Cowboy Football Practice: Day 8

STILLWATER - Oklahoma State continued its preparations with the second two-a-days practice session of pre-season camp Thursday. Both two-hour workouts were held on the grass practice field east of Gallagher-Iba Arena.

"We had good effort tonight," said head coach Mike Gundy. "We had a good workout this morning and another good one tonight. We started a little sluggish in the first practice but we got after them a little bit and they picked it up. It's pretty typical for this stage of camp.

"They're working hard," Gundy added of the squad. "I don't question their effort. It's hot. But I think Athens ( Georgia ) set a record today with 105."

The defense has been improving throughout camp and after the evening practice they came into some good words from the head coach.

"I think the defense is further ahead than I would have anticipated," he said. "I am just impressed with the way they are competing and what they are doing against our offense."

The first practice of the day was a two-hour workout that Gundy called "solid." The Cowboys worked some more on kickoff return and then had team run, team pass, inside, seven-on-seven, and a final team period. The offense had a good go of it in the morning.

"The effort was good and it was a solid practice," said Gundy. "They are feeling the monkey climbing on them now. They can feel it physically from the heat and the work load with the second day of two-a-days. It's hot in Georgia too. They set a record with 105."

Gundy and associate head coach and special teams coordinator Joe DeForest mentioned early in camp that there would be more time devoted to special teams than ever before. A lot of that had to do with the new kickoff rule that moves the start of the play back to the 30-yard line, from the 35 in past seasons. It is a rule that Oklahoma State should be able to capitalize on with its strong return game. On kickoffs it has sent DeForest looking for a strong kickoff specialist to replace Bruce Redden. It also has DeForest looking at alternate strategies to keep opposing team's returns to a minimum.

The Cowboys have plenty of return talent in veterans Perrish Cox, who helped the team lead the nation in kickoff returns last season, and Tommy Devereaux. There are also youngsters in sophomore Al'Darius Thompson, freshman William Cole, and freshman Hubert Anyiam is in the mix. Also, don't forget about the possibility of using running backs Dantrell Savage and Keith Toston.

One thing is certain, and that is that Cox is really fired up about the new rule, and looked strong in practice.

"It is going good," said Cox. "We have Tommy D. out there and he backed me up last season. Right now we are looking pretty good. We plan on returning more with more chances and we expect pooches and squibs, but we will return all we can."

Cox in just his second season has built up a reputation as a return specialist. He made the All-Big 12 team last season and is the pre-season All-Big 12 punt returner and has even received some pre-season All American mention. He has a reputation.

"I've actually had that since I came out of high school," said Cox. "I was highly ranked in high school. I expect that and I hoped that would happen."

There is still lots of work to do with the rest of special teams, but DeForest has said he feels that punter Matt Fodge, who is the current favorite to handle kickoffs too, could be an All-American and lead the nation in punting after finishing seventh last season with a 44.2-yard average.

"The best thing I can do is forget about last year and focus on being consistent, getting my hang-time up and my net average up," said Fodge. "I need to quit thinking about the long ball and concentrate on the next kick and staying smooth."

He seems to have done that as his punting in practice has been very impressive. A couple of days ago during a lengthy period working the punt team Fodge averaged 48.2 yards on 10 punts, including two 60-yard kicks.

Jason Ricks finished last season by hitting the game-winning field goal over Alabama in the Independence Bowl. The always consistent Ricks is capable of 50-plus yard efforts with several in his career. He said that along with holder Cole Reynolds and deep snapper Zach Allen that they started camp in mid-season form.

"It's funny but the first day we were out here, we haven't been together all summer because Cole had some educational stuff to do and he was getting married, but the first time we got out there it was 1.29 and 1.23 seconds," said Ricks." That is great time. That's the time (for operation) you want mid-season and going into Big 12 play. I don't have to change anything that I'm doing, nothing changes. I just go through my normal routine and it's great."

One thing that has changed is the addition of Cole Farden as a graduate assistant coach helping special teams. The former Cowboy player, who was outstanding as a punter and one of the best kickoff specialists in school history, is not that far removed and he really understands what it is like for the specialists.

"I had him here my freshman year and he was my mentor coming in," said Ricks of Farden. "He and I are great friends and I would call him even before he came back to work here and he would give me some tips. When he was going through his NFL thing he learned a lot of stuff along the way.

"He had the coach from the (Dallas) Cowboys he was working with and he was shown the stuff they were showing Chris Bonio and was able to pass that on. He brings a new energy and enthusiasm to the group and is an extra eyes for Defo."

"It's helpful to have him out there to give me tips on things he's learned through the years," said Fodge. "He's going to help me go to the next level."

Gundy likes to say that season-opening games are won on conditioning, turnovers, defense and special teams. The latter appears to be in good shape so far in August camp.

The Cowboys will have one practice on Friday starting at 4:45 p.m. and it is closed to the public. That practice will serve to prep the team for a full scrimmage at 5 p.m. Saturday, which is also closed to the public and media.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones will also be in Stillwater on Friday to check out the Boone Pickens Stadium project and meet with OSU officials and the topic of moving the OSU-Texas Tech game to Jones's new 100,000-seat, state-of-the-art stadium in Arlington, Texas.

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