Position by Position: Backfield

The staff of Go Pokes Magazine recently completed work on the Football Preview issue of Go Pokes Magazine and we are tremendously excited about the outcome. This may be one of the best issues in the history of our magazine. However, that is for you to decide.

A challenge that I have taken on each year is how to make what is a football preview staple, the position by position preview, more exciting and fresh other than what you see in most football preview magazines. In the past we have compared the Oklahoma State position groups to the best in the Big 12, the best all-time at OSU, and others.

This year we are comparing the 2008 team to the 2005 team, Mike Gundy's first squad, the one he mostly inherited. I am often asked, and I have heard Mike Gundy and his coaches often asked, how much better the program is talent-wise since Gundy took over? It is unscientific. Here is a preview of what we did. To protect the magazine it is edited down somewhat and is missing the final scores we assigned to each group, both 2008 and 2005.

We started with the offense, first with the offensive line and then the wide receivers and tight ends. Now we complete the offense with offensive backs.

Offensive Backs
2008 vs. 2005
QB 11 Zac Robinson, 6-3, 205, Jr. QB 8 Donovan Woods, 6-2, 220, So.
3 Alex Cate, 6-1, 195, So. or 14 Bobby Reid, 6-3, 225, RS-Fr.
4 Brandon Weeden, 6-4, 220, RS-Fr.

RB 24 Kendall Hunter, 5-8, 195, So. RB 29 Mike Hamilton, 6-1, 215, RS-Fr.
2 Beau Johnson, 5-10, 210, Jr. 32 Julius Crosslin, 5-11, 240, So.

The second quarterback debate in a two-year period was still going on among Oklahoma State fans a year ago. In 2005 it was Donovan Woods versus Bobby Reid (we'll get back to that later in our comparison) and last summer it was Reid and Zac Robinson. Some of us, including this author, were wrong, but Zac Robinson won the job and deserved to.

You've heard people say he's got "it." Robinson has "it" and we'll define "it" as the ability for a quarterback to use either his legs or his arm to make his team and teammates better. It doesn't hurt when you have GQ good looks and an unassuming personality. Robinson has all that and more, making him an extremely popular quarterback from old pro analysts and armchair quarterbacks to elementary-aged girls that don't know a post route from a option keeper. Zac Robinson is an all-appealing quarterback. He is popular with his teammates too.

"Zac is the guy that he's the first guy you are going to pick in a pickup football game in the backyard," said tight ends and passing game coordinator Doug Meacham. "He is just a gamer. He is a natural and has tremendous instincts. His football IQ is extremely high. He has that it factor that you want to have as your starting quarterback."

"It is his ball right now and he can take it and run with it," said co-offensive coordinator Gunter Brewer. "He knows he is the man and with the game experience that he had last year you have seen what he can do running the ball and now what he can do after spring throwing the ball. We are looking forward to throwing the ball to all the weapons like Pettigrew and Dez and we are going to throw the ball to the backs because they have really got good hands."

Throwing the ball is where head coach Mike Gundy has challenged Robinson to improve. Last season he completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 2,824 yards and 23 touchdowns with only nine interceptions. Good numbers to go along with his 847 yards rushing and nine touchdowns. Gundy sees more in Robinson. He has good size at 6-3, 205 pounds and his running ability can freeze and slow down a serious pass rush meaning opportunities to really hurt opposing defenses with the pass and the bevy of receivers available to Robinson

"He needs to develop himself as a thrower," started Gundy on the path to seeingRobinson become better. "Zac can become a better passer, part of that is because of the limited number of years that he has played quarterback. He only spent a couple of years at quarterback in high school. He is still developing himself as a thrower and as he continues he will develop himself into a better thrower and quarterback. He likes to play and guys that like to play don't worry about getting sore they just want to go play. There are guys like that, Pettigrew is like that. He played more snaps than anybody on our football team and gave more effort than anybody on our football team. It bothers some guys and others it doesn't."

That kind of talk doesn't scare Robinson because he wants to improve. Now that he is the quarterback of this team and is unquestioned in his status. He is not going to rest on his laurels. If competition isn't there he will create it in a positive manner.

"This year I felt more in like a leadership role and knowing I just had the pressure I put on myself," said Robinson. "You are always competing with other quarterbacks but just not a lot of pressure like there was in the past."

"You would have to ask Zac but I think there is probably some comfort in knowing he can go out there and work on certain things and not have to look over his shoulder," added Gundy. "They compete but still there is comfort zone there. You get a green light on a 3-0 pitch and you can tee off a little bit. I think there is a lot of similarities in that area. I would think he would like just going out and playing."

Gundy believes that because Robinson is the unquestioned leader of the offense and team leader as the starting quarterback that will help his football team this summer when it is Robinson that will lead the team in practices.

