STILLWATER – The different and exacting schedule that Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy has adopted, using his experience from his previous years in coaching, called for a reduction of gear today. The Cowboys practiced in helmets, shoulder pads, and shorts on Monday to start week two of fall camp.
Sunday the team practiced in full pads for the first time and they will be in full pads four of the remaining seven days left in fall camp. Talking with current ESPN football color/studio analyst and former Texas Longhorns head coach Mack Brown today, he said decisions like the ones Gundy is making are some of the most important decisions you make this time of year as a head coach.
"Do you practice in full pads? Do you go twice a day? Do you pull back and give them a day off? What do they need to do to be ready for the heat in that first game? How much is too much and they will be dead-legged in the first game. Those are the critical decisions you make and Mike has done a good job with those decisions," Brown explained.
"I liked the pressure of making those decisions and I miss that, but I know Mike's teams have always been prepared and played well at the start. I remember the way they played in that opener against Florida State. They were in great shape. He does a good job with that."
Gundy is 9-2 in opening games with the only losses being that previously mentioned 37-31 loss to defending national champion and top-ranked Florida State and a 35-14 loss to 13th-ranked Georgia on the road in 2007. It helps when you have good players and today's practice saw the NFL scouts start their parade through Stillwater. The Green Bay Packers, Detroit Lions, and the Super Bowl 50 teams of the Carolina Panthers and world champion Denver Broncos had scouts at practice. One scout said Oklahoma State has more NFL-caliber prospects than they've had in several seasons.
Today at practice Oklahoma State had more big plays on the offensive side of the ball. Redshirt freshman Marcus Keyes continued to be looked at at left guard and the offense cranked up in the early team period as quarterback Mason Rudolph hit walk-on receiver Obi Obialo from Coppell, Texas for a big gain.
Wide receiver Chris Lacy continued to be a good option catching a couple of passes. Out of the backfield running back Barry J. Sanders made a nice catch and run. Speaking of runs, Rennie Childs, Justice Hill, and Chris Carson all had big runs. Carson's was a long distance run and he got a big block out of Cowboy back Zac Veatch on the play.
The defense had some big plays as well. Defensive end Jarrell Owens made a tackle for a loss and safety Tre Flowers diagnosed a quick pass to slot receiver Jalen McCleskey and came screaming downhill to make the play for a loss.
In the second team period the defense did a better job of containing big plays, but it was a mixed bag for defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer.
"(It was) good and bad. We gave up a couple of big plays to some good playmakers, but usually that happens because of a discipline issue with us," Spencer told Oklahoma State athletic media relations. "They came back in the second half and did things well, but I was disappointed with things early."
As we've noted several times the defense has a chance to be good, going much further than that and we might have Spencer sideways with Go Pokes. With Spencer it has to be proved.
One thing that has seemingly been proven is that there is plenty of depth at defensive tackle and new junior college transfer D.Q. Osborne is pretty quick and is making and influencing plays. Those tackles help the young but moderately experienced defensive ends. The linebackers have solid experience in the starters and there is experience in the secondary.
Spencer wants more and he wants the experience and the right decisions and reactions on defense proven.
"The speed of the game, sometimes, is too fast for some guys. We've got some maturity and we've got some guys that have played enough where that can't happen, and shouldn't happen," Spencer said still lamenting the practice on Monday. "Now our challenge is to create some depth so that some guys know how to respond when there's a lot of pressure. There's a lot of work to be done there.
"We've got a lot of guys that have played, so that experience is hard to coach," the veteran coach added. "So much on our side of the ball is reaction to what you're getting and different looks; when somebody changes something up at the first of the game that you've never seen before. We struggled at times with that last year, and then hopefully this year with experience and guys that have played the game, they can make quicker adjustments than we had. That's a strength, but all of that is proven, it's not talked about. There were times today when that wasn't proven."
There has to be give and take in preseason practice. I said last week that I thought enough of the defense that I was willing to think that it would be the first three games where you would get a reading on the offensive line and the running attack to see how it would fare and what kind of improvement had been made or not made since last season.
It looks like I was wrong and there were some solid signs today, but as you can read and hear when improvement is made somewhere in preseason practice then somebody is thinking another area is backing up. One aspect of fall camps in football I have come to depend on is that in the laws of offense and defense, give and take, when one side has a good day the next day normally reverts to the other side.
"Any great defense I've ever been around has played with great emotion and great intensity, so you get out here in 90 percent humidity and they're soaking wet, sweating, you've got to take them through those valleys to chisel that into them," Spencer said leading me to think he believes the way I do or at least expects it. "We did that today. Some of them responded well and some of them didn't, so we'll go look at the tape and just try to win tomorrow. That's the biggest thing is to just win the next practice. Don't worry about the season yet, don't worry about the first opponent. We've got a lot of things to worry about internally before we can think about anything else."
The Cowboys continue fall camp on Tuesday morning with another early practice and that one will be back in full pads.