams coach Joe DeForest. Fans have griped and groaned on occasion about kick coverage, lack of returns, and other areas of special teams, but for the most part Oklahoma State has owned special teams overall.

That advantage has led to a lot of success and individual awards over the years. Starting with Luke Phillips and Cole Farden and going right on through players like Jason Ricks, Matt Fodge, Dan Bailey and Quinn Sharp.

Kicking and punting has been stout and has helped win games. It has been an area that fans took for granted. Now with Sharp moving on to the NFL, the Cowboys lost both their punter, kickoff specialist, and PAT/FG kicker. Those are roles that on most teams are covered by at least two, and sometimes three players.

Spring proved that the Cowboys aren't solid in any of the three areas just yet. Former top high school kicker and UCLA transfer Kip Smith has overcome an injury to get back on the field, and after a rusty beginning he has looked decent on punts, challenging Sharp's backup Michael Reichenstein.

The complaint with both Smith and Reichenstein is consistency. They both hit punts good enough to handle the job but each are prone every two or three kicks to an off the side of the foot effort that puts a team in really bad field position.

Smith may truly be an answer to a piece of the puzzle with his kickoffs. Voice of the Cowboys Dave Hunziker says that Smith hits his kickoffs like a golfer hits an approach shot or like NFL kickoff specialists do. He doesn't line drive the ball as far as he can hit it, such as Sharp did on some many touchbacks.

Smith's technique adds air under it and his kickoffs generally fall 2 or 3 yards on either side of the goal line. Those kicks give a coverage unit time to get down the field to be in prime position to make a play. In the first of only two live kickoffs in the spring game, Smith's kick fell around the goal line and the cover unit made the play at the 12-yard line.

On placements (PAT and field goals), Smith battled from All-State kicker Bobby Stonebraker, Sharp's backup last season. Stonebraker, from Tuttle, Okla., is a talented kicker and came out with an edge but he still had some inconsistent moments such as a short field goal miss in the spring game.

Watching in the stands at the spring game was two-time Texas Class 5A All-State kicker and last year's All-State punter Ben Grogan.

Grogan has very impressive credentials coming out of Arlington (Martin), Texas. He was 17-of-21 on field goals his last two seasons and five of those were from over 50 yards. In those same two seasons he was 65-of-65 on PATs, knocked 60 percent of his kickoffs for touchbacks and averaged right around 40 yards punting.

It would seem to be unfair to ask Grogan to come in as a freshman and do all three like Sharp did his last two seasons But Grogan is almost assured to handle one or two of the chores.

It will make for needed competition to get the best out of all the candidates in all the disciplines.

Deep snapper is great as Andrew Suter handles punt snaps and Connor Sinko handles placement snaps. The bonus is both guys can do both snaps making for really good depth. Kaleb Smith, one of the best deep snappers in the Texas high school ranks, is in for the fall to start training for the future.

In the return game, Justin Gilbert is back as the best active kickoff return specialist in the nation. He could earn permanent status as one of the all-time greats if he takes several to the house this season. He is slated to be joined back there by a dangerous Brandon Sheperd, who was outstanding in that role in high school in Missouri and looks forward to getting the chance to do it again.

Punt returns were a major adventure this time a year ago and well into last season.But do-it-all standout Josh Stewart showed off a little in the Heart of Dallas Bowl and it got Mike Gundy's attention. So Stewart, who caught each punt flawlessly in the spring finale. will handle returning punts going into next season.

There was limited work on cover units in the spring as so many of the decisions on who will man kickoff and punt teams will come in the fall when all the freshmen and newcomers are on board.

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