You know I honestly feel like this fall camp had a greater degree of development than maybe any Cowboys preseason football camp that I've ever witnessed. Head coach Mike Gundy, in my opinion and obviously his, had the foundation statement on fall camp in his post-scrimmage session with the media on Saturday afternoon.
"We are certainly as far along as we can be right now with the veteran players and then you have another category of younger players, and I think they are as far along as they can be right now," Gundy said.
Now because of the departure of a lot of starters and veteran contributors from the 2013 team and the advent of so many young and even true freshmen making their way into key slots on the depth chart there was a lot of development available to take place.
Here is our list of the top 10 developments, improvements or just simple happenings coming out of fall camp for Oklahoma State football.
10. Ryan Simmons as a Leader: You just knew it was there as defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer had identified it and Simmons' sister displayed it as a point guard on the women's basketball team at powerhouse Tennessee.
Simmons had played alongside older players like Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis so his leadership had never been in great demand. Now that it is with all the youth and inexperience around him, Simmons pushed, counseled, and positively influenced the linebackers and other players around him to focus and improve.
The linebacker situation was fluid throughout spring and he always was ready to take another step with any player toward getting better. There is good reason that Spencer puts so much faith in Simmons.
9. Brandon Sheperd and Ra'Shaad Samples Progression: You can throw even more names in here from walk-on Kameron Doolittle to C.J. Curry but the push and improvement to become real strong factors at wide receiver really glowed with Sheperd and Samples.
Sheperd has played but seemed to have more confidence and more consistency during camp. Samples had talked about being hungry as various injuries had put a redshirt on him after being such a highly touted recruit coming out of Dallas Skyline.
Everybody wants to talk about the new guys in the preseason, but more often than new guys it is developing players that have already been on the team which can make a big difference going into a season. Sheperd and Samples are two and you could easily throw in David Glidden, who also had a sensational fall camp.
8. James Washington and Chris Lacy Are Special Freshmen: Okay, here are the new guys. Washington wasted no time in camp making his presence known. Honestly, he had done that to Rod Glass and the strength staff and his teammates during the summer workouts. Washington was making at least one "wow" catch every day. He never really let up on that. Lacy built up gradually but was absolutely a proven commodity coming out of camp.
"(Washington and Lacy) are both really good athletes," cornerback Kevin Peterson said of the two freshmen. "They both have really good technique and they don't show keys like most freshmen usually show. J.W. likes them as really good targets to go along with all the other guys like Jhajuan (Seales), Brandon (Sheperd), Marcell (Ateman)."
When Kevin Peterson will brag on freshmen than they should be bragged on.
7. Freshmen Cornerbacks Make Strong Impression:Spencer will tell you that Juwan Offray, Ramon Richards and Chris Hardeman are all good athletes and all made real progress in camp. They have a ways to go but as they continue to develop then the depth behind starting cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin is going to continue to improve.
Count that trio as likely making road trips and helping on special teams, and also seeing some snaps. It's nice when you get out of players you recruit what you were expecting to get. It doesn't always happen that way.
6. Young Safeties Make the Grade: We're not talking about true freshmen here although Jenks product Dylan Harding did come on and have a solid camp and could fall into the same category as the young corners. We're actually talking about redshirt freshman Tre Flowers and sophomores Jordan Sterns and Deric Robertson.
Give credit to fifth-year senior Larry Stephens, who helped them along with his leadership. The safety play was pretty solid throughout camp and if they can keep their head and not let a quarterback trick them and play them with his eyes then they will cover and they will deliver a blow, especially Sterns.
5. Freshman Linebackers Answer the SOS: Spencer had identified going into camp that freshmen were going to have to play. After both scrimmages, Gundy gave a count as in how many freshmen he would see on the field at the same time with a special designation for freshmen linebackers. Josh Mabin (middle), Justin Phillips (weak side), Gyasi Akem (star) and Kirk Tucker (star).
They will all need to play and jump in as high as two on the depth chart. All have not seemed overwhelmed and all have improved from the start to the finish of camp. It is not a desirable situation to have to depend on freshmen but so far there has been no deer in the headlight looks.
4. Offensive Line Development: Like linebackers there was no choice here as it was either sink or swim with no life guard sitting on the post to save the Cowboys. Bob Connelly had his starting five from the spring heading into fall camp and what you hoped would happen did. All five of them improved over the summer and showed that in fall camp and they all stayed healthy.
That allowed Connelly to focus on finding his next best guard and his next best tackle, along with a pan to back-up Paul Lewis at center. Brandon Garrett is healthy and returning from being sidelined from the broken leg and subsequent surgery at the Cotton Bowl. Connelly found three tackles to play (starters Daniel Koenig and Zach Crabtree and top back-up Michael Wilson) so there is not a lot of pressure on Garrett.
3. D-Line as Good as Advertised: LIke the receiver position, the defensive line came in projected as the strongest area on the football team. They are with returning defensive tackle James Castleman and the stout and athletic Ofa Hautau in the middle and so many talented defensive ends like Jimmy Bean, Emmanuel Ogbah, Sam Wren, Vili Levini, Trace Clark, and Victor Irokansi. The defensive line is ready to carry a heavy load.
"I feel like we've progressed all the way up to this point, and at the end of camp we're right where we need to be," Bean said following the scrimmage Saturday. "If the rest of the defense needs to lean on us a little then we'll be ready to be leaned on."
2. J.W. Walsh is Going to be the Starter vs. Florida State: Yes, the head coach can and will be vague in talking about quarterbacks although he delivered the straight scoop on quarterback reps in practice during that AdvoCare Cowboys Classic teleconference a little over a week ago.
Walsh has the athletic ability and speed in his legs to be the best answer in front of three new offensive line starters for the game against the top-ranked Seminoles. Yes, all three quarterbacks have promise and improved in camp, but Walsh is the best answer. He will have to continue to be the best answer as Garman and/or Rudolph could get their chance.
"J.W. Walsh brings a lot of physicality to the game," offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich said. "He understands the game very well, he has experience and he's a great leader.
"Daxx Garman has knowledge. He's had a lot of practice reps and he continues to impress us with his ability to throw the ball down the field. Daxx can really spin the ball and it's really pretty to watch him throw it.
"Mason Rudolph still has a little bit of growth to go from an intellectual standpoint. There are just some small things that are very correctable and are very typical of a rookie. From a physical standpoint we think Mason is a really talented quarterback and we're really excited about him being here."
1. Tyreek Hill is as Talented as Thought in the Spring: Hill simply confirmed in camp that his speed and abilities are as real as first thought in the spring. Gundy said he felt he was better in camp and I would agree 100 percent with that statement.
Hill now heads a very solid trio of running backs that can all make plays, all have success, and do it in different ways. Hill is the speedy "space back" that can catch the ball out of the backfield and hit the home run on a run or pass play. He can run up the middle too.
Desmond Roland, the returning starter, is the tackle to tackle back that has more size and is stronger than he was a year ago. Childs is kind of the combination of the other two that has really good hands and deceiving speed when he clicks the gear shift and throws it in fifth.