Spring Practice Report: March 7

STILLWATER— The Cowboys went through a similar practice Monday as they had on Saturday. The team was dressed in helmets and shorts. The two hour and 15 minute practice involved some special teams work including field goal block and punt protection, nearly an hour of individual and group work on both sides of the ball, followed by team work on both the passing and running games.

The offense is still very much a work in progress but had several highlights including a nifty cutback run by sophomore running back Mike Hamilton. A few plays later one of the defensive highlights in the limited contact work saw linebacker Jamar Ransom come up hard and stop Hamilton in the backfield. Sophomore running back Calvin Roberts had a pair of nice looking runs from scrimmage. On one play the former high school quarterback bounced off a couple of defenders up the middle. A little later he took the ball from Donovan Woods on a zone read and burst off the right side for a big gain.

The passing period seemed to emphasize the tight ends and the underneath routes as the secondary did a good job of keeping receivers from catching anything deep. Quarterback Al Pena did find tight end Justin Waller for a 25-yard gain over the middle. Later returning starting quarterback Donovan Woods hooked up with tight end Paschal Smith for a 20-yard completion on a corner route to the right side.

In the end the defense is still running ahead of the offense, but as Mike Gundy said following his second practice as head coach that is to be expected.

"I was really enthused with the way the defense practiced today," said Gundy. "It generally takes longer for the offense to pick up new systems, lot more thought process going on. The defense with a new system can still fly around. It's very enthusiastic out here for both sides of the ball. I liked the way the defense flew around."

Two of the really intense areas during practice have been in the northeast and northwest corners of Boone Pickens Stadium where the offensive and defensive linemen go through their individual work. New offensive line coach Joe Wickline is constantly yelling and prodding, either to do something better or to congratulate one of his linemen on a job well done. Wickline is a player's coach and the offensive linemen really seemed to be energized by his personality on the field.

It also didn't take Wickline long to make some adjustments to the line. Monday's practice featured a new look to the first offensive line. Former tight end Charlie Johnson has moved into the starting group at left tackle. It didn't take long for Johnson to show he was up to speed with his position switch. Corey Hilliard was moved from left tackle to right tackle, Kellen Davis from right tackle to right guard, David Koenig stays at left guard, and David Washington moved up to first team center. Of course, there is still a long way to go and the pads don't come on for the first time until Wednesday.

The noise and intensity level is just as high 100 yards away as defensive line coach Nelson Barnes enjoys working his players on the two-man sled to work technique.

"Stop, turn your shoulders, and then go over the top with the swim," instructs Barnes as he stands next to junior college transfer defensive tackle Ryan McBean. "You've got to turn your shoulders to get by the man!"

Barnes, who while at Nebraska produced a number of top defensive linemen, has also coached at Big 12 schools Texas and Kansas State. He says his coaching approach has never changed.

"Coaching is coaching, it doesn't matter where you are, and my approach is always going to be the same," said Barnes. "I've discovered over my years of coaching that kids want to be coached, and in most cases, they want to be coaches hard. They want you to tell them what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. They want you to get excited when they get excited. They want to see you get on them when they are not doing what they need to do. My coaching style is to challenge them, to be honest with them, and to get excited when they are doing something well."

The pads don't come on until Wednesday, but Barnes said he has already getting a read on his players. He's already seen signs from them that they will get physical.

"Football is a physical game, and the first thing you discover in practices in shorts and helmets is who is going to be physical. If they will run in there with nothing on then you know they are going to run in there when they have the pads on. They are responding well so far. I'm thrilled, I'm thrilled to death."

Defensive end is a position that looks fairly solid with players like Victor DeGrate, Maurice Cummings and Jerry Don Bray. Plus, there are several players like Nathan Peterson, Marque Fountain and Darnell Smith who are rehabbing injuries. Defensive tackle is an area that will be eyeballed closely for vast improvement from last season. At one point in the practice on Monday Barnes was telling highly regarded defensive lineman Xavier Lawson-Kennedy that a center has no chance with him. Kennedy, sophomore Walter Thomas and junior college transfers McBean and Josh Pinaire are the primary candidates to bring up the production inside on the defensive line. They feel good about what they are learning and the way they are being drilled by Barnes.

"He's a cool character and we're all getting used to him," said Kennedy. "He's a real cool cat. We had two young guys coming in with Ryan and Josh, then Walter, Cody Townsend and myself. We are going to have a great year this year."

"That man (Barnes) is something else," said McBean. "He teaches nothing but technique and if you want to win the game then first you have to know your technique. He teaches us that and I respect that. He teaches us technique, basics, and then how to make plays."

Kennedy has had minor knee surgeries before each of his first two seasons at Oklahoma State. Now he's completely healthy and ready to have a break out 2005 season.

"I feel great," said a more svelte Kennedy. "I've lost 25 pounds. This is a great opportunity with the weight loss and I'm just ready to ball out this season."

The 6-5, 280-pound McBean had hoped he might be a defensive end, but his play at tackle last season at Hinds Community College earned him postseason honors and this is where the Cowboys need him.

"I wanted to play end but I'm going to play wherever they put me and go all out," said McBean, a native of Jamaica. "Defensive tackle, if that's where I'm at then that's where I'm going to make plays. They told me they would need me at three (technique) and that is fine."

A lot of the focus this spring will be on the quarterback position, but the real critical spot for the Cowboys is defensive tackle and between Barnes, XLK, McBean, Big Walter and Pinaire it is looking good that the big guys will pull their share of the load next season.

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