Cowboy Football: Spring Practice Gets Serious

The first week of spring practice is a breaking in period with lots of new players, the time away from practice, and the NCAA acclimatization policies easing into contact. Then last week was spring break for Oklahoma State with the players gone. Now it will be time to get serious in spring.

Mike Gundy and company will give the players a day off Monday to slide back into the academic and campus routine and then it will be time to practice. There are 12 of those valuable sessions left including the Orange-White Game which is more for fun and the fans than it is for advancing into next season and the opener at Boone Pickens Stadium with Georgia.

It is early and the first week and the aforementioned obstacles make it extremely difficult to decipher a lot but here is what we observed and learned in the first week of practice.

Zac Robinson has put on some weight and he looks good at 220 pounds. He moved well and that added weight should make him stronger, more durable, and maybe, with the size, a little more confident. It appears the head coach likes the way he looks and approves of the added girth.

Running back is loaded. Kendall Hunter looks like Kendall Hunter, which he didn't in the bowl game. Then, in order, Keith Toston, Beau Johnson, Kye Staley, Travis Miller, and Dexter Pratt have all impressed as much as you can thus far.

They all look to be in really good shape, strong, quick, and all wanting to play. It is a pleasant problem for the offensive staff. Remember, you still have freshmen coming in with Jeremy Smith and well lauded fullback David Paulsen. How many running backs can you put in a formation and how many can you play?

Don't worry about wide receiver or tight end. They may be young but both positions show players that have the physical talent and the desire to make sure OSU is well stocked with playmakers.

At wide receiver, Hubert Anyiam has shown up with youngster Justin Blackmon, Adrian Richards and Isaiah Anderson. Josh Cooper has looked good and there is DeMarcus Conner, who is going to start because he is a blocking machine and can also make plays. Also, there is a guy named Dez Bryant running around in shorts that has proven he can play a little.

The tight end position has a hybrid tight end/wide receiver type (think Bowman) in Justin Horton and you like the looks of Jamal Mosley, Cooper Bassett and Wilson Youman. Did you know that Bassett runs a lot faster than you would think for a bigger tight end? Start thinking Billy Bajema type.

The offensive line will be fine. Joe Wickline will get much further into his usual experimenting and moving people around later this week. But that first unit so far of left tackle Russell Okung (one person told me an NFL club said he would have been the first tackle picked with the teams knowing what they know now), left guard Jonathan Rush, center Andrew Lewis, right guard Noah Franklin, and right tackle Brady Bond.

The competition gets really fun with the likes of Nick Martinez, Andrew Mitchell, Grant Garner and Anthony Morgan. Patrick Hoog and Ahmad Jones are showing up well in drills.

The defensive line is solid at end. Ugo Chinasa has shown up huge in the first week and figures to stay that way. The end position is also bolstered by the likes of Jeremiah Price, Jamie Blatnick, Richetti Jones, and new junior college addition Darius Hart. End is a potential strength for new defensive coordinator Bill Young. Chinasa and company are all on the high end of the physical scale and would be even better with veteran Derek Burton.

Burton has sacrificed and beefed up to move inside to tackle. This is a spot where the Cowboys will have to improve. Along with Burton, Shane Jarka is another beefed up player and those two are showing up. It is high time that Swanson Miller kicks it in gear along with Chris Donaldson, two junior college players that the team needs to play big and better.

Horace Hubbard, a brand new junior college addition, is working to get stronger and put himself in position to help out. Nigel Nicholas is an "X" factor, who after redshirting is much bigger and is very athletic. We'll have to see where Jeremy Gray is. The redshirt freshman, who has been on and off the team due to his own indecision, probably needs to make a firm decision quickly.

Linebacker should be okay and get better. There are veterans here as Orie Lemon and Andre Sexton are poised to play really well. Lemon is a beast, but he missed the last practice of the first week with an illness. Patrick Lavine had the experience and Donald Booker has the vast ability and potential to be a difference maker. The energy with Glenn Spencer coaching the linebackers helps too.

In the secondary, the margin at corner is thin with not a lot of bodies there. A real emphasis will have to be getting Andrew McGee out of junior college comfortable and playing there. He is a key to solidifying depth at corner. The starters are Perrish Cox and Terrance Anderson, with Maurice Gray and Broderick Brown backing up.

The safeties will go through some growing pains but with big-hitting Luciene Antoine back and ready to go along with the youthful and talented trio of Victor Johnson, Markelle Martin, and Johnny Thomas, then Joe DeForest may be the Cowboy assistant coach having more fun than anybody. That is a great group to work with and they proved it the first week running around like crazy, not always in the right place, but always at 100 percent or more and ready to act.

Excuse that special teams are left out of this but here is what appears to be a priority list for the next 12 practices starting on Tuesday.

1. Keep working to solidify and identify answers at defensive tackle. Burton and Jarka are giving it all they got. Miller and Donaldson could be the difference makers.

2. Bring on the competition at quarterback between Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden, find out who is really the second option.

3. Keep working young wide receivers and tight ends to get them more comfortable. Ability is there, add the repetition.

4. Continue sorting out linebackers and working to get Booker more comfortable playing.

5. Continue working on the corner depth with reps for an undersized but talented Brown and newcomer McGee and the safety confidence in the secondary.

6. Do everything possible to foster forging that same team chemistry that was there last season. It was a huge factor.

Practice resumes on Tuesday with the first closed practice of the spring.

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