STILLWATER – The fall camp itinerary said helmets but the Cowboys did not even don helmets for Wednesday's glorified walk-thru as this was a day for mental preparation and alertness but a day for the body to recover after three straight fairly physical practices, two of those in full pads.
This is a short camp as classes at Oklahoma State start on Monday and head coach Mike Gundy will give the team the first day of classes off. However, before that off day on Monday there are four more practices to finish off fall camp, three of those in full pads (Saturday is helmets and shoulder pads, and Sunday likely to be a full scrimmage).
The Wednesday activity was much more walk-thru than practice. There was a focus on special teams and then the offense and defense each did their own walk-thru, mainly focusing on assignments that had either been missed or were difficult over the first week and a half of camp. Installation continues, but things should be shaping up and the next several days will be very important in evaluating players for both the depth chart and whether younger players, freshmen, are going to help this season or take a redshirt.
"Today was a recovery day. Today was a mental day and a recovery day," Cowboy backs coach Jason McEndoo told Oklahoma State athletic media relations. "The guys have been going really hard, so today was a day to regroup, bring it back and focus mentally on what we're doing; some different packages and situations, so I though today was good."
There are still some fans that are a little fuzzy on just what all it is that Cowboy backs do. It is a unique concept and one that has gradually gained steam, more opportunities and more value within the Oklahoma State offense.
"That's one thing about the Cowboy back position at Oklahoma State, is that we're such a versatile part of the offense that we have to be able to do everything," McEndoo explained. "We're going to play wide receiver, we're going to play slot receiver, we're going to play tight end, we're going to play fullback, so they've really got to be the ultimate hybrid guy and do everything with the blocking and catching, and having a solid understanding of the offense.
"Outside of the quarterback, I feel like it's one of those positions on the offense where they've really got to be tuned into everything. I think we're doing a good job of that as a whole right now."
It is not a position that a player can adapt to and be ready overnight. The top two players on the depth chart are seniors. Blake Jarwin started as a walk-on from Tuttle and for some time it wasn't definite what position he would play. Jarwin is the ultimate "Body by Glass" guy as his work and work ethic in the weight room and the expertise of Glass has turned Jarwin into a 6-5, 250-pound athlete with 4.7 or better speed and loads of athletic skills. Jarwin is an NFL prospect because of his athletic prowess and his versatility.
Zac Veatch is a former high school tight end who was beefed up by Glass and company to nearly 300 pounds and now is back down to 265 pounds on his 6-3 frame. He is a dominant blocker for the position and has shown he still remembers how to run a route and has good hands too.
"I think we're having a really good camp. Blake Jarwin is having a great camp, and is really applying his craft. He's doing a good job out there running routes and catching balls. Zac Veatch is doing a good job blocking," McEndoo said of his top two Cowboy backs. "They're really coming into their own.
"Blake and Zac have seen a lot of game reps. I lean on them a lot. They're not only good players, they're good coaches. I see those guys coaching young guys saying 'you need to do this, you need to do that, it's this signal', so that's invaluable as a coach. I just really enjoy having those guys around."
Jordan Frazier has been injured going into camp, but is expected back soon. Then there are the two most recent converts to the position as former wide receiver Keenen Brown has just continued to grow and is now 6-3, 242 pounds. Walk-on Cole Neph, easily recognized by the long red hair flowing out the back of his helmet, is now 6-3, 235 pounds.
"Keenen Brown is really coming on," McEndoo added. "He's really understanding the position. His deal is blocking, how to become a better blocker and those sorts of things. One guy is Cole Neph. He's another guy we moved in the spring time, and Cole is doing a really good job with his technique. As a whole, I'm pleased. Every day, we're just trying to take a step forward and get better."
I really expect that Neph will be a major contributor before he is done. The sophomore from Owasso was the player that imitated the Washington quarterback on the scout team for the defense prior to the Cactus Bowl win over the Huskies and defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer gave Neph a lot of credit in the quality of preparation for the bowl game and the way the defense performed. He's been a wide receiver and now is the versatile Cowboy back. He may weigh 235 pounds, but he still has six-pack abs.
McEndoo makes it clear that the pass catching is important but the main goal of the Cowboy backs is blocking and springing the offense to big plays.
"Our motto is 'dominate the edge.' In my opinion, the run plays get started out on the edge," McEndoo explained. "If we're able to dominate the edge and set that edge for the run game, it's going to make all the difference in the world. Same with pass protection. The four things we focus on every day is we want to come off the ball, we want to get our first two steps in the ground, we want to get a hat on hat, and the bottom line is we want to finish. We want to finish the top end and make sure our guy never makes a play. It's a mindset, and that's what I'm trying to work out with them every single day."
Full pads are back in vogue for the team tomorrow and a physical day to start a very physical stretch of days to put the wraps on fall camp. There will be plenty of opportunities to set the edge for the Cowboys backs.