Spring Practice Report: March 5

STILLWATER – New Oklahoma State head football coach Mike Gundy said he was able to sleep last night. But you could read some extra excitement out of Gundy in that he was dressed, for the most part, in game day attire for his first official practice as the head of the program he has grown up in 15 of the last 20 years of his life. Gundy walked the sidelines and the field during the two-and-a-half-hour practice in light colored slacks and the Nike game day shirt that the staff wore last season.

It was different for Gundy, but when practice was finished he said he felt good, and he felt good about the way his team worked.

"Our staff feels like it is important that we keep a high tempo and that players at this level have to practice just like they are going to play on Saturday," explained Gundy of the noticeable higher energy level of the practice. "If we get anything accomplished this spring it will be learning the systems on both sides of the ball and how to practice at a high tempo."

There is no doubt that tempo and time are two of the biggest changes in practices with the new staff. Several hundred fans -- and recruiting prospects on campus for Oklahoma State's Junior Day -- watched as the Oklahoma State players hustled from drill to drill and through each repetition during the workout. Much of the group work was learning, but it wasn't lecture as the two units worked against scouts and then during several periods against each other. Mistakes, both physical and mental, were punished with a series of up-downs for the entire unit.

Defensive coordinator Vance Bedford noticed the offensive coaches participating in the reminder drills with their players. So he shouted out that he wasn't going to be outworked by the offensive coaches and he joined in.

The individual workouts were conducted at a very fast pace with delays being punished by those same up-downs. There is no doubt this team will be technique perfect in that football specific exercise by the end of spring.

"I see coach Fedora, and even coach Bedford, was doing them with the offense because he's a team player," said Gundy. "If I wasn't wearing, as Donovan (Woods) and those guys joked with me, my game day uniform, I would have done them with them."

"I understand it," said linebacker Lawrence Pinson. "We're supposed to be out there giving our all, and if we don't then we need to have that positive reinforcement."

Overall, it was tough to tell what the offense and defense will look like after just one practice. The first units on each side seemed to be decided by returning starters and experience. As an example on the offensive line Kellen Davis was at right tackle, Corey Curtis at right guard, squadman Kurt Seifried was at center, David Koenig at left guard, and Corey Hilliard at left tackle. However, by the end of practice redshirt freshman David Washington was taking reps with the first unit at center and it's inevitable that tight end convert Charlie Johnson will move up and cause a shuffle of personnel.

"There are little things that are different," Johnson of his move to offensive tackle. "I give it about four or five practices before I feel really comfortable. I'm just trying to get better. Me being on second unit hasn't happened in a long time. I'm going to bust my tail and I really believe I will be on the first unit before the end of spring."

There were a lot more plays with the quarterback under center during the practice than the shotgun spread formation that eventually will be prevalent in the offense. The top three units went through what seemed like most of the run package, including options, and dabbled in the passing game.

At quarterback, Donovan Woods, Bobby Reid and Al Pena took most of the reps in drills and in team work. With returning tailback Seymore Shaw sidelined from a minor knee surgery, former fullback Julius Crosslin, Mike Hamilton, Calvin Roberts and Greg Gold got most of the work at tailback. Shawn Willis and John Johnson worked at fullback when the position. Paschal Smith, Brandon Pettigrew and Justin Waller worked at tight end, and the prominent receivers were D'Juan Woods, Luke Frazier, Kenneth Williams, Tommy Devereaux and newcomer Tevin Williams.

A lot of eyes this spring will be on the quarterback position. Both of the top two contenders, returning starter Donovan Woods and blue chip redshirt freshman Bobby Reid, admitted that they have a ways to go in learning and perfecting their role in the offense. This was the starting point today, at least on the field.

"It's definitely a different style of offense," said Woods. "As we learn it we'll be more comfortable, but we have a ways to go. You have to know it, you can't think you know it."

"We can be in the meeting room calling out the plays, but then on the practice field when you have the offensive staff screaming in one ear and the defensive staff screaming in the other and you are trying to put everything together it's difficult," added Reid. "It's going to take some time."

