Spring Football: The Pass-Happy Cowboys

STILLWATER – It felt a little more like Ames, Iowa than Stillwater as the Oklahoma State Cowboys went through spring football practice number two on Wednesday inside Boone Pickens Stadium. The chilly conditions did nothing to dampen the spirit and enthusiasm shown in the first practice on Monday. The team got after it pretty good in a non-contact practice that featured two 20-plus play team periods.

The drill work was mixed on offense with the running and passing game, while on defense the drill work was still on technique and on coverage and blitz schemes with some work on the nickel package and three-man front alignments. With the pads coming on for the first time on Friday, head coach Mike Gundy was happy with what he saw.

"We are much further along as an offensive team than we were last year at this time," said Gundy. "It's pretty evident."

The execution on offense appeared to be better Wednesday, and all four of the quarterbacks had some highlights in the passing game. It is a little unrealistic to gauge much on non-contact practices but Al Pena continued to be sharp as he completed five of the seven passes he threw in the team periods, including a 50-yard post route in which he hit Jeremy Broadway in stride. Bobby Reid was six of nine on his passes in team work, including a quick slant that Adarius Bowman turned up field and avoided defenders for a 50-yard touchdown. Bowman and Broadway each had four receptions in the team period and there is no doubt that the 6-foot-4 Bowman catches the eyes of all observers.

"Obviously, with a player Bowman makes plays," Gundy said when asked if he'd seen any pleasant surprises. "It's easy to see that he shows up pretty quick. Even though we were in a different system here the first four years I was back here we always had someone opposite Rashaun (Woods), (like) John Lewis or another guy that could make a difference, but in the last couple of years because of maturity, or whatever the reason, teams would roll a safety over on top of D'Juan. We think with Ricky Price emerging and because of A.D. (Bowman) we can stop that."

Redshirt freshman Zac Robinson was three of eight passing in team periods with a well sipped 16-yard pass in the flat to running back Michael Hamilton. True freshman Alex Cate completed three of his six pass attempts, including a 12-yard out route to Bowman.

There was also work on the running game, which is nearly impossible to gauge in non-contact work. Hamilton did do a good job of avoiding the defense and cutting loose in the open field on a 21-yard gain, along with catching a couple of passes. Reid had an eight-yard run on a zone-read play and Robinson gained seven yards on a similar play.

The defense had its highlights, despite the non-contact conditions favoring the offense. There were three sacks with defensive tackle Ryan McBean, defensive Victor DeGrate and defensive end Marque Fountain accounting for the tag plays on the quarterbacks. Linebacker Rodrick Johnson deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage. Donovan Woods made a great hustle play as he popped the ball loose with a clean punch at the end of Hamilton's 21-yard run.

Also, freshman cornerback T.J. Bell timed his approach perfectly as he broke up a well thrown pass on an out route to Tommy Devereaux. By far the best defensive highlight was linebacker Jeremy Nethon's interception off a Zac Robinson pass over the middle. Nethon took off on a 12-yard return and really fired up the defense. Even though he is spending plenty of time working with the quarterbacks this spring, Gundy said he can get very enthused by the defensive highlights.

"I saw T.J. (Bell) make a nice play," Gundy said of the pass Bell broke up. "It thrills me to death. I'd prefer to stop everybody. I was excited to see T.J. break on the ball, and obviously we know what Vic (DeGrate) is. Chris Collins shows up and gets from one place to the other real fast. Marcus Brown shows up, and I tell you Jacob Lacey shows up at corner. Those guys are good young prospects that just have to learn and keep focused on what is important for our team."

The most difficult areas to work on during these first two non-contact practice have been offensive and defensive line play, and both sides of the ball are anxious to dispense with the formalities and get after it in full pads.

"I'm ready. I'm pretty ready," said senior defensive end Victor DeGrate. "That way I can get a feel for it. I can make some contact and get my shoulders a little sore so I can get back in the groove."

"Hell, yeah," said senior offensive tackle Corey Hilliard. "I'm ready. We've been ready for this since the last game. When the pads come on you find out who is really making plays."

The Cowboys will don the pads on Friday with their final practice of week one of spring. Gundy said there would be some limited full contact work with much more scrimmaging in week two of the spring. The hope is that Friday's practice can be moved to the grass practice fields on the east side of Gallagher-Iba Arena. All spring practices are open to the public, but viewing areas for the public will be limited to the west end of the practice field.

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