Cowboy Football: Spring Practice-5

The weather was just a little strange for Wednesday's fifth practice of the spring for Oklahoma State. It's hard to remember a practice that was hailed on twice, included a little thunder and lightning, and, believe it or not, a lot of sunshine. The practice, which included an enthusiastic goal-line scrimmage, was better and that made the disposition of the head coach a little more sunny.

"We had a nice practice today, guys are back in the flow," said Gundy of the 2-hour, 20-minute practice moved up an hour due to common exams for students on the OSU campus. "Yesterday I had mentioned I wasn't very pleased with the effort but today the effort was much better on both sides of the ball. It looked more like a football team, so I was encouraged by today's practice."

The weather forecast calls for Friday to bring much colder temperatures and even some snow, some forecasts have possible heavy accumulations. Gundy had said he is planning a half-game scrimmage, some 50 plays, to complete the team's work on Friday.

What will he do if Mother Nature throws him a snow ball? "I'll practice in it and then I'll complain about not having an indoor facility," joked Gundy, without laughing real hard.

As for Wednesday's session, Gundy didn't give out too many details on the closed practice but several of the players said it was fun. The offense made its share of plays and the defense had a few of their own highlights.

Gundy did mention a few young players that have caught his attention and that ledger was balanced with two on offense and two on defense.

"Nigel Nicholas on defense is making some plays and Justin Blackmon is catching some balls at the wide receiver spot," said the 41-year-old head coach. "Some of the young linemen like Jonathan Rush have shown up making some plays, and Chris Donaldson as part of our defensive line is making some plays."

Everybody always seems so much more enthused and interested in the spring in the younger players. It's understandable and we will have more on the younger offensive players as spring progresses, but on defense Donaldson's name has come up two practices in a row. The mention of Nicholas today is encouraging.

Veteran center Andrew Lewis agreed with Gundy, saying that Donaldson, Swanson Miller, Derek Burton and Shane Jarka are defensive tackles that are doing well.

"It is very important," agreed Gundy. "We've always been thin in the interior part of our defense and these days with offenses running 70 to 85 plays a game, and offenses being spread out so much, to be able to rotate those guys in is so important.

"Last year we were able to do that. Two years ago we weren't able to do any and we really struggled, so as those guys develop, we'd always like to be three deep in the interior tackles, and two deep on the edge. We feel good about our edge because we are two deep across the board there.

"We have four guys that can rotate in and maybe some young guys that can help us. It is important that Chris (Donaldson), Swanson (Miller), and (Shane) Jarka help us out and give us depth."

As for Burton, he is not younger. The Muskogee three-year letterman is a senior and is bucking up and doing what has been asked moving inside full time from defensive end.

"He's now in that three technique (tackle) where he is getting blocked down by the tackle some and that is unusual for him," explained Gundy. "He is a smart guy and has a good feel for it and he will get better every day."

In talking to new defensive coordinator Bill Young on Tuesday after practice he spoke of making adjustments and getting all the players in the right spots and where they can have the most success. That has been a hallmark of Young coordinated defenses from Southern Call to Ohio State to Kansas to Miami.

Can the defense show improvement at Oklahoma State? "I think so, but you are talking about only being in five practices and there are a lot of things we've got to install and we have to get squared away," said Young. "We feel like the scheme that we are running that we are trying to utilize their abilities.

"We are working hard as a staff and trying to decide who plays where and what fits their talents," continued Young, a former Cowboy defensive end ((196 to 67) and assistant coach (1976 to 78).

"What we are trying to do also is role play individuals and try to put them in situations where one guy may be better playing the run than the pass and the other guy may be better against the pass. We will try to do that also. We will have two people playing one position, but you still have to be able to back up at the other position. That has worked well."

Gundy is confident and has liked what he has seen thus far. He sees the players adapting and getting better each practice.

"I think that we have enough mature players on defense that they understand," said Gundy of the switch in schemes. "We have some terminology change, part of our system will change. I think it is a simple enough system that I think they will be able to execute it. I feel very comfortable with what is going in and it's just a matter of our players buying in and giving us great effort."

You may have read Bill Haisten's story in Tuesday's edition of theTulsa World on special teams. If you didn't, Haisten was asking questions on Tuesday about special teams and, in particular, about a position you read very little about in the holder on extra point and field goal attempts.

"We've always had a guy that is very reliable there and I'm commenced we'll have somebody reliable there," said Gundy. "I've heard several names including Taylor Sokolosky is one of them, guys that are working there

" From this point through the summer those special teams guys work more on their own more than anybody on the field, all summer. We'll come up with a guy that will hold that we can rely on. Our PAT/field goal is not as clean as you want it to be, the functioning part of a new snapper and a new holder is so important. It just doesn't look as clean as you want it to, but I would think by practice 12 or 13 and they work throughout the summer it will get cleaned up."

There is a new snapper on placements in sophomore Marc Yerry and associate head coach and special teams coordinator Joe DeForest feels he will have a good snap and hold combination.

"Taylor Sokolosky and Wes Harlan, who is one of our walk-on kickers, and I am going to try to find a receiver or somebody, but there is such a fine art to it and you don't know until you snap one and he drops it or the placement isn't exactly right and the ball is kicked away," detailed DeForest.

"It is just something we've got to work on and it is something I knew going into the spring was going to be a major concern. I knew we were going to have a new snapper and a holder and we are trying to work Quinn (Sharp) into the kicker spot, so we have some timing issues we need to work on that I was comfortable with for the past four years."

There are still five months, plenty of time, to get comfortable with the new combination. However, don't diminish it, the coaches don't and it is details and taking care of them that helps win games and championships.

The Cowboys will practice again at 3:30 p.m. Friday, a closed practice that will include a 50-play scrimmage. The next open practice is Friday, April 3, and that should be a major scrimmage session with as many as 100 to 120 plays.

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