Cowboy Football Practice: Day 4

STILLWATER – It's time. Sunday was the second practice with shoulder pads on, and head coach Mike Gundy was back from witnessing former OSU teammate Thurman Thomas go into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Gundy was even wearing a blue Thurman Thomas Hall of Fame T-shirt during practice.

Everybody in college football today knows that once the shoulder pads go on you can get after it with everything but taking ball carriers to the ground. Call it real football without tackling. That means we can start to check out the biggest need position on the Cowboy squad -- defensive tackle.
br> "This game is played with pads and I think it is every position," said defensive coordinator Tim Beckman. "Everything is going to be decided based on how you are going to react with those shoulder pads. I'm not making any evaluations prior to the shoulder pads, except for attitude and effort."

It's not that Maurice Cummings and a new and improved physique of Jeray Chatham can't handle the task of the one and three techniques. The question is who will help them out at a position that begs for ample rotation and fresh legs because of its physical and fighting nature. The inside drills, pass pro drills, and team work of the past two practices is the start of finding out the answer, beginning with the improvement of the two expected starters.

Besides junior college All-American Tonga Tea, who has slimmed up and looked good over the first four practices and also proved in the summer to be a decent soccer-style field goal kicker, there is a new answer as to who helps at defensive tackle. Red-shirt freshman defensive end Shane Jarka, who began earning a solid reputation with the coaches with his play in spring football, has been gaining weight while Tea was slimming down and now the two meet in the middle, and possibly could be playing together as the second tandem. They were on the field together Sunday and Tea had a sack of Bobby Reid during the team period that drew the compliments of Gundy. Earlier in the team pass period Jarka had a deflected pass that was almost intercepted.

"Shane has made a move inside for us," said Beckman of Jarka who is now 6-4, 275 pounds . "We felt it would suit us defensively and would suit Shane better. He has put on some weight which we asked him to do. He will play both the three and the nose, so those guys are interchangeable and you will see Shane as an inside player."

"Coach (Barnes) called me in and said, ‘Shane, we are going to need you to play tackle,'" re-counted Jarka. "I kind of saw it coming, and he asked how I felt about it. I told him I was fine with it because me and my dad had talked about it before. I was perfectly fine with it and me and my dad had discussed it."

OK, sort of fine with it. What helped was it meant for more playing time for an improving player that was trying to work through a more crowded depth chart at defensive end. Jarka had worked in the weight room and enjoyed the training table to the tune of going from the 245 pounds he played at in high school to the 275 pounds he weighs now. Why waste it?

"Exactly. I was kind of upset at first but then I realized it was going to give me more of a chance to play, so then I just rolled with it like any other player would do," Jarka said.

His teammates at defensive tackle are happy to see him, and are starting to feel like they have enough manpower to prove to all the doubters that the defensive tackles will carry their share of the load this season.

"I love Jarka," said Jeray Chatham. "He is strong, powerful, kind of quick because he played defensive end. Once he gets everything down our rotation is going to be sick. It's going pretty good, and Mo Cummings and Tonga are stepping up everyday."

"I was real excited (about Jarka) and that is more of a rotation for us," said senior Maurice Cummings. "We worked hard the whole summer every day. That (proving doubters wrong) is part of the motivation, but it's really going down and beating Georgia and proving a point."

Now it's just learning and getting comfortable for Jarka. He said it is coming along and judging by his play in shoulder pads it is coming maybe quicker than he thought.

"It was interesting and it is going to take a lot of getting used to but I feel I will pick it up quick," said Jarka. "It is different and I know I have to make a lot of adjustments. It's a lot quicker, a lot tougher, more technique than what I was used to. I am still learning the plays for the inside rather than the outside. It is not too bad and I feel I will pick it up over the next couple of practices."

The defense picked up their quota of four turnovers Sunday. Safety Clint Coe recovered a bad snap and linebacker Chris Collins recovered a bad toss from quarterback Zac Robinson to running back Dantrell Savage in the first team period. A couple of interceptions were added in seven-on-seven and by the end of practice head coach Mike Gundy wasn't unhappy with effort and attitude, but he gave the squad a good lecture at a high decibel level on being focused and the offense taking care of the football.

"I thought we were just sloppy on offense and we had some mental errors on defense," said Gundy. "The first game of the season is about mental mistakes, turnovers, defense, and special teams. It has always been that way and we want to limit those errors and we have to start now. Guys that make mistakes that are mature enough to know not to make the same mistake twice I don't have a lot of patience with. I'm glad you couldn't read my lips. All you need to know is volume."

There were some offensive highlights in the two-hour, 45-minute practice. Savage broke open a zone read early and had four other significant runs for 10 yards or more. Quarterback Bobby Reid hit Adarius Bowman early in the team period for a 20-yard gain, and one of the most spectacular plays was a Robinson deep toss to Seth Newton on a post route that had Newton go up and battle safety Andre Sexton for the catch.

Reid came back in the later team period and hit Brandon Pettigrew for what would have been a touchdown. Reid also had a keeper where he went 40 yards through traffic untouched for a score. He was also sacked in the later team period by linebacker Jeremy Nethon. Nethon had an active practice.

The team will go through their first full pads workout on Monday at 4:45 p.m. on the practice field. That workout will be open to the public, but after the two open workouts on Tuesday, the first day of two-a-days, all practices will be closed.

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