It's still very early, just three practices out of 15 into spring football, but we always have observations and we all have curiosity. Don't consider these observations definitive, but they are based on what we saw the first week.
Let's start with this is superficial, come on, there have been three of the 15 allotted practices and two of those were in helmets and shorts with just the Thursday practice in full pads and even that workout was not a crazy get em worked up and bust heads kind of practice. As much as any head coach I can think of in Oklahoma State history or in college football today, Mike Gundy errs on the side of caution in keeping players healthy and not putting them at risk on the practice field. There is enough risk on game days and players get revved up on their own and create more intense contact these days than coaches would want to. There is a lot of fact and fiction yet to be revealed this spring in Stillwater. However, you want to know what is going on. You want to know where the true strengths are and where the weaknesses are as the Cowboys look toward what could really be a special season in 2017.
Here are my five superficial observations from week one of Oklahoma State spring football 2017.
1. There is a three-way battle for the back-up quarterback role and likely package portion of the offense to spring on opponents.
I went in thinking that Keondre Wudtee would walk away with this spot on the depth chart. Let's start with this fact that needs to be first and foremost, Mason Rudolph is the starting quarterback and the best answer to be on the field as many plays as possible at quarterback. When Rudolph is out there whether it is one on one, seven on seven, or complete team the offense runs best. Rudolph is experienced, confident, doesn't hesitate. His arm is not the strongest of OSU quarterbacks in history, but it is plenty strong. His decision making has come along to where he is as good as I've seen in this program. He seemingly knows where the ball is going to go at the snap, but he has the experience and comfort to look across the field and than come back to the right place to go with the football. He is so secure and solid with his execution and body language that he gives the offense and players around him a security that makes them all better.
That said, I like the idea of a package, used some in games and not always in the exact same situations. If you really want some quarterback run then I would prefer to see Wudtee, John Kolar, or Jelani Woods operate it. I remember the hit from Jamar Wall of Texas Tech on Zac Robinson and you don't want to see that happen to Rudolph. When it happened to Robinson, I'm convinced it cost the Cowboys a possible Bedlam and a Cotton Bowl win. Now, I wrote Woods in, not because I think he will end up being the second-team and package quarterback, but because you have to give him a look. My gosh, few freshmen quarterback look that good. He may be 6-7, 235-250 pounds, but he can move and he looks the part.
Gundy is right, Kolar is a talented runner and he has filled out. Kolar is also throwing the ball much better than he did in August of last season when he was in a battle with walk-on and eventual back-up last season in Taylor Cornelius. That puts him in the race now. Cornelius is a solid quarterback, but athletically may not be able to top this group. Count him in the competition, which will need to thin fast in order to get the needed reps to the contenders.
I would still bet on Wudtee. He is so fluid, does things so easy and he has a rocket arm with the speed and natural running ability that impresses. I'm not sure, from a talent standpoint, Oklahoma State has had many quarterbacks like him. I used to compare him to Robert Griffin III at Baylor, but that isn't fair. He might be that good, he might be better. I just think he is an excellent physical prospect that can really throw the ball and is learning now how to pass the ball. He can really run, but is nor learning how to navigate, which is really important.
2. The running back position is slim in numbers, but may have a little big man that can help.
There are actually five running backs out there, but Justice Hill is always in shorts and jersey, no contact for the returning Freshman All-American Justice Hill. I'm excited to see more of L.D. Brown and Ja'Ron Wilson, but based on one inside drill on Thursday in the third practice, but the final one for 12 days and spring break, I agree with what my eyes were telling me and that is that 5-7 Jeff Carr at 190 pounds looks like he can pack a punch in the running game and he still has the burst and wiggle that he walked in the door with as a freshman from Temple, Texas that was just 165 pounds or less at the time. Chalk up another victory for Rob Glass and his staff as Carr looks the part and ran the part in that inside drill. He has a year head start on Brown and he is simply quicker and faster than Wilson, who is listed at 225 pounds.
It is early, but Gundy said something about being excited to see what Carr could do. My curiosity is more than peaked by what I saw on Thursday. Just remember, it is a small sample size.
3. The offensive line is thin.
Don't panic because there is enough manpower and developing talent to get through the upcoming season, but with Zach Crabtree, Larry Williams, and Brad Lundblade as seniors, that's three starters! Remember, right now the starting left tackle is a red-shirt freshman in Dylan Galloway that has not played a down of college football.
The depth is the issue as the second team offensive line may have as many as three two red-shirt freshmen and not a single player with either a start of any significant playing time. Actually, hardly any Division I playing time at all. That is scary. Josh Henson has lots of work to do. He will need help and it can come from Cowboy Backs assistant Jason McEndoo, another former offensive lineman that played in the NFL and A.J. Ricker, the new offensive analyst that is a former Missouri center and also did some time in the NFL.
Development is the most important word the rest of the spring with the offensive line. Anyway to speed up the younger players is critical.
4. There is a need for one or two of the defensive tackles coming in to be ready quickly.
Darrion Daniels and D.Q. Osborne are solid, even the potential starters for next season and I like the addition of Trey Carter inside, but this is not what it was a year ago. The loss of Vincent Taylor, Mote Maile, and Eric Davis is greater than I anticipated. That happens a lot. I tend to like to see the sunny side, but Enoch Smith or Fua Leilua need to be ready to play. Smith is a bounce back from Michigan State that never was able to get major playing time and Leilua is a stout junior college player that started out at Weber State. There is also Brendon Evers, who likely will need a red-shirt season to be ready.
Right now there simply is not the numbers you will need at defensive tackle. No need to panic because that is why they signed three in the recruiting class.
5. Cornerback will be fine.
I know that The Oklahoman featured the search for cornerbacks in their Sunday edition. Good call on their part because it is a situation that needs to be answered in the spring. I got my early answer being at the first three practices and seeing what I saw. Corner is one of the few positions that you can really take a lot away from even when practices are in helmets and shorts. if you can cover and move in helmets and shorts then you likely can cover and move in full pads. I've always liked Darius Curry as a big corner playing into the boundary (short side of the field) and against larger, post up receivers. He serves a very good role there.
Now, I really like what I've seen from the trio of A.J. Green, Madre Harper, and Rodarius Williams. Two of the three, Green and Harper, got playing time last season and when called upon looked good. They are fast, athletic, have some size, and all three are confident young players. You have to be at the corner. I also like Malik Kearse and his improvement and keep an eye on Lamarcus Morton. Because he is here for the spring and he reminds me of Green and Harper a year ago and also has some size and comes out of a solid high school program like Gilmer, I think he will be able to play some as a freshman.
They will be young, but I think the corners will be fine.