Practice Report: Focus On Line Play

STILLWATER – The sun beat down as the Oklahoma State Cowboys were lined up neatly on the turf practice field just east of the Sherman Smith Center on Saturday morning. A big crowd of Extreme Campers and a very notable list of recruits watched the practice, including four committed players and a couple of the top in-state prospects for 2016 and 2017.

The recruits watching from the sideline were OSU commits in 2016 running back Justice Hill, offensive tackle Ryan McCollum, and offensive lineman Dylan Galloway along with top 2017 prospect in Collinsville linebacker Levi Draper. They were joined by high ranking prospects like 2016 safety Calvin Bundage and offensive/defensive tackle Tramonda Moore as well as 2017 cornerback Tre Brown.

Former quarterback Zac Robinson, who now heads up the Texas Quarterback Academy and has worked with a number of college quarterbacks including Cowboys Mason Rudolph and J. W. Walsh, was also there. It was a festive morning but it was a work day, first and foremost, for the Cowboys.

For it was a time to focus on the offensive and the defensive lines, but some others aspects of the practice stood out as well.

On the offensive line, the group is progressing well and the tackles in left tackle Victor Salako, who came from a full season as a starter at UAB, and the maturing of redshirt sophomore Zach Crabtree at right tackle has been great.

It looks like offensive line coach Greg Adkins has pulled a page out of the Joe Wickline philosophy in that he is working several linemen in different spots. Center Paul Lewis has worked a lot of right guard with the first team, moving Jesse Robinson to some work at left guard. Senior Colby Hegwood is seeing some work at center with the second team.

"We're just moving guys around and getting them a lot of work," head coach Mike Gundy said after practice. In the case of Lewis and Hegwood, in particular, and even Michael Wilson, who has played both guard and tackle, they are checking out versatility.

"Well, we're playing them in different positions because we have a lot of tape and we have a good feel they can play at other spots," added Gundy, who saw the offensive line and defensive lines go at it in a long and very competitive inside drill on the north end of the outdoor turf field. A lot of sweat coming off the big bodies during that work period.

"We haven't quite got our depth where we need it to be. We have to work a couple of guys in other spots just in case that is where we need them to be."

Lewis started at center much of last season, but it now appears that Brad Lundblade, a walk-on who was just awarded a scholarship that played a lot as a freshman last season, will hold down the starting role at center. That allows Lewis with his experience to explore other playing opportunities.

"Well, he's played a lot and he is good enough to play for us so we've worked him at center and we'll work him at guard, and (Michael) Wilson has worked both spots (guard and tackle)," Gundy added. "Once we get into 14, 15, and 16 which is the last two weeks of practice (before the opener) then we need to get settled into a one and two (offensive line). Right now we have to work some guys and find out who the third team center is going to be."

During the inside drill, plays were made on both sides of the ball as running backs Rennie Childs, Chris Carson and freshman Jeff Carr all showed some tough physical running and on a couple of carries found open creases toward the end zone.

Linebacker Ryan Simmons, defensive end Jimmy Bean, defensive tackles Motekiai Maile and Ben Hughes made plays behind the line as did young defensive end Cole Walterscheid. Star linebacker Jordan Burton was active too.

In team period, the longest pass play featured the return of big play James Washington, who this time last year was dazzling the coaching staff and teammates with the kind of catches that put him in the rotation at receiver in the opener. Washington caught a pass in team and took it the distance.

"James keeps doing good and those guys that are in their second year of playing really separate themselves, and James is a really good player," Gundy said.

After the team split for the inside drill on one half of the outside turf field and seven-on-seven down on the south end, Gundy and the coaching staff moved the team inside the Sherman Smith Center for the rest of practice. It was a lot cooler inside. There was more group work with offensive tackle Brandon Pertile showing some potential in pass pro and more team work to finish out the practice.

The heavy work between the linemen prompted another question on our part and that was how many defensive tackles would Gundy like to count on this season. Of course, the most experienced of the young depth chart at that position in Vili Leveni is out for the season with a torn achillies.

"Well, you'd like to have five. You know we're not going to have five, so you hope that you stay really healthy and you try to rotate some guys in and get some experience in pre-conference games and then hopefully, they are up and running by October," Gundy answered.

Versatility is being checked in the secondary as well with so many quality and experienced cornerbacks on the defense, some are being tried at safety or playing safety in specialty defenses. Jerel Morrow moved over in the spring and Ramon Richards and Darius Curry have seen some work there as well.

"Well, Ramon will play and he will get a lot of playing time and Darius (Curry) is a guy that is trying to work his way in there," Gundy said. "When you're in preseason camp like this there are a lot of reps and you can only leave guys out there so long so a lot of guys get a lot of work."

One more note.

"Those guys are studs. I think Mason has a chance to be a really good quarterback and J.W. Walsh is like a coach with his mental approach to the game."

Those words came from former Cowboys quarterback and total offense record holder Zac Robinson. The former Cowboy and NFL quarterback has his Texas Quarterback Academy in the Dallas area, and he worked with both this summer. He has worked with other college quarterbacks and some NFL quarterbacks too. He feels very confident that the Cowboys quarterback duties are in very good hands.

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