Spring Practice Report: Day Two

STILLWATER -- For the second day, the Oklahoma State Cowboys were back out for spring football. Day two was a little longer as the practice in shorts, jerseys and helmets was about two hours, 45 minutes in length. Again, the focus was on working position groups and sides of the ball in both drills, and combined work to get everybody on the same page and seeing schemes the same way.

"Our effort, team continuity, the tempo of the game, how we adjust to defensive schemes and to offensive schemes," head coach Mike Gundy answered when asked what makes a good practice early and without pads in spring football.

"I like our attitude. We've gotten quality work in, but we still have a way to go. We're getting some young players who have redshirted out there and trying to get them up to the speed of the game."

The rest of this story will focus on the defense but the news on offense was a little more of the work being done inside with the wind howling outside. There was still a swirling breeze inside the Sherman Smith Training Center with two of the fabric doors open on the north end of the building.

As for how things are coming along with all of the players including the younger ones being asked to step in and fill key roles, Gundy commented on what he is hearing from his assistants.

"They're working some young guys and seeing where they stand with those guys. It's new for coach Connelly. For the coordinators, really coach (Glenn) Spencer, there are so many new guys that they're looking at in certain positions to see where they can contribute and help us," Gundy said.

All the talk going into this spring was about all the turnover, especially on the defensive side of the football. So, who's gone? The defensive line is barely hit with Calvin Barnett at defensive tackle and "old man" Tyler Johnson at defensive end.

That is a good number of plays and influence, but that is light compared to the second and third level of the defense. Linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis combined for more than 80 combined starts with Lavey at middle linebacker and Lewis at the hybrid "star" position.

In the secondary, the Cowboys lost starting safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary along with key backup Zack Craig. Justin Gilbert is likely going to be a top 10 NFL Draft choice and Tyler Patmon proved to be invaluable. This is adding up to so much valuable experience that it could make a defensive coordinator sick to his stomach.

"It's a 180-degree flip from when I was sitting here last year," Spencer said. "I probably said the appropriate things (last season in his first season as coordinator), but inside I knew we had a chance to be really good.

"Right now, we aren't very good, but that's just right now. Technically, we lost seven guys but we lost more when you factor in guys who may not have started, but played a lot of crucial snaps for us."

Spencer isn't doom and gloom. In fact, he said last December before the Cotton Bowl he was looking forward to working with and developing the young talent on defense. The emphasis is on talent because while the experience is sorely lacking the talent is not. These are talented players. Gundy said don't feel sorry for Oklahoma State because we have talented players.

"We have a lot of guys who are unproven," Spencer began detailing. In the defensive backfield, we have one guy (cornerback Kevin Peterson) who has been in some battles, but the rest are unproven. It starts now. It's a similar situation at linebacker.

"On the defensive line, it's standard for this kind of a program to have eight defensive linemen you can rotate. Two guys make one. When it's a crucial time, you make sure you have what you would consider your best out there, but the other guys still play just as much. If you asked me which part of the defense I feel best about, it would be the front four because we have guys who have done well against good competition."

At linebacker, Ryan Simmons has started a full season and played much of two seasons. He has played both middle linebacker and weak side and now will move back to middle where he watched Lavey master the position from a mental standpoint.

Simmons admits learning a lot from the player he was competing with for playing time.

"Definitely, Caleb he is one of those guys that comes around and knows everything and the way he prepared, the things he picked up, things that I observed, and knowing the defense is something that I'm going to have to know and hold myself accountable to know," Simmons said.

"It's just the way it is. I'm just going to try to carry on from what it was last year – the togetherness and the team camaraderie and making sure we stay close together as a team."

Typical that while a coach and a player see things different they also see things the same. The language is the biggest difference. Spencer is going to be more guarded and Simmons is going to be more optimistic.

While Spencer sees the new players and in particular the youth, Simmons sees some players that have a little experience and may soon be trusted to carry out major roles on the defense.

"It's going good. We had some good training this offseason and now we're starting spring ball. The guys are ready to go," Simmons said. "They're all motivated and hungry to be the best team.

"There are a lot of guys that haven't proved themselves and they are anxious to show the world what they can do. There are going to be some guys that have to take more of a role in the defense, like linebackers Demarcus Sherod, Kris Catlin, Devante Averette, Seth Jacobs.

"Then there will be a lot of defensive linemen like Ofa Hautau that will have to play more, (and) Eric Davis and Emmanuel Ogbah, and Vila Levini is another one. I know, how they are going to work? The entire defense, we're all together. We know that at the end of the day, when we're on the field, we're going to give it our best. We know that if we trust in one another then we know that we're going to give it our all."

Last season Oklahoma State allowed 21.6 points, 384.9 yards, 142.4 rushing yards a game, forced 33 turnovers, 21 interceptions, and had 25 sacks and 95 tackles for loss. Those are really good numbers, and about 80 percent of the players responsible for those numbers are gone.

Those players were all young and inexperienced at one time, and unless there are a lot of us that are awful judges of talent, the players replacing them are more talented. The experience must be added.

"It's fun, but you worry. You worry because today we aren't very good," Spencer said on Monday. "However, today, we aren't keeping score. We have many opportunities to get these unproven guys ready to compete.

"The best part is these young guys are hungry to compete and hungry to learn. They're like sponges. As a coaching staff, with a young unit we can really hammer our core values and philosophies into these guys," Spencer added.

Then the fun will really begin, again. Actually, it will begin again on Thursday as the Cowboys will be in pads for the first time this spring. Gundy said they will go in full pads on Friday before the team gets the next week off for spring break.

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