On Wednesday, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy sounded the warning siren that he, his staff and the players might not be able to deliver the fun football experience that they have started really enjoying a couple of years ago. For the first seven years of his head coaching career Gundy would waver back and forth between a scrimmage or some sort of pick sides and modified football game for the crescendo of spring.
The one constant was limiting the sight of whatever took place on the field to the live audience, hopefully of Cowboy fans. No televised spring games in Stillwater. No use of cameras or cell phones in the stadium until on the field after the game when the fans get to meet and greet with the Cowboys.
Lately, Gundy has come to prefer the spring game. He knows the fans like it, the players like it, and standing on the field he can direct the officials and coaches to keep the contact to a level he can live with and keep all hands off the quarterback and playmakers such as James Washington.
That was the goal for this upcoming Saturday (April 16), a game with sides picked, perhaps a few players being made eligible for both teams, and a fun competition. Forget the offensive line concerns as they try to ramp up the performance of that group or the running backs. Forget the youth at defensive end or even the players out at linebacker because it is now the secondary that has become the major obstacle in trying to get enough quality personnel on the field for a pick sides football game.
"It'll be based on our health," explained Gundy on the decision. "If you lose a couple of guys with tweaked ankles or hamstrings, you're somewhat limited in what you can do in a game atmosphere. We want to do the best we can do to put on a show for our fans.
"I would love to split teams and have a game, but if we don't feel like we have enough to be able do that and play a good game then we'll come up with some other format. But our goal is to get the players on the field with the fans for 30 minutes before the game and then have a good hour and a half of a football atmosphere. Hopefully it'll be a game, but at least enough of a scrimmage that the fans will leave and feel like they've gotten a good feel for Oklahoma State football for this fall."
I apologize for not getting the information earlier but I took off for a family function on Saturday and had no idea of the situation with junior-to-be safety Dylan Harding. Harding had practiced earlier this week although I noticed he was not on the field on Friday for the scrimmage, but there were a number of players not on the field for the scrimmage. This news had to come quick and it is unfortunate.
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer may have projected the Harding situation as more bad news when he spoke of the health of the defense and the secondary on Wednesday.
"We've got some injuries, I don't think there is anything permanent," Spencer said. "We have some guys that will be back in the fall but we're missing some good players right now. The only good thing about having players out and missing time is it allows a lot of younger players to get quality reps. It is yet to be seen how they develop, how tough they can get, and how accountable they can be in order to play. It is a process we work on every day."
So who is out right now in the secondary?
We know Harding is not going to be able to play anymore. At cornerback, a major missing piece is starter Ashton Lampkin, who hurt a foot and will miss the rest of spring and likely miss some of the summer conditioning. At safety, starting strong safety Tre Flowers is out with one of those injuries that Spencer described as nothing permanent. He is still suiting up but would not play in a spring game. That adds up to two starters in the secondary and one second-team player.
The question begs, who has to step up for the Cowboys?
At cornerback, Darius Curry is now opposite of spring standout and starter Ramon Richards. Curry has played in situations and at 6-1, 205 pounds is a big corner that has been used to match up with bigger receivers. In Friday's scrimmage he had a pick and took off for what looked like it would have been a pick six.
Emerging as a back up and maybe a future starter soon is speedster Bryce Balous. The redshirt freshman is the fastest player on the team with a 4.35 forty. He has shown so far he has the hips to make the turn out of the back pedal into the dead run that corners have to perform. Newcomers Malik Kearse (junior college) and Madre Harper (high school) are getting more and more reps.
At safety, Jerel Morrow is back at strong safety stepping in for Flowers. Morrow had an interception in the Friday scrimmage as well. Newly eligible transfer Derrick Moncrief (6-2, 220) is another player fans will notice. Kenneth Edison-McGruder is now at star linebacker, which thins the ranks. Tre Roberts and redshirt freshman Za'Carrius Green provide young depth.
No more injuries and the Cowboys can likely piece together two acceptable secondaries for next Saturday but the margin is thin.