As Oklahoma State was on the turf inside the Sherman Smith Center on Wednesday preparing for the second spring practice of 2016, down on the north end of the field in his green jersey was quarterback Mason Rudolph leading the offense through a pre-practice walk thru.
Rudolph is comfortable and has no problems directing a wide receiver to move in the formation or calling a protection for the offensive line. Rudolph is pretty comfortable on his role even as he adapts to having shared it last season with the departed J.W. Walsh.
The same process is going on down on the defensive end of the field as the Cowboys defenders walk thru and their quarterback in middle linebacker Chad Whitener is comfortable in giving direction to fellow linebackers like Devante Averette or defensive tackle Motekiai Maile. This was supposed to be the start of Whitener's time as the defensive leader but because of the knee injury to Ryan Simmons in the K-State game last season that ended his senior season, Whitener is much more experienced with seven starts and a lot of snaps under his belt.
"It made me mature really fast as far as being a player goes," said the Mansfield, Texas native and California transfer. "It forced me to approach the game differently as far as preparation goes. I have to go in with the mindset that I have to lead, get those guys in line and do everything I'm supposed to do as a middle linebacker. It was a big jump for me in my career."
Glenn Spencer is always a little begrudging in giving credit. Seniors that have finished their careers usually get the biggest compliments but that is in part because Spencer is motivating. He is glad now for the experience that Whitener got during that rugged November stretch of games against high-tempo spread offenses.
"Nothing can take the place of live reps, and was Chad right all the time, no," Spencer said. "Now you move on to what's next. I'm not going to go back and check out the good and bad from last year when i am trying to get the best Chad Whitener that I can right now and today for the next 13 practices. Game experience is irreplaceable and regardless of whether it was his time, he got it."
Whitener finished the season with a third high total of 93 tackles, 58 of those unassisted. He also two interceptions, a fumble recovered, a fumble caused, two sacks, and 7.5 tackles for loss. He was disruptive. His role is as much about team and the players around him as it is his. Numbers for Whitener become as much group as individual.
"He is going to have a lot of opportunities to be that guy and he has a long way to go, but from what we've seen from his commitment and his work in the offseason and what he has done in this winter workout period is outstanding," Spencer bragged. "It is a different phase and a new beginning and he has to be a good leader and has to be very smart. If those guys miss then usually something bad happens and he has to reduce some of those things that happened last year."
"It's really just making sure you're doing what you're supposed to do. If you have questions, don't be afraid to ask questions even if they seem stupid," Spencer added. "It's just getting to the point where he knows he can rely on you to execute his defense correctly."
Spencer feels good about the talent around him. The young defensive ends stepping in with Jordan Brailford, Jarrell Owens, and Cole Walterscheid, and the defensive tackles like Maile, Darrion Daniels, and Vincent Taylor. There are good linebackers and the secondary is still experienced even with losses like Kevin Peterson and Michael Hunter.
"We were talking about that in the offseason, and we have a lot of depth with the new guys," Whitener added. "I feel like we won't miss a beat as far as production goes. We need to rely on them to do their jobs."
As for the expectations for Whitener, for the defense, and for the team, leave it to Spencer to get philosophical, but at the same time make a lot of sense.
"It's about the process," Spencer answered. "If you haven't been through what we go through then it is hard to explain. You'll never hear me put a number on wins in a season or that we need to be in this bowl or that bowl. I won't start listing stats and numbers the defense should hit.
"I want us to win and to play well, but it is about the process and trying to be the best that you can be. Put in the effort to make yourself better, maybe even better than you thought you could be."
If that describes your quarterback then you have a good chance for success.