Cowboy Practice Report: Aug. 5

STILLWATER - For the first time in camp it was detectable Tuesday that the Oklahoma State Cowboys are getting a little tired. Most years that sensation would hit the players as early as Sunday, and with the heat wave one could have expected the draining of energy to start showing up as early as Saturday when that hot, steamy morning session forced five players to receive IVs for fluids.

The physical energy and mental focus has been strong thus far. The squad went through a two-hour, 15-minute session on Tuesday morning on the grass practice fields with the temperature gradually rising to 98 degrees by the time the practice was completed. The workout was in helmets, shoulder pads, and shorts and was really a preparation workout for the afternoon session in full pads with more team work included in the afternoon session.

The afternoon practice lasted exactly two hours, 20 minutes and included plenty of team work that saw more give and take from both sides, offense and defense.

Kendall Hunter continued to standout and the two quarterbacks fighting for the backup job, Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden, got plenty of reps, some with the first team. Overall, it was a good day, but as previously mentioned the fatigue began to show up some.

"It was a good practice, not as upbeat as I would have liked," said head coach Mike Gundy speaking to the media for his daily debrief after the second practice of the day. "We talked about that as a team, but I would have liked to have had more effort as a team in tackling, more effort on the offensive side downfield blocking. It was a two-a-day and we got it in. We'll get rested up come back tomorrow night ready to go."

What causes the wearing down? It's simple. "You don't ever tell the players that but you have a full pad practice last night and you came back in the morning and then you put the full pads back on in the afternoon and it's a little warm," said Gundy. "There is some wear and tear on their bodies. The mental aspect of it is very important, that our players fight through that."

There was another champions drill Tuesday, this one in the middle of the afternoon practice and a lot of noise, but there has been more noise made on the defensive side of the ball all through practice. There is not a single person around that does not understand that the defense has to be improved and the work is being put in to get that done. There is enthusiasm in getting that work accomplished.

There has been plenty of noise coming from the defensive end of the practice field, and as opposed to the past, and I mean the past three or four years, it has been encouraging. The defense has held its own in practice and in team periods against an offense the defensive players recognize as one of the best they will see. In the case of last Saturday's practice they had an "all world" day forcing at least six interceptions and a pair of fumbles. Some of the noise has been in the form of rewards.

"I believe if you are going to be a coach that is real vocal and chews on a kid when he is not going all out and hustling then you need to be a coach when something good happens you need to be encouraging them and celebrating," said defensive line coach Glenn Spencer. "That is the kind of intensity we are looking for good or bad."

"I never get really negatives or minuses for effort, I just try to play real hard," said defensive end Jamie Blatnick, who has shown in practice he plays the same with or without noise. "I've grown accustomed to the speed of the game and feel real comfortable out there."

Like we've said it has been better intensity so far in the Cowboys fall camp. The defense is determined to get where it needs to for Oklahoma State to make the jump they want to in the Big 12. Spencer has tackles in Tonga Tea Jr., junior college transfer Swanson Miller, senior Jeray Chatham, and veteran Quencey Patrick. At end the players are younger and less experienced as projected starters Derek Burton and Ugo Chinasa are talented but have just one start between them.

"I went through spring and they are all young to me," said Spencer. "Ugo (Chinasa) and Derek (Burton) have never really started a bunch. They are in a new role as much as me, so they are all battling.

"You bring in Jeremiah Price and you bring in (Jamie) Blatnick, and you bring in Richetti (Jones) and now that goes back to the fact we have competition. That will be a better coach than I'll ever be. These guys want to play and they want to be big-time players in the Big 12 and they want to work. We've had less mental busts so far than we did all during spring, so I think we've picked up where we finished up in the spring."

So good in camp as we said the defense is building up a foundation that is confident. The only way to really become strong and confident is to get it done in games like in Seattle against Washington State, but in the meantime you have to gain that confident edge in practice and they have been.

"There's only so much you can do with the alignment and fits and now that the pads have come on you can play with a lot more aggression," explained Spencer. "If we are practicing like we should we don't have to have pants on all the time. As long as you have your uppers (shoulder pads) on you fit up blocks and be aggressive, fight people, play with leverage and play technique."

"I feel the defense getting confident," said Blatnick. "It is evident in practices and it will be evident on the field during games. Saturday was one of our better practices. We had a lot of takeaways and we have some things we can correct, but if we can play like that good things will happen for Oklahoma State."

"We've got a lot accomplished and improved our technique and it has really paid off for us," said Patrick. "We have a lot more depth and a lot more talented people backing up the starters. I'd say we are very well off."

One area where this has been evident with the defensive line is in the pass rush. Last year, guys would tee off from the outside with just sacks in mind. Now turnovers are dancing in their head and the defensive line understands that there is more to rushing the quarterback than just a sack.

"Our guys have got to realize, and sometimes they think a great pass rush is when they beat a man outside," started Spencer on his pass rush philosophy. "You really have to teach lane integrity, what I call it, and that it is better to be right in front of the quarterback when the ball is launched even with an offensive lineman in front of you where you can be in his vision, in the throwing lane, in the scramble lane than somebody that runs around the edge, 15 to 20 yards deep that doesn't accomplish anything for the defense.

"As long as we can close the pocket especially with everybody in this league being great scramblers, being quarterbacks that are good athletes we've got to contain that pocket, get in the throwing lane and then maybe get our hands on a few passes. We have to train them that when the quarterbacks hand comes up and the ball is of the tips of his fingers that our eyes are up and our hands are up and in the throwing lane."

Patrick seems to have gotten it, although the sack is still planted in there as well. Come on, sacks are what defensive tackles and ends dream of. Patrick knows either way the teamwork involved.

"It takes a lot for an interception because the D-linemen have to get in the quarterback's face and the linebackers and defensive backs have to do what they need to in coverage," said Patrick. "It's the same way for a sack. We need the secondary to keep the receivers tied up which gives us more time and helps us get the sack."

In the end you have to be excited because the defense is playing better and while youth can sometimes be a handicap, the enthusiasm of a player like 6-3, 260-pound Blatnick getting ready to play in his first game is exciting.

"It's fantastic and I've been waiting for it this whole year," said Blatnick of the opportunity to play in Seattle in the opener against Washington State.

This defense needs to feed off excitement.

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