Cowboy Football: What We Learned This Spring

Spring football is over and for the next three and a half months the majority of the direction and instruction of the Oklahoma State team falls to strength and conditioning coordinator Rob Glass. Mike Gundy and his staff will spend a month on the road during the month-long evaluation period. Then there are camps to run and vacations to take before preparations begin for the Aug. 30 season opener.

Okay, as we head into the late spring and summer strength and conditioning hibernation period for football fans we just have to know where do we stand? Saturday's Orange-White Game was perplexing. Instead of the fireworks from a year ago, offense was hard to come by and a hard-knocking senior linebacker Seb Clements was the hero late with a safety on a short tackle for loss.

Some aspects of this Oklahoma State team could be as confusing as Mother Nature's approach to the spring game, blustery winds combined with periods of sunshine and other moments of moisture.

To make it as simple as we can we will divide aspects of this team into three categorie -- what we know, what we think we know, and what we don't know. Some positions and/or areas are simple, while others could be deceiving like a late-breaking curve ball. Here we go.

1) Zac Robinson is the starting quarterback and can be counted on to be dependable.
Absolutely, Robinson told me the final week of spring that he felt he was the best quarterback since he arrived on campus and always felt, if given a fair shake, that he would win the quarterback job. He was right, and he did.

This spring backups Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden had their sights set on each other and not on Robinson. As the starter he worked on improving the shortcomings in his game. He appeared in spring to throw the football better. He is much more confident and smooth running the offense. Robinson is also a tough player that has taken big hits. His teammates, on both sides of the ball, respect him. Robinson could leave Stillwater owning a lot of quarterback records, many currently belonging to his head coach.

2) The offensive line is pretty good and could be really good.
They are good, and while there are still some decisions to be made with redshirt freshman Jonathan Rush and sophomore Michael Booker battling for the right guard position, and also what to do with former starting center and experienced senior David Washington, the caveat out there is whether offensive line coach Joe Wickline can put togehter an acceptable second offensive line that can be used every third, or more likely, every fourth series in a game. This group earned their stripes last season with the great offensive performance, but they have room for improvement. You have to look at left tackle Russell Okung and both right tackles Brady Bond and Andrew Mitchell, a Snow J.C. transfer, as potential NFL prospects.

3) Brandon Pettigrew will be fine and is the overwhelming factor in making the offense explosive.
Robinson said he looks at Pettigrew as the difference maker in the offense. Even when the play is not designed to go to him, either as a run or a pass to another receiver, Pettigrew just being on the field changes things. Opposing defenses have to respect and account for him. He is a game-changing performer. Health-wise he is fine, and he could have played had this been a regular season game. The other question is will head coach Mike Gundy suspend him at all for his arrest in February? The answer is likely no. Pettigrew made a stupid mistake but he was not the person at fault. He will likely be punished but not in the form of a suspension.

4) The wide receivers will be good, maybe even better than last season.
Some of this you have to think, but late in the season Dez Bryant proved against Kansas, Baylor, and in the bowl game against Indiana that he has the ability and the confidence to take over a game as a play maker. Bryant needs to learn to play just as hard without the ball as he does when the play is designed to go to him. That will tip the defense at times. He showed it a little, but beefed up 6-foot-6 wide receiver Damian Davis is going to be a good one. Jeremy Broadway looks like he has learned from nearly being booted off the team last season and had a good spring. Nexcomer Bo Bowling shows all the signs of being a really good player. Some of these guys are in the developing stage, but Artrell Woods is miraculously back and looks like he could be just as good following that freak weight room accident. Keep an eye on Josh Cooper, Hubert Anyiam, DeMarcus Conner, and even, Williams Cole.

5) The specialists will be fine.
You have to start with Matt Fodge, who has been in the top three in the Big 12 and top 20 in th NCAA at punting the past couple of seasons. Fodge is poised to have another good year, maybe an All-American type season as he has worked to improve on his weaknesses. High school phenom Quinn Sharp is on the way, but Dan Bailey and his electric orange shoes proved last season and again this spring that he can handle kickoffs and placements. Sharp's best bet is to kick extra points and field goals. The snaps are in good hands with senior and three-year starter Zach Allen back and redshirt freshman Marc Yerry having really improved from his first season to this spring. Returns aren't proven, but Bryant and Bowling have the ability to be spectacular.

6) This team gets along and is more together than any in the Mike Gundy era.
Gundy has raved about how the new players who arrived in January seemed to instantly get along with the established players. There is a reason for that. The established players are good guys that want talented good guys to join them. The newcomers like Lucien Antoine, Beau Johnson, Andrew Mitchell, and Jeremiah Price are guys that look you in the eye and use, "yes sir" and "no sir." Two different players told me that this is the best it has been, the overall character of the football team. That alone could win you some games next season.

