STILLWATER – It should come as no surprise that when the Cowboys added shoulder pads on Thursday for the first time and then during the practice the 11 on offense and the 11 on defense staged the first full team period that the first play was made by James Washington.
The junior receiver from Stamford, Texas led the nation last season in 70-plus yard receptions with four and averaged 20.5 yards a reception. He got his average and more when he caught a short pass from Mason Rudolph and then shook off a defender or two and pranced down the sideline for a big gain. It wasn't the only highlight as the defense staged its share of positives on the first day with any significant contact.
The over two-hour long practice staged both outside on the field just east and inside the Sherman Smith Training Center featured more physical drills in the individual periods. The blaster (device with arms stiffened by heavy metal springs) got a workout from both the defenders as they used it to burst through and tackle a dummy on the other end before their momentum carried them onto a mat. Then the running backs used it to blast through with the football and strengthen their running through attempted arm tackles.
Thursday's practice jumped up the physicality and there will be more jumps in that area. You need to work on being physical every day. The next big step will be Sunday when full pads go on for the first time.
Even though it is a position out on the perimeter, Kasey Dunn, as the receivers coach, can tell when the shoulder pads go on.
"It's just like anything else, as soon as you get (into shoulder pads) there are a few more drops,” Dunn said of the practice that included two team periods, some one-on-one with the defensive back seven and the receivers. “Guys go across the middle and start thinking about where they're going to get hit from. We put a couple more balls on the ground today, but that's expected on the first day of pads. All in all, it was a good day."
"That's something coach Dunn has been teaching, run after the catch and just don't get tackled after you catch the ball is something that he's been putting in our ears," added senior wide receiver Jhajuan Seales.
At the receiver position, we mentioned Washington made the first big play, but Jalen McCleskey, Seales, Chris Lacy, Austin Hays, and Dillon Stoner all made plays in practice. Stoner just doesn’t look or carry himself like a freshman as the Oklahoma High School Player of the Year last season acts like he’s been around a while.
“I liked how James (Washington) came out and competed,” Dunn added. “He got out to a really good start today and played great. You've got some of the other guys that are coming along. (Jalen) McCleskey and (Austin) Hays had a good day. (Jhajuan) Seales and (Chris) Lacy had a good day. I'm happy with the progress."
The more the merrier because returning starter and big 6-4 senior target Marcell Ateman is in the locker room and in the training room getting treatment following his surgery to repair a broken foot that was suffered almost two weeks ago when Ateman was out working extra on his route running. Now the Cowboys need to have some next men up respond at receiver.
"You always hate to see a player get injured, but fortunately he was at a position where we do have some quality depth,” Gundy said on Tuesday and nothing anyone has seen the next two days changed that opinion. “Hopefully, he'll be back sooner than later, but with that kind of foot injury only time will tell. In football, unfortunately, guys get injured. Like always, around here we rally around the next guy in and we expect them to perform at a very high level."
“(Jhajuan) Seales and (Chris) Lacy are jumping up right now,” Dunn added giving names to the next men up. “They're getting up and competing. It's just fun because of this competition that they have going on at the X spot. Obviously it's going to breed a situation to where they're both getting better over time because neither of them are relaxing. They're both playing really hard because they both want to start there. Anytime you have that competition, you're going to get something good out of it, so that's the direction we're headed.
“At first I didn't really think about that (the chance he would play more),” Lacy said. “We're really close and it kind of hurt me to see him get hurt. It was bad timing, it's his senior year, but me and Jhajuan are put in a position where we have to step up and do the best for the team."
The next men up can be freshmen. That doesn't happen often, but at receiver it could, especially with the Jenks Trojan standout Dillon Stoner, who with playoff games was involved in 55 games in his prep career. That’s like five seasons instead of four.
"Dillon Stoner looks good, Tyrell Alexander looks good,” Dunn said of the freshmen. “They're a couple of young guys that have come in, and I'm happy with their progress for sure. I'd be surprised if we didn't see them on the field come day one. We took the right guys. They're living up to expectations, and I'm happy with what I've seen so far."
There were a lot of other players that made plays and had a good practice in shoulder pads. On the defensive side the defensive line as a whole has played well and did today. Chad Whitener and Jordan Burton are off to good camps at linebacker and, as you would expect, safety Jordan Sterns is playing well.
In the first inside drill today, two younger players may have created the loudest pad popping as middle linebacker Josh Mabin came flying in with a big hit and freshman star linebacker Calvin Bundage out of Edmond Santa Fe had a monster hit coming from outside into the middle.
One defensive back that is developing is redshirt freshman corner Bryce Balous and he had several passes he broke up and looked pretty good. Darius Curry seemed to play well on the day.
On offense, the running backs seem to be playing well. I've been impressed with Chris Carson so far and it is worth mentioning that freshman Justice Hill out of Tulsa Booker T. Washington did get some reps with the first offense on Thursday. Not unusual, as Gundy usually lets a few freshmen have a chance to show if they are ready early.
There were no recruits at the practice Thursday morning, but in the afternoon the Cowboys hosted the Lawton High School varsity. Head coach Randy Breeze at Lawton likes to reward his players when they have an exceptional offseason, which he felt they did. Today the Wolverines loaded up the bus and stopped in Chickasha for lunch and then came on to Stillwater to check out Boone Pickens Stadium before stopping on the way home to take in the Oklahoma City Dodgers game in Bricktown.
Gundy missed the late walk through and the evening meetings as he was in Oklahoma City along with athletic director Mike Holder, new basketball coach Brad Underwood, tennis coach Chris Young, and wrestling coach John Smith for the Oklahoma City Posse Caravan. The same event will be in Tulsa next Thursday.
The Cowboys will be back at it at 9:05 Friday morning, and the Extreme Camp begins tomorrow for those enrolled. The more than 100 campers will eat, breathe, and sleep Oklahoma State football this weekend.