Cowboys Run Game Is A Work In Progress

STILLWATER -- Two days in a row in full pads and two days in a row a goal-line session to end practice for the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Cowboys went through a similar routine on Wednesday in full pads that they did on Tuesday in the first day in full pads.

Practice time is mixed with drills and instruction ranging from special teams work to inside drill and seven-on-seven, to more precise work including blitz pick up and outside blocking and tackling with receivers and defensive backs.

According to defensive players, the defense had a successful goal-line scrimmage on Tuesday. But going again on Wednesday can only lead you to a likely rebound from the offense.

"It was a lot of fun. We flew around, we made some plays," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said of the practice while not revealing a lot. "There's always room to improve.

"The fun part is getting into the film room and seeing it on tape, because whether you think it was really good or really bad, you're usually wrong. It's never really good and it's never really bad. It's somewhere in between. I can't wait to get in the film room to check it out."

On Tuesday, All-Big 12 defensive tackle Calvin Barnett said "goal line is where defensive linemen earn their pay." Not the best line considering the hubbub with Johnny Manziel but he meant earn their reputation and place on the team.

Defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements said when it gets down there, "it's personal."

That cuts both ways and includes the running backs. Projected starting running back Jeremy Smith takes great pride in his ability to run the ball inside and run the ball in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

"I still have a lot of stuff to work on and pretty much get better at," started Smith in discussing progress at fall camp. "I'm pretty much happy that Coach (Jemal) Singleton is staying calm and patient about my work ethic.

"I have to come out here every day and keep working hard and showing these guys how to work. We got to do the goal-line situation, so you could say we got some good live action. I liked it. I have to keep my legs healthy and get rest at night."

Smith is taking a great deal of responsibility for himself, for his backup Desmond Roland, and for the younger backs in sophomore Caleb Muncrief and freshmen Rennie Childs and Corion Webster.

The first two days of practice with no shoulder pads amounts to "touch" football, which wasn't bad work for Smith and Roland. You try to avoid being touched and if you can't be touched then you aren't going to be tackled.

"I mean that is pretty much how you have to look at it, you can't be touched," Smith said raising his voice. "Even these young guys out here, they are doing an excellent job. They were out breaking a lot of runs and you see them out there now in shoulder pads and full pads making big plays now. We have to continue to stay focused and run hard."

Shaun Lewis and the Oklahoma State linebackers see the running backs every day and not just as targets to tackle. One of the drills that shows toughness with running backs and linebackers is blitz pickup. You can't be shy in that drill because it is full speed and full contact, mono e mono.

"No shyness, when they get beat they want to get right back up and get in there," said Lewis after making the point that the linebackers have been "kicking butt" in the drill for the last couple of days. "As an older guy you love seeing the fight and the tenacity in the younger guys in their first year of college ball. I'm excited about those guys too."

Head coach Mike Gundy, Yurcich, and Singleton are all quick to say that it takes time to judge the younger backs to see if they ready to contribute right away as freshmen. Gundy wants to see how they handle the day after day pounding, and Singleton wants to see if they can continue to learn and focus.

"It's mostly mental. You watch the freshman walk off the field, body type and strength they look like college football players," explained Singleton. "What they are not is mentally strong and that's the toughest part.

"It's not just football; it's all the other stuff they have to learn to manage. They have to be able to separate football time and academic time. It's usually not a skill set problem, it's knowing what to do."

There is no option for Smith or Roland. Smith has played a major role for the past three seasons and has the numbers and battle scars to prove it with 232 carries for 1,439 yards (6.2 yards per carry) and 25 touchdowns. Last season, Joseph Randle had 274 carries for 1,417 yards (5.2 average) and 14 touchdowns.

In some ways, Smith needs to double his career numbers this fall. Last fall Roland, as the third back, had 46 carries for 301 yards (6.5 average) and four touchdowns. He needs to double that and catch about 25 passes or more.

"The thing with my two older guys is they are both going to play, there's no ifs, ands or buts about that," said Singleton. "This is Big 12 football and as a running back you're going to take a pounding. So we need more guys to step up that we can put on the field. We want to get those guys rolling and it might go week by week."

Practice is tough because this is one big team. Yet when competing in team, in drills, on the goal line somebody is going to win and somebody is going to lose. That is when the head coach hopes to see it balance out. There are plenty of days for it to all even up.

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