1) The offense will be just as potent and explosive following the departure of offensive coordinator Larry Fedora.

You think it will be because it is the same offense with the usual tweaking that comes in the off season and with a new coach added in Trooper Taylor bringing some of his ideas from Tennessee. The talent is there, and the bowl game proved the current staff knows the manual on how to use the offense. However, any time you change drivers, or maybe in this case a better analogy is change crew chiefs, the race team changes some. Gundy isn't certain yet whether it will be himself or Gunter Brewer that calls plays, but it will change things some.

2) The running backs will be solid and account for the loss of Dantrell Savage.
Kendall Hunter and newcomer Beau Johnson looked good throughout the spring. Hunter, better know as "Spud," was good throughout the fall as the change-up back behind Savage. Still, the final verification on this has to come in the fall and not in the spring. We feel like Hunter, Johnson and Keith Toston and/or a freshman will be fine and the running game will click. Hunter and Johnson not only are good runners, home run threats, and good receivers out of the backfield, but they are tough and both are getting stronger under the direction of Glass in the wieght room.

3) The defensive ends are going to be the catalyst for a vastly improved pass rush.
Like the running backs this looks like a big probable. The defensive ends were solid, sometime better, throughout the spring. The starters of Derek Burton and Ugo Chinasa played a lot last season and have some experience. The backups of Jamie Blatnick, Richetti Jones, and juco Jeremiah Price don't have that experience but have ability. Give the new defensive line coach Glenn Spencer some credit. He has preached that in this day of spread offenses with rapid release of the ball that deflections and quarterback hurries are just as good as sacks. Judging from what we've seen this spring I think he is right. You can even check OU's spring game with the deflected passes being intercepted and returned for scores. This one looks good, but we will have to see it in the fall to move it up to the known category.

4) The secondary will be much improved with plenty of experience and the added physical play of Lucein Antoine and, even, freshman Markelle Martin.
Like the defensive ends, we want to give credit for all that we've seen this spring. It has to carry over. There is no doubt that Jacob Lacey at corner is a potential shut down corner. Gundy says Lacey has progressed to another level. You hope one or more of the other corners joins him. I have liked what I've seen of newcomer Maurice Gray, from Butler C.C. At safety T.J. Bell has had a great spring but Antoine, the newcomer from Fort Scott C.C., has been spectacular on the big hits. He has really busted up some offensive players. I really believe that the secondary will be the most improved area of the football team, but I believe it, don't know it, yet.

5) Overall, the defense will be improved.
It has too, right? We have the defensive ends and the secondary in this category. However we have middle linebacker position and could have the linebackers as a whole in the "don't know" category. It all adds up to thinking the defense will be improved, but we need to run some experiments against Washington State, Houston, and Troy to know for sure.

1) Who will be the backup quarterback and can they win games?

It will either be Alex Cate or Brandon Weeden. I'm going to say Cate for now. Cate also told me after the Orange-White game he believes he could come in and get it done and win a game. I know Weeden, and he is not short on confidence. Let the competition continue over the summer with both knowing Cate has a solid edge and Weeden has ground to make up.

2) Who will be the second and third tight ends?
Huge question, I know that Wilson Youman got a lot of reps in spring and caught a touchdown pass in the spring game, but he is not there yet. Youman is the best bet for number two, but there were two incoming freshmen at the spring game Saturday, Tuttle's Cooper Bassett and Memphis, Tenn., product Jamal Mosley, both tight ends.

3) Who will play middle linebacker?
The popular answer going into spring practice was Navarro J.C. All-American Donald Booker coming in this summer. Hold those horses because Orie Lemon took a jump this spring and really made vast improvement. Defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Tim Beckman has a front row seat for the linebacker battle. Lemon goes into August with an edge at the job that was unexpected.

4) Will the special teams be improved overall?
They have to be. While the specialists are a known, the overall special teams aren't. Gundy has given Joe DeForest help by assigning some of the special teams to other coaches. DeForest is still the coordinator on special teams and will handle about half of them directly, but Curtis Luper will handle the punt team and Trooper Taylor will handle kickoff returns. Some things could change and DeForest will benefit in his work with the safeties.

5) What will this team's record be next season?
Boone Pickens was heard to suggest 12-0 or 11-1, but athletic director Mike Holder said 9-3 might be more reasonable. I will guess 8-4, and hope that Holder and Pickens know more than I do.

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