On Sunday morning, the Oklahoma State Cowboys hit the second of the significant "firsts" with the first practice in helmets and shoulder pads. It appeared to be a good session, and as a practice observer for many, many years, I can tell you it was definitely on the upper end of first practices in helmets and shoulder pads that I've seen.
There were no apparent injuries, the players looked eager to get physical and they did. The hitting seemed crisp from the inside drill, in the one-on-one work with receivers and defensive backs, seven-on-seven, pass pro (pass blocking and pass rush), and in team.
"It’s real football. The last time I checked it was a violent game, so to be able to teach blow delivery and tackle, that’s the game," defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer explained. "To be able to do that was huge, so it’s good to get out of the pajamas."
The close to two-hour practice was conducted entirely on the turf practice field adjacent to the Sherman Smith Indoor Training Center and inside the Smith Center. The practice also appeared balanced with the offense and the defense each having its high points.
The nearly 80 members of the Cowboys Extreme Camp watched their last practice before having a session with head coach Mike Gundy. It's fun when the campers are around as they are very observant and in tune to what is going on. Like all fans, they love eyeballing the new players and have enjoyed the speed of Tyreek Hill and some of the defenders like Josh Mabin at inside linebacker.
By far the guy that has impressed them most is freshman wide receiver James Washington, who made a catch in seven-on-seven that had the campers really talking. He shielded off his defender and made a sensational one-handed grab. Being up close to plays like that is a memory those campers will take home and they will enjoy telling friends they saw a guy like Washington first.
The nuts and bolts of camp is improving, the reps for the veterans and young players alike. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said during a break he was pleased with what he was seeing.
Glenn Spencer got into much more detail with Sean Maguire of Oklahoma State athletic media relations after the practice concluded.
"First day with shoulder pads, so we had a chance to see how physical we are," Spencer began. "There were times that I thought we did well and then there were times we just got to demand more out of them and expect more. They’ve got to see it on tape where they have a chance to deliver a blow or they have a chance to run through a tackle, and we just didn’t finish good at times. We kept the big plays down today, which was an improvement; a lot of missed assignments. Fortunately, it was the younger guys more than the older guys, which is good."
Always a highlight is the inside drill and pass pro featuring the offensive and defensive line. You could really see where some of the young linemen on both side of the ball are as offense has redshirts from a year ago like Jack Kurzu, Jesse Robinson, and starting at right tackle is Zach Crabtree.
On defense, the back-up tackles are redshirt freshmen in Ben Hughes and Vincent Taylor and a lot of fanfare for redshirt freshman defensive end Vili Levini, all 6-3 and 270 pounds of him.
"We’re counting on them," Spencer said of his young defensive linemen. "They’ve been on the scout team for a year. They’ve been in the weight room for a year and they were able to get a lot reps in the spring. A lot of those guys will be in the rotation and it’s up to them from here until the opener to see how big a factor they’re going to be. A lot of those guys, we’re counting on them. That’s why we redshirt them."
At linebacker and in the secondary as back-ups at corner and even starting at safety are more young players. The redshirts like Tre Flowers at safety and Jerel Morrow, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry at cornerback have a grasp but the newcomers like safety Dylan Harding, star linebackers Josh Furman and Kirk Tucker, and corners Chris Hardeman and Ramon Richards are learning.
"It’s a wait and see," Spencer said of the newbies. "Until we see what practice looks like, and until we get in a scrimmage situation, you really don’t know about those guys.
Are we pleased with some of them physically? Yes. Do some of them need some work physically? Yes, but nobody’s counting any of them out right now and nobody’s definitely sitting there counting on them right now. That’s going to be left to be seen in the next several practices."
Which is why there are four significant firsts and why every day and each practice is significant. This one was a good one.