It's not unusual for the side of the ball having the best practice to rotate day-to-day as they try to keep up with each other. Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer is demanding more out of his group every day.
"They've got to understand that it's got to come faster. I said, 'Don't get upset if you get coached hard, because you've got to get ready to play, and you're not ready to play yet.' Are they trying? Yes. Is their desire to be good there? Yes," Spencer said of the defense and the young players working hard to catch up with where they need to be.
Spencer said some of the older players need to pick it up as well. "They've just got to learn a few things, so we've got to find a way to make it happen faster."
Safeties coach Tim Duffie said he felt that the morning practice went better for the defenders.
"I think it went well. We’re getting better every single day," Duffie said. "I really appreciate the intensity the guys are bringing each and every practice - guys like Larry Stephens. He’s really leading the group and showing them the way we want them to practice."
Stephens has become a key as he has stepped in and really been the leader for that young trio of safeties that we profiled in an early camp report right after media day.
Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson all combine for less college experience than Stephens. The fifth-year senior has been a redshirt, has dealt with injury, and has played in 36 games with 35 career tackles and a fumble recovery.
Duffie feels he has been very valuable with leading this young group.
"Yeah, I think he has," Duffie expressed. "I think I was a little unfair on him in the spring because he was coming off an injury and I thought he should have been further along than he was, but I think he was a little bit more concerned about was he healthy. Now he’s full-go and really taken an active role in leadership with the guys."
You can easily classify Stephens as an unsung leader. Over on the offensive side of the ball you can do the same thing with fullback Teddy Johnson.
Johnson is a senior three-time All-Academic Big 12 player who at 5-11, 225 pounds is very tough and has played mainly special teams with 20 career tackles and two fumble recoveries. Now he has a scholarship and a role beyond running down kickoffs and blocking on returns. Getting the scholarship was appreciated.
"You know it was wonderful and I've been a part of this organization for a long time and given effort, so it felt great to be recognized and get a little back for my time and effort in the program," Johnson said in a very business-like way.
Make no mistake as Johnson may answer questions in a business-like fashion but he is emotional and passionate about playing football and that is a huge reason the coaches found him and properly pointed him in the direction of playing on most special teams. He is tough and physical.
As head coach Mike Gundy likes to say, football means a lot to him. It will mean a lot to him to play more fullback and he will get a lot of chances.
"I've been here for a while, so I've watched a lot of great fullbacks come through, like Bryant Ward, Kye Staley and Jeremy Seaton, who is still here. I've been able to learn from them and kind of learn their tricks of the trade," Johnson said. "To be able to participate with them, which I believe will happen this year, is a great feeling."
The best thing is that the fullback position is now more viable and more prominent than before. Johnson wants to take that scholarship and show that he's earning it on the field every week. Heck, he'd like to show he's earning it every play.
"Over the past few years, I believe the fullback position has brought a few more assets to the team that we hadn't had before," the Coppell, Texas native said. "We're a lot quicker and a lot faster than the traditional fullback, and with that on our side, I think defenses will have to take that into account and open up the field a little bit. With a strong running force and more tight ends, I think we have a good offensive scheme this year."
The evening practice had more of an emphasis on special teams, which of course, found Johnson heavily involved, and individual drills and only lasted around an hour and 20 minutes. The Cowboys did break out the black helmets and used those to get used to them. At some point they will have to break out the orange helmets.
The team will be back out in full pads. The schedule is for two practices on Friday, although Gundy has been known to reward effort with a surprise trip to a movie, bowling, or swimming. A scrimmage is on tap for Saturday and school starts Monday, so players will have two days without practices, but there will be meetings and lift workout.