Cowboy Football: Spring Practice-1

STILLWATER - The helmets, jerseys, and shorts looked the same, but some of the names have changed and, as usual, after a Rob Glass conducted offseason, the bodies looked a little different too. In fact, some of the Oklahoma State football players looked really different. The first spring practice, as per NCAA restrictions, was conducted Monday in helmets, jerseys and shorts with no pads.

However, players such as defensive tackles Swanson Miller, Shane Jarka, and redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas, and offensive linemen like Noah Franklin look huge. They are big and it's not fat.

Wide receivers like Hubert Anyiam, Justin Blackmon and other skill players like 220-pound quarterback in Zac Robinson are a product of the offseason program which emphasized size and strength.

It is suffice to say the team looked good. One body that looks good in the uniform that wasn't on the field was All-American wide receiver Dez Bryant. He is featured, as he should be, on the cover of the spring football media guide.

Besides Dez the Cowboys are also missing Damian Davis, who was dismissed from the team, and suspended slot receiver Bo Bowling, who is out until resolving drug charges currently pending. That means head coach Mike Gundy and his staff are looking for wide receivers to step in.

DeMarcus Conner returns as a starter and the best blocking wide receiver on the team. Anyiam had a huge offseason and looks primed to play well. He had several big plays Monday in the non-contact work including a deep post for a score.

Another receiver caught a deep post for a score beating one of the Cowboys safeties on the play. His number (81) may not be immediately recognized but let's introduce to you one of the Cowboys redshirt receiver trio, Justin Blackmon. He joins with 6-4 Adrian Richards and speedster Isaiah Anderson.

"We expect them to step up and make plays this spring and be ready this fall," said Gundy of that trio that impressed defenders last fall as scout team receivers. "We have a system on offense that there are young players that have to step in and play. For the young players it doesn't mean they have to be a lead role. They just have to understand their role.

"You can use Dez as an example. As great a player as Dez is his first year he didn't play a lead role. He made plays as the season progressed. Early in the season he was getting one, two, three catches (a game), and going downfield to block. We asked him to understand the system and these guys we expect them to understand the system and get ready to play. We expect them to get better and play next fall.

"Isaiah is not as big as the other two but he is fast," evaluated Gundy. "Speed should be his strength and the ability to take the top off of a coverage. Justin is a 205- to 210-pounder. He gives us some size at that inside receiver spot when we put him there. Adrian is a tall guy that runs really fast and has height and reach. All three of them have really great attitudes.

"There is a considerable amount of learning that has to take place this spring and they all have to have great summers on their own learning the offense."

While he is no rookie, another receiver that needs to step up is slot receiver Josh Cooper. The Mustang, Okla., native has dealt with injuries that have seemed to stunt his career growth right as he has threatened to take off. Now would be a good time.

"Cooper is a little further along," added Gundy. "He's played some and he traveled last year and he certainly, we expect him to understand what to do today. Josh needs to understand what to do today and those other three have to work hard and learn this spring, have a great summer, and then know what to do in August."

While new defensive coordinator Bill Young and graduate assistant Vinson Reynolds worked the defensive line methodically through fundamental work, the rest of the defense worked coverage and fundamentals on the other field. Following direction and showing you paid attention in the meeting room was a big part of the first day for defenders.

"The first day is always a little raggedy especially for me as a new coach," said Young. "Just being on the right place on the practice field even though we'd covered it in the meetings. I was really happy with the way things went."

Over with the offense it was a lot easier to get going and progress. This is now the fifth year for the same offense, and while their are two new full-time assistant coaches, Robert Matthews (quarterbacks) has been here the entire time in other capacities. He joins as co-offensive coordinators Gunter Brewer and Joe Wickline and tight ends coach Doug Meacham with the offensive staff. Only running backs coach Robert Gillespie is brand new. Gundy is in a comfort zone.

"I will still meet with the quarterbacks and with the offense most of the practice," he said. "I don't know where my play-calling abilities will be during the spring. The offensive staff will handle the majority of those, so I will move around more during practices and during scrimmages.

"I won't walk away from working with the quarterbacks and the offense during practice because that is the part of the game that I really enjoy. I want the opportunity to stay around those players in the meetings and the practices. Those are the relationships that I really enjoy and I want to stay involved in the offense."

Spring practice is off and running. The team will practice again Wednesday, another non-contact practice. Then the pads will come on for the first time Friday afternoon. All three practices this week are open and, a correction, all three are on the grass practice field. Gundy said Monday they will go on the grass every practice except the Orange-White game, or when weather won't allow it.

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