Turnovers A Priority For Cowboys

STILLWATER -- For an Oklahoma morning it was hot and humid Monday as the Oklahoma State Cowboys finished off the fourth and final practice of the NCAA acclimatization period with their second practice in helmets, shoulder pads, and shorts. Tuesday morning the full pads go on for the first time and that wraps up the NCAA mandated schedule for the first five days of practice.

From that point on the coaching staff will decide how extensive they will dress out for practice. With Mike Gundy's "thud" style of practice and staying off the ground and avoiding contact with the lower body in most all practices, there is little difference in what the team does in helmets and shoulder pads and full pads.

However, look for Tuesday's practice to be pretty physical. Monday's included an inside drill, team session at the end and plenty of one-on-one work for the linemen and skill players. They'll ratchet it up a notch Tuesday. Monday's practice ran close to two hours and 20 minutes.

It was interesting today on my radio show as a regular asked me if anybody was playing better than I anticipated. After thinking a good few minutes the answer was no. At the same time I thought, well, is anybody playing worse than I anticipated they would. The answer again was no.

When you are dealing with a team that is picked to win the Big 12 and has a lot of returning experience then getting two "no" answers out of those questions isn't all that bad.

You want to know the real battle that is waged every day in practice? It's all about turnovers, from the head coach down to Mike Yurcich on offense to Glenn Spencer on defense to all the position coaches to the players.

Turnovers often dictate the mood of most all of the participants as they leave the field after practice and throughout the day in meetings. A turnover on offense will get a really sour response on the field and in meetings.

Linebacker Shaun Lewis was lamenting that the defense didn't get as many turnovers as they had set for their goal following the first day of practice in helmets and shorts.

"We fell one short of our goal. It was good as we got some and Tyler (Patmon) got an interception and I think he'll help out in that area, but we need to get as many turnovers as we can," said Lewis. "That has been a big part of us defensively and it needs to be this season."

At the same time, the offense is making ball security a priority. At times, former Cowboy running back Joseph Randle was tagged a fumbler and there were games he took a seat after a couple of balls lost.

Projected starter and veteran Jeremy Smith has had a good reputation on hanging onto the ball and that is what Desmond Roland wants as well.

"We're working on turnovers as well as big plays in the fourth quarter," said Roland of a lot of the offensive work during the first several practices. "We lost a lot of our games in the fourth quarter whether it was a turnover or we couldn't complete a third down. We've been looking at big plays from our big-time players."

Fumbles by backs are punishable by carrying around a water-filled football and hanging onto it while the back does a series of up-downs. Interceptions don't seem to draw immediate punishment on the field, but you know the quarterbacks hear about it in the meeting room.

"We have to be sound and we have to be conscious of ball security," Yurcich this summer. "It's really simple we have to avoid turnovers."

On defense, a turnover is a badge of honor. For a player wanting more playing time it is a way to get that message across. Redshirt freshman defensive end Jeremiah Tshimanga says that's the best to break through at a crowded position.

"Coach really stresses stripping the ball, interceptions, and turnovers in general," Tshimanga said. "We have to start using the practice drills more and the fundamentals we learn in practice. Coach has done a good job to stress turnovers in practice."

There is no scoreboard in practice, just the clock to time the periods. But inside the head of every offensive and defensive player and coach there is a score being kept and it is all about turnovers.

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