Cowboy Spring Football: Spring Break Analysis

STILLWATER - Six practices completed with nine to go, and the Oklahoma State players and many of the coaches are taking all of the week or at least a part of it to rest and relax with family and/or friends. They need it as the players got a mini-break after the bowl game, and then jumped right back into school, the Rob Glass off-season program and then right into spring practice.

The coaching staff got an even shorter break after the Independence Bowl victory over Alabama, because then it was right back on the recruiting trail. After recruiting there were a few days of R&R and then they began planning for spring practice, and checking out the player's progress in the off-season workouts leading into spring break.

For one coach, new defensive coordinator Tim Beckman, his time off -- and there has been very little of it -- has been spent coordinating the move of his family from Ohio and finding a place for them to live in Stillwater. This week is needed and comes at a good time for the Beckmans.

Friday's scrimmage also leaves the coaches with a real good road map as to where to pick up next Monday, March 26, when the program launches into the final nine spring practices heading toward the April 14 Orange-White Game. The spring game, which will have a format similar to last spring -- starters and important backups vs. the rest of the squad with head coach Mike Gundy making necessary scoreboard adjustments -- needs to be a successful final showcase heading toward summer, pre-season practice, and the huge opener with Georgia.

From our viewpoint, and listening to the coaching staff, the general themes upon returning from spring break on offense will be eliminating penalties (too many illegal procedure and holding flags in the scrimmage), sharper execution, and improving decision-making on the part of the quarterbacks (two interceptions and two more near interceptions in the scrimmage).

On defense, the overall themes are likely to include a continued emphasis on pursuit and tackling, and a better understanding and execution of coverages (busted coverages contributed to at least three of the big play passes given up in the scrimmage). The good news is that it is still early in learning a new defensive system, even one that has the basic alignment staying the same, and there are going to be some mistakes in alignment and communication.

The effort and enthusiasm, which head coach Mike Gundy seems to compliment daily, has been excellent. In fact, it has been better than at any time in recent memory. The players as a whole say they can't wait to get to practice. That kind of attitude alone will take a team far. It is not fake either, as lip service only goes so far and this team displays that attitude in every drill and at every position.

Individually and by positions groups, several observations have surfaced. On offense, the offensive line will be OK, but expect a degree of inconsistency because offensive line coach Joe Wickline is going to continue to go through his routine of trying out every possible combination of players. There is a plus and a minus to this. The plus is the line that will eventually be decided on doesn't get as many reps as a group until the decision is made, which likely won't be until August.

Wickline has also said he wants to look at freshman Jonathan Rush, who he thinks could be another Corey Hilliard or Russell Okung type who could play as a freshman. The positive is the competition stays alive, every day each offensive lineman has the opportunity to compete and maybe convince Wickline into putting them in the rotation. You could say spring is a time for individual offensive lineman achievement and improvement, and August will turn into the group exercise.

Running backs and tight ends simply need to stay on course. The players there are of a known quantity and just need to continue improving. Wide receiver Adarius Bowman is back and that means he will get a lot of opportunities to make big plays as that is what he does. Prior to Bowman's return from the basketball court, three wide receivers moved themselves up to the head of the rest of the class as Artrell Woods, Jeremy Broadway and Anthony Parks look to be the wide receivers set to complement Bowman and tight end Brandon Pettigrew in the passing game. The door is not closed on anyone, but let's just say that Woods, Broadway and Parks have walked through it at this point.

On defense we have to say that Maurice Cummings, Jeray Chatham, Jonthan Lewis and Tonga Tea are impressing at defensive tackle. They are really pushing hard and have made the coaching staff and this observer feel much better about that position. Concern still exists in that the depth is razor thin and injuries need to be avoided, but if those four continue to improve and have another player or two jump in and help defensive tackle will not be a liability.

Defensive end is similar in that depth is a concern, but Marque Fountain and Rod Johnson, who has moved from linebacker and played a lot with Nathan Peterson nursing and ankle injury, have been solid. Youngsters Derek Burton and Shane Jarka are promising young players that need to continue to develop and mature.

At linebacker the uncertainty comes from Texarkana, Texas, as it appears the situation involving Chris Collins may move forward to trial. We will not even begin to speculate on that situation, but suffice to say it is a concern. Donovan Woods has moved to the Sam linebacker and played amazingly well in his first few days at the position, giving encouragement that he might have found a true home going into his senior season. Patrick Lavine and Independence Bowl Defensive MVP Jeremy Nethon round out the first linebacker group with promising red-sirt Justin Gent, Marcus Brown, Orie Lemon, and Alex Odiari backing up. As a group they need to continue to work to improve.

In the secondary the corners are solid, maybe even strong in Martel Van Zant, Jacob Lacey, Perrish Cox and Calvin Mickens. The safety position is thin, but Andre Sexton and Quinton Moore continue to improve as do backup Ricky Price and Clint Coe. Repetition in the new coverages will help.

All of the specialists return, and as expected kicker Jason Ricks has had only one miss in PAT/FG tries, punter Matt Fodge has been solid, and Zach Allen had only one bad snap and it came in drills in the first day back in full pads, an adjustment day for every snapper. The special teams questions such as returners, gunners on punts, cover units as a whole, and solving the new kickoff distance (next season kickoffs are from the 30-yard line) will not be finalized until pre-season camp in August.

Are there concerns? Yes, but if spring finishes with continued improvement, Glass hardens the players with a strong summer program, and a few freshmen come in ready to contribute then next season, even with a more difficult schedule than 2006, looks to be one Cowboy fans can look forward to.

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