"I think it makes a big difference in your offseason and summer workouts," said Gundy. "You know we went through this with Bobby and Donovan for a year or two and then last year there was a lot of talk about Zac and Bobby because Zac had played so well when he was in there. They run there own practices in the summer and when you are out there and there is one guy in charge I think it works better.

"The essentially practice themselves with no coaches. Generally, it runs better because we tend to coach too much instead of letting them play. In the summer when there is one guy in charge I think it works better. I liked having two guys that could play and we still need to get someone developed in August. There are benefits to it and you have to look at it from both sides."

The benefit of having two quarterbacks battling for number one is having two ready to play. That was a project Gundy and the offensive staff had going during the spring. They were eyeballing Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden as they competed for the backup quarterback position. Neither third year sophomore Cate or 24-year-old red-shirt freshman Weeden have ever thrown a Division I pass. Is that a concern?

Yes, but Cate has displayed a positive moxie that reminds some observers of former Cowboy quarterback and current pro baseball third baseman Josh Fields. Speaking of baseball, that is where Weeden was for some five years, toiling as a professional pitcher. He is mature and at 6-4, 220 pounds and with a rifle arm is just what makes coaches drool. He has NFL potential with his arm.

"I thought they handled the offense okay," said Gundy of the way the pair played in spring. "I have to bite my tongue a little bit because those are things that you develop with reps and in the spring they were on the stage for the first time. You want it to happen really fast and in that position it is rare that happens. Those guys don't run like Zac does. When you can pull the ball down and run for 8-10 yards instead of forcing the ball into coverage then you need to run for 8 to 10 yards. There are some growing pains will have to through with those guys.

"We'd like to get the reps early in fall camp where Zac gets the majority and the second guy the second reps and the other guy gets just a little," added Gundy in setting up the scenario for August.

At running back there was no luxury of a clear cut starter and there was the concern of a junior college All-American having to come in and quickly learn the offense. That may have been the most impressive and pleasing development on this football team since the end of last season. There is no doubt that Butler County Community College All-American and National Championship Game MVP Beau Johnson gained high marks from Gundy and the coaching staff. The 5-10, 210-pound Johnson acted as if he'd been running this offense for a couple of seasons.

"Beau has really been impressive in how he has picked up our system so quick," said Gundy. "He had a minimal amount of missed assignments in spring after coming in midterm and in our offense that is not easy. He came in and performed very well. He is durable and he carried the ball 20 to 30 times a game in junior college, so we think he will be fine for us."

"Beau Johnson in his ability to understand our offense and play with poise will really help us out," concurred Brewer. "He has a very good temperament for the game. He understands what is going on and he sees defense. He really stepped up in the spring game and showed us he would make plays."

Johnson was so good he made his teammates confident early in spring practice. The speedy, strong back rushed for 288 yards and four touchdowns in Butler's bowl and championship win over Snow (Utah) Community College playing in the snow in Utah. Johnson has a great personality and like a lot of the Cowboys new junior college players looks you square in the eye when talking to you and says yes sir and no sir. He will compliment with the explosive and speedy Kendall Hunter. Nicknamed "Spud" as a freshman by Gundy. Hunter averaged a team best 6.5-yards a carry in rushing for 696 yards and four touchdowns on 107 carries.

"We need Kendall to make the kind of plays that Dantrell did last year," said Gundy.

"As he progresses and gets stronger and faster and makes people miss then we'll be able to make yard even when we don't get everybody blocked. I like Kendall and Beau and when Toston comes back I like those three. We'll have to find a freshman that will come in and contribute. We'd like to play those three and a freshman. I like those three guys and what they give us. I think as Kendall develops he will look more like Dantrell. He is just in his first year right now. Beau is a different style of runner."

Last season OSU ran for 3,161 yards and they could repeat that, and they could repeat it with three 1,000-yard rushers named Hunter, Johnson, and Robinson.

Comparison: At quarterback it is easy to say that Zac Robinson is better than what OSU had in Gundy's first season. Robinson was on that team and redshirted that season. If he had played he'd be a senior now and it's better that he has two more years to play. As far as depth, Gundy doesn't have two quarterbacks as ready as Woods and Reid were in the 2005 season, but Cate and Weeden are both solid.

At the running back position it is more evident than any other position of the primary advancement in the OSU roster from 2005 to now, speed, In a two-man tag team relay Kendall Hunter and Beau Johnson would smoke Mike Hamilton and Julius Crosslin. Now in a short-yardage situation playing behind a jumbo line with two tight ends and against a jumbo defensive line like Texas A&M can put together then Crosslin and Hamilton have the advantage. The Cowboys are not going to recruit fullback-type players in the immediate future, so they will have to keep a medium size back with some strength like Beau Johnson. Based on numbers and youth, give the 2008 backfield the advantage.

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