The defense worked a good portion of the early practice on pursuit drills out of their base defense look and combined it with some work on basic blitz packages with the linebackers (and yes, there were three of them).

"It's different, but I like it," said Pinson. "It gives us all a chance to come out and make plays. I'm especially loving having the three linebackers out there."

The top unit defensive front included Jerry Don Bray and Victor DeGrate at defensive ends, with Xavier Lawson-Kennedy and big Walter Thomas at defensive tackles. The linebackers had Pagitte McGee at strongside, Roderick Johnson at middle and Lawrence Pinson at the weakside. Also, getting a lot of work were defensive ends Maurice Cummings and Darrell Franklin, newcomer defensive tackles Ryan McBean and Josh Pinaire, along with linebackers Jamar Ransom (strong), Brian Jeffries (middle) and Grant Jones (weak).

In the secondary Daniel McLemore and Vernon Grant were the corners with Andrew Alexander and Martel Van Zant also getting plenty of reps. The safeties were Stephen James and veteran Thomas Wright along with Chase Holland and Jeremy Nethon.

The attitude is that the change in basic scheme will produce better results in the immediate future for the OSU defense.

"This defense will be a lot better than in the past," said Pinson. "Just in the understanding of the defense, the way it is set up. Nothing against the 4-2-5, but this defense allows us to put another linebacker on the field and take on those big backs."

The crowd was enthusiastic, several times showing the Cowboys their appreciation for the work going on, or maybe just the fact that they were enthusiastically invited in to watch.

"The people involved are excited," said Gundy of the first practice crowd and all OSU fans. "My goal is to get the former players and the fans and anybody that takes pride in OSU football to be here. We're reaching out and we want the players and the coaches to be accessible and we were excited about the crowd here today."

It's tough to see a lot of highlights in a first spring practice that is limited in contact to bumping into each other, albeit sometimes at full speed. However, there were some plays that drew oohs and aahs from the stands. Pinson showed his experience on the first play of the first team period by jumping in and breaking up a pass intended for tight end Paschal Smith. Two of the best defensive plays against the run included defensive end Maurice Cummings holding his ground and making a clear stop of Julius Crosslin on an option pitch. Defensive end Victor DeGrate did Cummings one better on a hard charge into the backfield as he stopped Reid before the quarterback could even get outside to have the option to pitch the ball.

The running backs had their moments as Crosslin weaved his way through the heart of the defense and cost the defenders some up-downs as a result. Calvin Roberts and Greg Gold also had some nice runs, although without contact it's all speculative.

It was obvious the passing game will take some time as Jeremy Nethon picked off Woods in the first team period and returned the ball 15 yards. In a later team period Reid was picked off cleanly by cornerback Daniel McLemore, who made sure the crowd knew he had it. McLemore's move on the ball and after drew applause from the stands.

There were also plenty of completions as Tommy Devereaux and newcomer Tevin Williams both had a good day of catching the football. Devereaux was able to get open deep a couple of times. Luke Frazier, D'Juan Woods, Kenneth Williams, Brandon Pettigrew, Justin Waller, and running backs Calvin Roberts and Greg Gold also made catches in the team period. One of the most interesting plays came on a Pena pass on a hitch to Frazier at wide receiver D'Juan Woods. The pass hit the helmet of a defensive linemen and richochet outside where a host of defenders played tip drill with it for close to 10 yards before new linebacker Grant Jones came up with it. It was a heckuva an effort play.

In all, the game-day dressed Gundy was pleased.

"I thought the first day went well," said Gundy. "I was very encouraged by the way the team was moving around. You are always somewhat concerned on the first day with a new staff but I was pleased with the way those guys worked, and I thought the players gave great effort and I am looked forward to getting back out here on Monday."

The Cowboys have two more practices scheduled before a 10-day break with spring break. The team will work out in shorts again on Monday afternoon (4:15 p.m.) before putting the pads on for the first time on Thursday (4:15 p.m.).

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