You would think that this is a settled position and that there wouldn't be a lot of drama or urgency at the quarterback position, but in a year where the table is set with a lot of attributes back for a football team then the trigger mechanism still needs to be worked and maintained and enhanced. Yes, Mason Rudolph returns and the 6-5, 230-pound standout needs to continue working.
Rudolph still has areas where he can improve. Sometimes he has been guilty of holding onto the ball longer than normal. He could avoid sacks by speeding up his very successful decision process. Very successful, because his coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich said one of the best parts of Rudolph's performance in 2016 was his decision making on where to go with the ball.
"Mason did a heckuva job of making sure we were attacking the one-on-one coverage and all season he did a good job of looking to attack singles coverage and that he was not throwing into where the double teams were," Yurcich said of Rudolph, who completed 284 of 448 passes for 4,091 yards with 28 touchdowns and just four interceptions. "When you do that good things happen. You throw to one-on-one then you have a much greater chance of success and much less chance of major failure."
Rudolph still is back and a big part of coming back is improving, so you can't just let him hibernate in the spring. He needs to be coached and he needs the work. A big part of that would be working to further sharpen his vision and speed up his instincts and process. There were 32 sacks by Oklahoma State opponents last season, not all of those are on Rudolph, more are on the offensive line and some were coverage sacks where there may not have been any acceptable options.
A better Rudolph is one of the goals in spring football. However, another goal is to explore, prioritize, and improve and develop what is behind the Cowboys starter for any potential need next season and for the future and beyond 2017. The options are plenty and all on hand as freshman quarterback Jelani Woods enrolled at mid-year.
You start with Taylor Cornelius, who as a walk-on is an exceptional member of the team. Cornelius is similar in size to Rudolph at 6-6, 220 pounds. He has a good arm and is very athletic for his size. He has been a great back-up from an emotional and mental standpoint, supporting Rudolph and being a team guy all the way.
There is John Kolar, again a player with a great team attitude and a speedy and athletic 6-4, 210 pounds. Kolar has shown the ability to run well with the football, but his development in the throwing game needs to pick up.
Last year's freshman is a sensational athlete as Keondre Wudtee has a very good arm and is as athletic a quarterback as Oklahoma State has had in a long time. Wudtee spent over half the season with the varsity offense, getting some reps, and being kept developing in the Cowboys offense just in case. Later in the year he started running scout team and working against the first-team defense. Wudtee is quite possibly the next in line despite being third in succession as far as time in the program. This spring is very important to explore just where he is and what his ceiling would be heading into 2017 and even trying to predict where he could be in ability to run the offense heading into 2018 when Rudolph has graduated and is looking at the NFL Draft.
There is also Woods, who will just be getting his feet wet and it all may be a lot for him to process and settle down with. He'll learn just by being around Rudolph and all of the others. He'll also get some reps and be prepared to continue to absorb it all. I know the early thought on him in off-season workouts is that he runs really well for a 6-7, 235-pound athlete. Yes, he is the biggest of a group of quarterbacks with size.
All of that process is very much on the mind of Yurcich as he told us in a January interview.
"The big question is going to be the back-up quarterback, and Taylor (Cornelius) has done a great job, but we have to continue to press that position and see what some of the young guys have and be able to give them a package to have them playing efficiently," Yurcich said in surveying the spring early.
"You know, at the same time you want to push them in the whole offense but then you're going to have to reduce come fall camp. We'll probably get them swimming a little bit this spring and make sure we understand where they are from a brain space, capacity standpoint, and then once we tease that and find out what they can do physically, then you go whole, small, whole. By fall camp you make sure you have each guy up ready to go and he has his package up and ready to go so that if he is called upon he is ready to execute and we can function well as an offense."
It is easy to predict, but it is better to let it play out. The best part of it is Oklahoma State has Rudolph for another season and the Cowboys have a lot of possibilities for the quarterback position beyond 2017.
(This is part one of a nine-part series looking forward to spring football at Oklahoma State, which starts on Monday, March 6.)