Starting this week if you drive by the Sherman Smith Training Center on Hall of Fame during football practice you are likely to see some green jerseys on players other than the Oklahoma State quarterbacks. Opening game opponent Southeastern Louisiana has green and gold colors and the Lions will become more of a focus this week as the Cowboys begin the actual game planning and practice attention on playing Southeastern Louisiana. Some of the work so far has been toward that aim but with more of a neutral approach and no scout team opponent's jerseys.
Believe me when I say this and it is very important, a player can get hurt walking to class, climbing down the stairs at the campus apartments, or jogging across Hall of Fame over to practice, but head coach Mike Gundy and his staff have put the Cowboys through two major scrimmages of over 100 plays and come out of it on the other end without any serious injuries.
There have been some minor ailments but nothing that should keep any players off the field for Sept. 3. Then, of course, Oklahoma State had some bad news in that area before practice even started with the foot injury to starting wide receiver Marcell Ateman.
That said, with only a potential shorter scrimmage, most likely against scout teams, the Cowboys should be able to stay healthy straight into the start of the season. That is not to say there isn't going to be some hitting or competition because there will. Not all positions, first and/or second team are sewn up. Here is our Go Pokes "To Do" list with the start of the season less than two weeks away.
Cowboy Football Go Pokes "To Do" List
1. Continue to shore up offensive line and run attack.
The Cowboys have been experimenting some with different looks. The starting line-up appears to be the same with Crabtree at right tacke, Robinson at right guard, Lundblade at center, Keyes at left guard, and Salako at left tackle. That group has a combined 78 major college starts and should be able to get the job done. No complaints about cross-training as it was a solid part of the Joe Wickline approach, it certainly gives the players a greater appreciation for what the other guys do. This is crunch time for the start of the season.
2. Hammer out running back rotation.
I'm beginning to feel that freshman Justice Hill may open as the starter and there is no doubt that he has impressed the coaches and his teammates. He came into the program ready to work his tail off, he did, and it has shown up. Gundy's best teams have had multiple players making plays in the backfield and I think this season will be no different. No less than five players are expecting to be involved and it really is a situation where three is the optimum number and the next optimum is two. Barry J. Sanders has made plays in scrimmages. Jeff Carr is elusive. Chris Carson has put in monster work in the offseason and started camp really impressively, and Rennie Childs has had his moments. Just like with quarterback, the rotation has to skinny up and that will likely happen soon.
3. Kicking game polish has to be on the agenda for the next two weeks.
I have been very impressed with new special teams coordinator Steve Hauser. His preparation and planning for practice and the time special teams gets has seemingly got the most out of the reps. There has been competition and a lot of younger players exposed to the finer points of blocking for return units and technique to get off blocks and fill lanes for cover units. The personnel on all those units likely gets more defined and precise this week as all the components come together. The choices in the return game are enticing with the likes of Jalen McCleskey, Chris Lacy, Barry J. Sanders, Jeff Carr, and a few others involved. There is also the matter of the head coach wanting deeper kick-offs.
4. Defensive positions need to be defined as the opening game nears.
Defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer has been staging various position battles, primarily at linebacker and in the secondary. Some are for starting spots, but more are for second team and rotation positions. The linebackers are likely to be: weak-side either Devante Averette or Gyasi Akem with Chad Whitener in the middle and Jordan Burton at the star, but who rotates in with the likes of Jordan Phillips capable at weak-side and middle, Kevin Henry at weak-side and star. Josh Mabin in the middle, and Kirk Tucker and freshman sensation Calvin Bundage at the star. Depth is good but also has to be defined. At corner it makes sense that returning starters Ramon Richards (started most of 2014) and Ashton Lampkin line up first, but behind them are Darius Curry, graduate transfer standout Lenzy Pipkins from Louisiana-Monroe, Bryce Balous, junior college transfer Malik Kearse, and three freshmen that have been mentioned in Madre Harper (here in the spring), A.J. Green, and Rodarius Williams. In the secondary it is a little more defined with Jordan Sterns and Tre Flowers starting but Kenneth Edison-McGruder, Derrick Moncrief and Jerel Morrow lined up for back-up duty.
5. Defensive tackle rotation needs to be set.
This is a chore of luxury as having the two returning starters back in Vincent Taylor and Motekiai Maile followed by veteran Vili Leveni coming off injury, D.Q. Osborne coming from All-American status in junior college as an ace disrupting force inside, senior Eric Davis, and hungry sophomore Darrion Daniels and redshirt freshman Taaj Bakari is a luxury where fresh legs can be constantly counted on at the base of the defense.
Most of these to do items are positive. The major is to stay healthy and to continue progressing in all areas. The run game is crucial on offense, and honestly I still feel really good about what I have seen from the Oklahoma State defense. I think the defense has a chance to take a major step up from even the performance from the first half of last season. Remember after that after the first seven games (granted much easier competition) the defense had allowed 316.2 yards per game. The last six games, including the Sugar Bowl, the defense allowed an average of 582.3 yards a game. Depth and rotation on defense can make a monumental difference.