Monday the Cowboys begin the final week of spring football and unlike a growing majority of Big 12 teams that are staging their spring games somewhere from the middle to the next to last week of spring practice Oklahoma State will show their fans what it looks like in their final workout of the spring. It will be the annual Orange Blitz Spring Game on Saturday, April 15. So, from the start of spring to this final week what has changed? Where are the strengths and the weaknesses at this point for the Pokes? I would venture to say that head coach Mike Gundy and his staff would say a lot more position groups and the offense, defense, special teams as a whole have firmed up and become stronger than have seen further weaknesses revealed. Here is our wrot gut opinions by each position group at this stage.
Watch the video, which is strictly about the corner position, but it includes a surprise. Somebody that is athletic is looking for some double duty on offense to go along with their defensive chores.
Get to Stillwater next Saturday for the spring game and then afterwards, we can all compare notes.
Gundy and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Yurcich have stuck to their words about Mason Rudolph getting less reps and more reps for the backup quarterbacks and the youngsters battling for primary backup role. Rudolph has become more consistent and has improved in throwing the short and intermediate passes. Former Oklahoma State and now Houston Texans quarterback Brandon Weeden observed as much at the first scrimmage and complimented Rudolph on what he saw. Rudolph is a given and is improving. The recent reveal of Rudolph's rib injury that he played with and through last season could change opinions on his throwing accuracy in the short and intermediate passing game.
The key for next season and the future has been extra snaps for Keondre Wudtee and Taylor Cornelius with some snaps for John Kolar and brand new mid-year freshman enrollee Jelani Woods. Wudtee has been good, but has had a day where he fumbled some, a day where he threw some picks. In other words, Wudtee has show lots of ability and corrected mistakes along the way. That is what you want. Cornelius has been his usual, very stable self at quarterback. Those two are battling for the backup role and Wudtee has the better upper level talent. Cornelius is the guy that is steady and would make less mistakes. Kolar is a very talented runner and has shown it during the spring and he is also throwing the ball better than he did last spring and fall. The issue is that Kolar probably doesn't run or throw better than Wudtee. Jelani Woods has been fun to watch as his 6-7, 250 pound frame is freaky big while he is freaky athletic.
With Justice Hill sitting out the competition has been really hot at running back and I'm not sure how much has been decided at this point. I would still give Jeff Carr the edge. He is bigger, still quick and has some wiggle. He has run well. It is very close as L.D. Brown is fast, has a lot of wiggle, and is cutting down on mistakes which are primarily ball security issues and pass protection. Ja'Ron Wilson is also a candidate to get prime position on the depth chart. He is bigger, weighing in at 225 pounds. He has a burst and the power that comes with the 225 pounds. Jakeem Johnson is a favorite of Gundy's but the walk-on is likely to be more prevalent on special teams.
Freshmen Chuba Hubbard, and especially Georgia product J.D. King will be thrown into the deep end in August and see if they can swim ahead of the the trio of Carr, Brown, and Wilson (sounds like a law firm).
I think some answers have surfaced here as walk-on Britton Abbott has kind of risen to the top as the Seaton/Jarwin/Veatch kind of Cowboys back. He is a really strong blocker and will make some catches. Keenen Brown is big and has the skills of a former wide receiver, but his blocking needs to be more consistent to be an every down player at that position. Keep an eye on Dawson Bassett, who has bounced in and out of the dog house, and Dayton Metcalf as they both have shown strong moments during the spring. They are in the picture for sure at a position that can use multiple players throughout the game to get the job done.
In my opinion, the most improved area on the football team throughout the spring. I'm not trying to proclaim Josh Henson a miracle worker as the new offensive line coach and he is a fan favorite as a former Cowboy player and assistant coach and native Oklahoman. The biggest part of it and it comes in major part from talking to some of the offensive linemen, there was a disconnect in the coaching with former OSU offensive line coach and highly recommended Greg Adkins. Henson hs connected with this offensive line more and they have totally bought in. When you see guys that were on the edge of never playing in their careers like Deionte Noel and Lemaefe Galea'i competing for playing time and the improvement across the front with the established players like Zach Crabtree, Larry Williams, Brad Lundblade, Marcus Keyes and the rapid progress of red-shirt freshman like possible starting left tackle Dylan Galloway and Matt Kegel, and Teven Jenkins, along with JC transfers Shane Richards and Arlington Hambright.
One issue to be settled whether the Cowboys end up with California graduate transfer Aaron Cochran or not is whether the line is stronger with Crabtree at right tackle and red-shirt freshman Galloway at left or stronger with Crabtree at left tackle and Richards at right tackle.
Overall, it is better and that will be a huge factor in next season with both the running game and the protection of Mason Rudolph. To be able to say the offensive line is better is a real relief.
