Cowboys Put The Pads On

STILLWATER - When we last heard from Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy at the end of his nearly 40-minute session at media day on Saturday, he was explaining where he wanted to be some 15 hours later when his football team was going through its first practice in helmets and shoulder pads.

In Gundy's world of "thud" contact practices, which keep full contact above the belt buckle, having the shoulder pads added to the helmets really means full go. That's the way it is at a lot of schools and NFL training camps these days.

Gundy got his wish Sunday for the just over two-hour practice session. The sun was barely out, but the still and humid air made it a little stressful physically. The popping of pads with inside drill, pass protection for offensive and defensive linemen, blitz pick-up for backs and linebackers, seven-on-seven passing, and a long-team period definitely brought out the physicality.

True to his words on Saturday, the head coach was watching defensive ends and running backs.

"I think the defensive end spot is important and the running back spot with that second and third back," Gundy said when asked what he was anxious to watch with pads on.

"At defensive end (finding) somebody that can help out Tyler Johnson get to the quarterback that at his time doesn't have any experience."

We've pointed to the defensive end position and in our recent pre-camp series on top 10 most important newcomers we listed plenty of defensive ends. Junior college transfer Sam Wren is critical and so is sophomore Jimmy Bean. A torn ACL in the first practice in pads last summer cost him a redshirt season.

He arrived as a 212-pound freshmen, Bean is now a rock solid 245 pounds and ready to show off for the head coach and his position coach, Joe Bob Clements.

"He comes down there and right before we go inside drill, we do champions drill," Bean said of the routine the first day in pads. "That is where I got hurt last year, so I was prepared for that this year."

Bean did fine during his first day in pads and may have crossed a mental hurdle dating back to his injury last August. Now it is his job and others like Wren, Trace Clark and Emmanuel Ogbah to ease the concern at defensive end.

"There is some pressure when people aren't sure you're good enough but I haven't been thinking about that," Bean explained. "I've just been going out day after day and each practice with the defensive linemen and working to get better."

Also, Bean believes the Cowboys returning defensive tackles will help him and the others play better and be more productive. He's right as players on both sides of the ball are talking about how Calvin Barnett is practicing the way an Outland, Lombardi, Nagurski, and Bednarik Awards candidate should practice.

"I do want to play but I haven't been thinking about that. I've been thinking about the defensive line as a whole and how Calvin (Barnett) and James (Castleman) are going to take pressure inside and help the ends get one-on-one blocks on the outside and how we need to get there to sack the quarterback," added Bean.

As for the running backs, they've had a really good start to camp as Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland have looked good. With Joseph Randle and Smith at the position the past two years, Roland had little or no pressure and knew he wouldn't play much. That has changed in a big way as his 63 career carries are about to multiply and he better not be sitting on zero receptions very far into this season.

"I'm more prepared this season than I have been for any season before," Roland said. "I've got more power and speed."

One aspect of Roland's game that has improved is how he has lowered his pad level and is now putting some punishment on the tackler.

"Coach Gundy has been asking me for that since day one and I'm giving him what he wants and giving the team what I feel they need," said Roland. "I feel like I'm a better runner now than I've been, more physical for sure."

Up until today's practice it was simply trying to keep defenders from touching them, but the bumping changed to hitting and inside drill came early Sunday morning. Roland said he and Smith have help in trying to avoid or run over the defenders.

"Coach (Mike) Yurcich is tempo, tempo, tempo and that tires the defense out, and the the offensive line is doing a good job, and then Jeremy (Smith) and I have been around and we know the grind, we're prepared for it and everyday is a grind."

The Cowboys were watching video Sunday afternoon and evening. They will be in helmets and shoulder pads again early Monday morning at 7:30 a.m. Full pads go on Tuesday.

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