Grading the Spring in Stillwater

We went through and graded the coaching staff and the position groups. Let's start with the fact that having me grade the head coach and coaching staff is a little like having a city councilman in Hobart grade the President of the United States. My grades were based on observations of spring practice at Oklahoma State dating back to the Jimmy Johnson days. The grades were based on instruction techniques, use of time, enthusiasm, and improvement in the team during the 15 practices.

As for the player groups, those grades are based on performance in the spring, improvement, and how close they are to being able to compete successfully on Saturdays in the fall. Talent and depth also factored in and the Cowboys are short in some areas.

Head Coach Mike Gundy: A+
Gundy has created more excitement within the program and with his team than any Oklahoma State coach since Jimmy Johnson. He combined that with the player's coach mentality of his former OSU coach Pat Jones. The excitement extended off the field to the fans and the media. Gundy immediately announced an open practice policy in the spring which gave fans the opportunity to watch their team progress during the spring. With the media he was accessible and gave answers to questions that were anything but vague, evasive, and coach speak. He allowed his new staff to coach while he kept his eye on the effort and intensity his team brought to the field. When necessary he was able to step in and motivate the players to bring up their emotional level and their effort.
Coaching Staff: A+
It is a very talented staff that is young and knows how to get after it. It is reminiscent of the coaching staff that Jimmy Johnson assembled in Stillwater in 1979. That staff produced two NFL head coaches, a college head coach, and two others that became NFL assistants. In my observations the staff showed a great ability to teach fundamentals and techniques. Larry Fedora and the offensive staff did a fine job gradually bringing along a complicated offensive system that required a great deal of communication. Fedora is a cutting-edge coach who used a communication system during every practice to further prepare the offense for the communication that will be needed on game day. Joe Wickline, Doug Meacham and Nelson Barnes are all strong technical coaches that combine the enthusiasm needed at those positions to encourage performance. I've never seen linemen so eager to practice and learn. Vance Bedford and his defensive staff preached on main fundamental and got the message across in getting every defender to pursue the football. Joe DeForest is a special teams genius, but didn't have all the needed ingredients for his special teams this spring. He will have them in the fall.

Quarterbacks: B
These guys had it toughest in needing to learn so much and take it from the meeting room to the practice field. The talent is there in Donovan Woods, Bobby Reid and Al Pena. The progress was impressive, but there is still a long way to go. It's that distance that still needs to be covered over the summer and in August camp that causes the grade to be a "B". There were also too many misreads, but those come with the territory in learning a new offense.

Running Backs: A
This position was a question mark starting the spring with Vernand Morency gone and Seymore Shaw injured. Shaw will return in August at third- or fourth-string needing to really show something to get back in the mix. Mike Hamilton and converted fullback Julius Crosslin improved every day during the spring. They began to run harder. They catch the ball well. A little more ball security will be needed and preached. Greg Gold started fast and will see some time at slot receiver and as a change up in the backfield. Calvin Roberts also played well and stood out in the final scrimmage. Shawn Willis and John Johnson give the Cowboys a solid fullback tandem.

Wide Receivers: C
This grade really doesn't reflect the receivers as much as it does the lack of standout talent and depth at the position. The receivers the Cowboys have worked hard, improved, and will get better. There is a need in this offense for more at the position. It really helped in the spring finale when Tommy Devereaux stepped up to have his best day of the spring and Kenny Williams caught two touchdowns.

Tight Ends: B+
Unbelievable! Billy Bajema is gone and Charlie Johnson moves to offensive tackle and the tight end position with three young tight ends still represents a great strength on the football team. Meacham brought the younger players along quickly. Brandon Pettigrew and Paschal Smith are potential big time playmakers. Justin Waller is right there as well. They block well, but can be expected to improve more in that area.

Offensive Line: B
Always tough to bring along an offensive line in a new offense, but Wickline did a good job. He was not afraid to experiment and as a result has a potentially strong first unit with Charlie Johnson moved into left tackle and former left tackle Corey Hilliard moved to right guard. Losing the likely starting center David Washington to mono early in the spring was dealt with by moving versatile Corey Curtis to center. The unit performed well and can be expected to improve much more before the season opener.

Defensive Line: B+
Nelson Barnes had the job of repairing the biggest void in the team at defensive tackle. Incoming junior college transfer Ryan McBean helped a bunch, but he had plenty of instruction this spring. The motivation and instruction with XLK and young Walter Thomas had both those players playing at a much higher level. Defensive end was decimated by injuries, but Barnes squeezed plenty out of what he had. No fewer than six defensive ends will be back from injury by August and that will make the defensive front even better.

Linebackers: A
Lawrence Pinson, Paul Duren and Pagitte McGee had known nothing but the 4-2-5 in their Cowboy defender careers, but Todd Bradford got the linebackers to buy into the new multiple system, especially the 4-3. It was a smooth transition with the linebackers playing much more aggressive and making more plays. The experiment of moving safety Jamar Ransom to linebacker was a sensational success and the experiment of moving Grant Jones to the position worked nearly as well.

Secondary: B
Losing Andrew Alexander on the final day of spring to violation of team rules is really disappointing. Still, the secondary is strong. The corners are veteran and speedy, but Daniel McLemore and Vernon Grant lack size. You have to live with that. The safeties were solid all spring and Jamie Thompson will be back full time in the fall. Martel Van Zant progressed as a backup corner, but help will be needed there in the fall from the incoming freshmen.

Special Teams: I
The return game is solid with McLemore. But, again, losing Alexander is a major disappointment. Jason Ricks didn't have a great spring and no consistent punter was found. A lot of answers will need to be forthcoming in August, but DeForest has a kicker/punter, another punter, and a snapper arriving then. In fact, both the kicker/punters in the Oil Bowl in June will be heading to OSU in August, Matt Fodge for Texas and Cole Reynolds for Oklahoma.

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