When the NFL scouts, assistant coaches, personnel directors and Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin eyeballed the Oklahoma State graduating seniors and Josh Stewart on Thursday morning as they ran, jumped, and did football drills they were watching 166 of last season's 280 receptions, 2,076 of the team's 3,599 receiving yards, and 16 of the team's 26 touchdown receptions.
Receiver is a position where as many as five players departed and are hoping to move on to the NFL.
Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore have been fixtures at the receiver position. Moore's four touchdown catches in Arizona in 2012 looked like a signal he was going to have a huge season only to see an ankle injury drag on and on and lead him to coming back for his fifth season.
Moore has deceptive speed and he has been responsible for a number of explosive plays. In fact, those older receivers were responsible for six of the top 10 most explosive receptions last season.
One player, Jhajuan Seales, accounted for three of the other four.
"They taught us a lot and we get to follow in their footsteps," Seales said when asked about the players he and the other young receivers get to follow. "They taught how to play through adversity and really play together. I think our offense will be the same. People just have to step up and fill in for Tracy [Moore] and Charlie [Moore] and those guys."
All apologies to those elder statesmen running forties and showing off for NFL jobs but I think the younger guys will be okay. On Monday at the press conference, head coach Mike Gundy went on and on about the younger players and some of the injured players that would be sitting out spring practice.
Then Gundy came back and said not to feel sorry for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys still had talented players and the program would be fine. He might have been thinking specifically about the receivers when he said that.
The Cowboys have welcomed junior college transfer and world class speedster Tyreek Hill to the team. Hill was missing Thursday as he was schooling on the 200-meter banked track in Albuquerque, N.M. at the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, where he will run the 200 meters on Friday after winning the same event in the Big 12 running it for just the second time in two years. Hill will be special.
The Cowboys also return tall and athletic Marcell Ateman, who caught 22 passes last season. Ra'Shaad Samples was one of the best receivers coming out of high school in the 2013 recruiting class and after red-shirting last season he is ready to go.
The Cowboys also have C.J. Curry, inside guys like David Glidden and Blake Webb, and Brandon Sheperd with speed and grace.
Then there is the returning receiving leader, Seales. Seales wears number 81 and is starting to take on some of the characteristics Oklahoma State fans remember in the last player that wore number 81, Justin Blackmon.
Seales seemingly improves every day and with every practice. That is the way Blackmon came on as well.
"It's great to come into spring to do it because we haven't really played with the ball much," Seales added. "It will be great to get around with the DBs and run around and do drills."
Now there is one receiver's name we haven't mentioned that has plenty of experience. Austin Hays was the last player recruited in the class of 2012 and all he ended up doing was being the leading receiver in what was believed to be a stacked class of pass catchers. He caught 29 passes for 394 yards and two touchdowns creating a lot of buzz when he broke through the experienced and talented Kansas State secondary for a long touchdown catch to open the game in Manhattan against the eventual Big 12 champions.
Last season, he caught one pass for eight yards after suffering a hamstring pull in warmups before the last preseason scrimmage. It never healed and he ended up sitting out and taking the redshirt he didn't need as a freshman.
"It's frustrating. It just gets old because you want to be out there so bad, but at the same time if you can't do it, you can't do it," Hays said. "It was tough watching them on TV since you don't get to travel or suit up. It's frustrating. I kept thinking I was going to come back, but it just kept going on and on. Finally, I just accepted it once we got past the midway point of the season."
Hays now is looking to recover his form. He is faster than you think he is, he runs terrific routes, and he has excellent hands. "I'm feeling pretty good right now so we're just going to take it easy. I'm excited," Hays said. "It's frustrating not being able to do a whole lot during the year. It's a new year and I've gotten healthy now so I'm looking forward to it."
Hays is confident that before the next several years are up and these guys are doing their running and jumping to get attention from the NFL that they will have gained plenty of affinity from Cowboy fans and attracted attention for their pass catching and touchdown scoring exploits even before the timed running and measured jumping portion of the journey to the NFL.
"We're very athletic and young and we have a lot of people who have played, but not a whole lot," Hays added. "I think Jhajuan [Seales] is the only one who started every game. David [Glidden], Marcell [Ateman] and Blake Webb started a little bit, and we've got Ra'Shaad [Samples] coming on so we're excited."
So is Gundy and so are the quarterbacks. Pretty soon, like after the Orange Blitz open practice on April 5, so will Oklahoma State fans. The Cowboys wrap up the first week of spring football with practice at 2:45 p.m. Friday, and it too will be in full pads. Then there's the week-long spring break.