Trio Of Cowboys Have Paid The Price

STILLWATER - For the second day in a row, Mother Nature's overnight thunderstorms and rainfall sent the Oklahoma State Cowboys to their new workout digs across from Boone Pickens Stadium at the Sherman Smith Training Center and the adjacent Astroturf practice field on the east side of the indoor facility.

The team went through a nearly two-hour, full-pad practice that included an exchange period with scout teams with the defense inside the Smith Center. The offense was on the practice field and participated in an inside drill, seven-on-seven, and a team period to conclude the morning session.

That was the first of two practices Friday as the team has another workout, their first day of two-a-days, scheduled for 6 p.m. They will have the first scrimmage of the fall on Saturday and then take Sunday off before a big week of work next week that includes two-a-days on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Head coach Mike Gundy has a very strict policy about not discussing injuries. Gundy is the only source to the media when it comes to player health and the only injuries he will ever reveal are of the season-ending variety. Or those that are believed to be season ending as in the case last season of quarterback J.W. Walsh, a quick healer.

Three Oklahoma State players dealt with serious injuries in the offseason that cost them either some spring football or some summer conditioning, or both. But all three are back practicing and ready to go for the season. Defensive end Tyler Johnson, defensive tackle James Castleman, and safety/special teams standout Zack Craig have paid a price in the offseason.

Nobody was more excited for the first day of spring football than Johnson. Coming out of minor league baseball in the Angels organization, the 27-year-old Johnson is older than most players, kind of like a defensive Brandon Weeden.

After six tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, his best game of the season, Johnson was ready to be a leader for new defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. Johnson was just that until a shoulder injury ended his spring a couple of weeks early.

"I'm feeling great, ready to go," said Johnson the other day. "If it (season) started tomorrow I'd be ready."

The 6-1, 245-pound Johnson is practicing full speed, knocking off a little rust and doing what he envisioned he would the entire spring.

"Anytime you have an injury like that it is always tough to come back from," added Johnson. "I put in the time in the training room and trusted the guys that are working with me and everything has been successful."

During summer conditioning Johnson couldn't take part in the upper body lifts like bench or even squat. But he could do all of the cardio work and he did, or let's say Rob Glass made sure he did.

"I stayed in shape, and anytime you've got a strength and conditioning coach like Coach Glass for those of you that don't know, Coach Glass, he's a hoss. He makes sure you get out there. Like I said, I've had tremendous help and they are so patient with me to make sure everything is right."

For Johnson; who finished last season with 27 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks, an interception, the two fumbles caused in the bowl and a fumble recovery; playing in a more aggressive defense is what he wants. He'd like to double those stats.

"The switch has been smooth and there haven't been any problems at all," said Johnson of the change in defensive philosophy and scheme under defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer. "I've always wanted to be more aggressive as a player and this allows me to get off the ball and do what I want to do and that is get after the quarterback."

If you look in the latest Go Pokes Magazine you'll see a picture of Johnson from his minor league baseball days playing for the Iowa Kernels (that's as in corn). Check out that picture.

"It's all fun and the baseball road is good," said Johnson laughing really hard. "Of course, I had the hair and the funky look."

Another expected starting defensive lineman is tackle James Castleman, who started last season and finished with 30 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, a sack, and interception.

Castleman missed the bowl game and struggled through the spring with a foot injury that he was finally released from the last week of spring practice. There was no need to risk it so the very athletic Castleman finished out the spring riding the stationary bike. He's almost all the way back now and is practicing full time.

"I feel like I could be a little bit better and Coach Glass is working with me on that to get back into game shape like I was in," said Castleman. "I feel a lot better about it."

A lot is expected of Castleman as Gundy was totally sold on him when he saw him dunk in high school. It was not the kind of dunk you see from a 6-2, then 280-pound defensive tackle. Now Castleman has to match it with All-Big 12 and preseason awards candidate Calvin Barnett.

"The funny thing is that if I'm loafing, he is right next to me, so it must be he's loafing too," Castleman said laughing and agreeing that Barnett doesn't loaf. "That must mean I don't loaf."

There are those that cover Big 12 football that think Castleman and Barnett not only won't be loafing but will be the best tandem of defensive tackles in the Big 12.

"I couldn't answer that question until after we play a couple of games," he said with humility.

Finally, on the back end of the defense Zack Craig is the only green jersey on the field in fall camp other than the quarterbacks. Green jersey means don't hit that player.

"Within two weeks, I'll get rid of that," said Craig. "It's really not an injury but more of a precaution because of the surgery I had over the summer. I'll be ready for game one and I don't want to have anything that keeps that from happening."

Craig missed spring football when before the spring started he began losing feeling in his arm. After a series of examinations and tests Craig said he learned he had Entrapment Syndrome, which is defined below by the New York University Medical website.

A medical condition in which nerves passing through confined spaces are pressed upon and disabled. The syndromes manifests with pain of the nerves or with loss of function in the nerves. Nerve Entrapment Syndromes occur when nerves sustain chronic injury usually from stressful or repeated trauma.

"My muscle and my first rib had closed and the only thing they could do (to free the nerve) was remove that first rib to open up that gap and vein," explained Craig. "Then they found a blood clot in that vein and they had to get rid of that. I had to be on blood thinners for three months. It was very scary. When you find out you have a blood clot that scares you a little bit.

"I had the best doctor, Dr. (Gregory) Pearl (vascular surgeon) from Dallas and he helps out with the Texas Rangers, and for the surgery I had he is one of the top five surgeons in the country," concluded Craig.

Craig, who had a spectacular game against Texas Tech blocking two punts and scoring a touchdown on one of those blocks, says it made him appreciate everything a lot more.

"Exactly, it was a strange injury," said Craig. "It's not like I fell down and hurt my knee. You're going to have your chest cut open and have a bone cut out.

"It makes you appreciate the little things and makes you appreciate playing. I was held out of spring football and I'd never missed any football in my whole life. It was a big eye opener."

Craig expects to continue to contribute on special teams this season. The 6-1, 200-pound native of the San Antonio area is looking forward to playing in the Alamodome in week two and also playing in the nickle personnel group on defense.

"I embrace that role and love on third downs helping us get off the field with a stop or a turnover," added Craig.

Craig, like Johnson and Castleman, has paid a price in the training room and is extremely eager to move from a way too eventful offseason into the upcoming season.

GoPokes Top Stories