Spring Football: Nine Things To Watch

The Cowboys begin their second spring football practice under head coach Mike Gundy Monday at 2:30 p.m. on the grass practice fields just east of Gallagher-Iba Arena. There are lots of critical issues to be resolved and improved during the 15 practices that will spaced out over a month, with the spring concluding on Saturday, April 22. Here are a few items to look for as you view the open practices this spring.

1. Quarterback Reps: The reps will tell the story day to day. Right now Gundy and offensive coordinator Larry Fedora point to four quarterbacks as having a chance at winning the job - freshman Alex Cate, junior Al Pena, sophomore Bobby Reid and redshirt freshman Zac Robinson. Now you can't get much done rotating four quarterbacks, so the reps may vary on different practice days, but look for Reid and Robinson to get the lion's share early. In the final two weeks, the quarterback getting the most reps will likely be the guy.

2. Bowman and Parks: This offense needs playmakers and the coaching staff believes that North Carolina transfer Adarius Bowman and recent J.C. transfer Anthony Parks are the guys that will complement D'Juan Woods, the tight ends, and the running game to create multiple playmakers that opposing defenses will have to respect. We have seen players before physically capable of making plays (possessing speed), but they don't make them. Watch Bowman and Parks. Do they catch the ball? What do they do with it after they catch it? Both of those are critical to success on offense.

3. Offensive Line Transition: Corey Hilliard has moved to left tackle, David Washington returns at center, and David Koenig is moved out to right tackle. So who and how do the guard positions go? The initial answers are redshirt freshman Noah Franklin and redshirt sophomore Steven Denning. There are others, but watch the guards to see who steps up to complete the offensive line.

4. Injury Brigade Comes Back: Nathan Peterson was never full speed last season and Marque Fountain and Maurice Cummings missed much of the season at defensive end. Also, Jeray Chatham got in the doghouse at defensive tackle and now has a new slate. How do those players - and newcomers like redshirt freshman T.J. Minor at defensive end and midterm freshman Jonathan Lewis at defensive tackle - perform? Depth is always critical across the defensive line.

5. Bounce Back Linebackers: It's no secret the linebacker corps is being rebuilt and two possible key players there are trying to bounce back in their careers. Jeremy Nethon was one of the players dismissed last year by Mike Gundy, but after walking on and proving his dedication in the classroom he is back with a chance at outside linebacker. He has speed and is proven as a tackler (26 career tackles). The other is Texas high school phenom Chris Collins of Texarkana. Collins hasn't played since the 2003 season as a high school junior, but he is a two-time All-State linebacker in Texas who was considered "can't miss." How much rust do either of them have and how quickly do they show they can help are two major questions.

6. Safety Battle: A real battle shapes up for the strong safety position as former quarterback Donovan Woods has done plenty of work to prepare to become a big-time defender and now will face competition from Troy transfer Clint Coe (brother of former DT Clay Coe). Both are very good athletes and potential leaders. This competition should be fun to watch.

7. Corners Improvement: Very simple, how much have the young corners improved and how much of a lead will they have on incoming competition when junior college All-American Scott Broughton and high school All-American Perrish Cox arrive this summer.

8. Kicker Battle: Jason Ricks is back and is in the best shape of his life thanks to Rob Glass, and he is determined to win back the kicking job. Bruce "Sunshine" Redden was impressive last season and won't give up the kicking chores without a fight. Get out your charts!

9. Return to Old Punt Formation: Returniing punter Matt Fodge (39.9 yards per punt) and redshirt freshman walk-on Cole Reynolds will be punting, but they will do it out of the old tight punt formation. Provided deep snappers Zach Allen (short snaps last season) or redshirt junior Kyle Mariacher prove they can be more consistent than last year's deep snapper the Cowboys will ditch the spread and shield.

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