Not going to lie, this is a concern from a depth standpoint. It has helped a lot that Trey Carter, who came in this spring at 295 pounds, has adapted as well from defensive end to tackle. You add Carter to junior Darrion Daniels and senior DeQuinton Osborne and there you have three. Osborne has become better at being assignment sound, which was a concern at times last season. Daniels is really consistent and developed into a leader on the defense. Taaj Bakari, Ben Hughes, and young pup red-shirt freshman Cameron Murray have been able to get a lot of snaps and work toward developing. This is still not a 4-5-6 deep position yet, which as shown last year with a solid five deep at the position can be a luxury that makes your defense very productive.
There are three new defensive tackles coming in this summer, and two of those are veterans that bounced back from four-year schools through junior colleges. Work to do here to get the depth you'd like to see.
From a front-line standpoint this is as good a position as there is on the team with the exception of wide receiver. Returning from injury, Jordan Brailford has been unblockable most of the spring. You add in Jarrell Owens and Cole Walterscheid and that trio is really good. The secret weapon in that a lot of us, even those around it every day seem to forget junior college transfer and JC Conference Defensive Player of the Year at Blinn Tralund Webber is also there and really good. Four deep and remember Vili Leveni will be back in the summer. It is expected that Oologah freshman Brock Martin will come in ready to play some.
All good at defensive end and all but Webber and Leveni have at least another season after this.
In the last two weeks the linebacker position has moved forward a bunch. The main reason is Patrick Macon, the NJCAA Defensive Player of the Year at Arizona Western has shaped up his body and is performing more like what was anticipated he he was signed.
"I'm glad you mentioned him, that makes me feel better," head coach Mike Gundy said the other day. "I kind of forget about him but he has gotten himself in shape and is playing more like what we thought he would and we can't leave Chad (Whitener) out there all the time. He needs to have some help and Macon is playing much better now that he's in shape. He still needs to improve more."
The weak-side and the star linebacker positions have so many experienced or talented candidates in Justin Phillips, Kevin Henry, Gyasi Akem, and Devin Harper at the weak-side and then Kenneth Edison-McGruder, Kirk Tucker, Calvin Bundage, and freshman Brendan Vaughn at the star.
The key will be Macon and anybody else that is asked to back-up Whitener. He can't, absolutely cannot play as many snaps as he was asked to last season.
It's getting better, but still needs to come along. I like the size and the ability of the younger corners in Madre Harper, Rodarius Williams, and A.J. Green. Those three pair a lot with senior Darius Curry.
"The young players have continued to get better. They still make mistakes, but what I like about the young group of corners is that they are long, rangy and they seem like they are going to be physical, which will help in this league as skilled as the wideouts are on the perimeter," Gundy said. "They're going to take some lumps at some point during the season, but hopefully we can bring them along enough that as we progress we can trust them more in the middle of the season than we could now. We may have to score a few points early though."
Curry has talked about how the work against the ultra talented Oklahoma State receivers has sped up the process of improvement. Former cornerback and now starting safety Ramon Richards says he sees it too and he lends all of his support and expertise to the cornerbacks.
"I love it. I still talk to them all the same and I kind of feel like how Kevin Peterson felt when me and some of the other guys came in," Richards said. "We're teaching them that it's deeper than what they think it is. There's more to corner than just covering. There is leverage and supporting the run. I try to give then great support from the middle of the field. It's fun, watching them grow."
They are getting better and you have to grade on the curve a little when they are matched up against James Washington, Tyron Johnson, Marcell Ateman, Chris Lacy and company that are capable of torching NFL-caliber corners like some of them have the last two seasons.
Very solid as Richards moves over to safety and he played a lot there last season as either a true safety or a nickel back. Tre Flowers has continued to improve. The depth is a concern as Jerel Morrow is improved, but red-shirt sophomore Za'Carrius Green is the next guy up. Depth is a major concern at safety.
Richards said he is also pushing for some added duty.
"Those corners could face even better competition if I was playing some wide receiver too," laughed Richards and then was asked if he was serious. "I talk to Coach Dunn and Coach Yurcich all the time and we are about to talk about some stuff for next season, but we'll keep that quiet for now."
I know you think that is kidding and there is no need with all the receivers, but having a little plan to get Richards involved is not only a good idea, but he is a very explosive weapon.
No big deal as much of the special teams work will come in fall camp, but kicker Matt Ammendola has shown he will be in the running along with talented incoming freshman kicker Jake McClure. That will be an intense competition. Ammendola struck a very strong 50-yard field goal last Friday and remember what he did a year ago in the spring game with two long field goals. Last season he kicked off for the Cowboys and hit a 53-yard field goal in his only attempt of the season against Central Michigan.