Cowboy Football: Spring Practice-7

STILLWATER - At virtually the midway point of spring practice, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy put his team through a monster scrimmage Wednesday, two days before Friday's coaches clinic and the final open practice of the spring. Gundy thought it was 125 plays or more, but quarterback Zac Robinson was counting and he called it 144 plays.

There was midfield drive with the start being lay it, play it. There were situations such as short yardage, third-and-long, goal-line and more. It was a bunch and it was enough to leave the head coach with some strong opinions.

"Offensively, we can't cancel the rest of practice. We have a long way to go," said Gundy, hinting the long scrimmage favored the defense.

"We've got guys that are making plays. I'm really encouraged by the young running backs that we have in this program. I like Kye Staley. Dexter Pratt was not out there because he's got a little turf toe and he'll be out a few days. I like Travis Miller when he learns to keep his head up and run fast. Justin Horton and I like (Jamal) Mosley, Justin Blackmon, and Isaiah (Anderson) made a couple of catches, the young players on the team.

"(Brandon) Weeden performed better than anybody on the team, even Zac Robinson," added Gundy assessing the quarterback play in the scrimmage. "I liked him today.

"Defensively, I liked (Andre) Sexton, he's a veteran guy. I liked Donald Booker and he is finally starting to show up, typical deal with a junior college guy in been here a year and starting to make some plays. I like Jeremiah Price and Terrance Anderson is making some plays out there.

"I like both of our safeties, Johnny (Thomas) and Victor (Johnson) and how they are tackling. What is 29's name? A walk-on, Walker Smith, we call him "Texas Ranger" and that is why I don't know his name. His name is Walker Smith and he came up and made some tackles today. He is a guy that could impact us. He actually is performing very well.

"Justin Gent is making some plays. Chris Donaldson showed up a couple of times, although he lined up offsides a few times. The effort and the physical part of the scrimmage was very good."

Besides looking at all the situations and looking at particular players, mainly younger, there was a general theme to the practice and the scrimmage.

"The effort was good and I wanted to fatigue both sides of the ball to see who would step up and perform, unlike the bowl game in the fourth quarter," said Gundy. "I just wanted to see if guys were tough enough to line up, hit, and tackle, get into guys and block somebody and take care of the ball. That is what we did not do in the fourth quarter of the bowl game and that is what we wanted to see as a staff."

Zac Robinson didn't do much after the first few series, neither did running back Kendall Hunter, and Dez Bryant played catch and watched from the side. There was another crew working hard right alongside the younger Cowboys players. Two officiating crew took turns calling the scrimmage with instructions from the head coach to call it tight.

"Offensively, we held," said Gundy. "You hold with no officials and they called eight of them today because that is what they've been doing in practice. Next time (scrimmage) they will get three called because they know somebody will call them, and six of those were guys that hadn't played much, Lane Kennedy and Pat Hoog, but it doesn't make a difference you still can't hold. You get in first-and-20 and it is tough sledding. Too much holding but defensively we didn't have a pass interference and we had a late hit and I didn't like. We had a few offsides, but for the most part defensively it was pretty clean."

The next huge scrimmage will probably take place a week from Friday, April 10. At least that is when the Big 12 officials on the crew told us they would be back.

Part of the success for the defense in the scrimmage had to be attributed to the defensive line. The quarterbacks did not have all day to throw the football.

"I can definitely tell with the pass rush is better than it has ever been," said Zac Robinson, who admitted to having to throw a few passes away. "Guys coming in are getting to the passer and stuff like that. It's a lot of fun to see what Coach (Bill) Young is doing on the defensive side."

It's hard to believe that Derek Burton, the elder member of that defnesive line, is going into his senior season. It seems like it was yesterday that the Muskogee product and son of former Cowboy starting offensive linemen Derek Burton Sr., was arriving on campus.

Burton played enough to collect 11 tackles and his first sack as a true freshman but defensive coaches since have lamented that season knowing that Burton would produce so much more if he had a fifth season from redshirting.

In his three seasons at defensive end, including last season as a starter he has 60 career tackles, 41 unassisted, and 5 sacks. Burton is now part of an identification project this spring to find the best defensive players and find a way to get all of them on the field at the same time.

"We're working hard as a staff to try and decide who plays where and what fits their talent," said new defensive coordinator Bill Young.

As a result, Burton, who played some nose guard last season in the three-man fronts employed often by former defensive coordinator Tim Beckman, has moved inside, for now, permanently to play defensive tackle (three technique). The entire defensive staff is keeping an eye on Burton, as is Gundy.

"Derek will be fine because he is a smart guy and he uses his hands well," said Gundy. "He'll be fine and it will be interesting to see how he holds up as the spring goes on because it is a different world down there.

"I've see it where they (offensive line) has their hands on him and move him pretty good and then I've seen times when he is on a stunt and gets by them pretty good. When you are an undersized guy in there you have to use your speed and know that those other guys are going to try to get their hands on you. Hopefully, he'll win the majority of the battles."

"It was kind of something that I saw coming as much nose (guard) as I was playing last year in the speed package," said Burton. "I'm not a big fan of D-tackle and the whole inside deal, but I can see where I can really help the team by moving inside. You know, give Jeremiah (Price) and Jamie (Blatnick) a chance to get on the field more and have a bigger and a faster front line. I'm taking it in stride and trying to get better."

Burton is a good football player so it is presumed that he will produce at tackle, where he can exercise his speed advantage. A big part of the move has to do with another aspect necessary in football. The defensive line personnel following the graduation of Jeray Chatham and Tonga Tea is young, inexperienced, or junior college products. The line needs a leader.

"I can see that because they kind of look up to me whether they say it or not," said Burton. "I kind of see that and it is something I have to strive to do better is leading. I've been here the longest of all these guys and I've played the most. It is a challenge to me because most of them and you know that I don't talk a lot. I'm doing my best to lead our defensive line forward."

It has long been presumed to be a weakness on Oklahoma State defenses that have not impressed a great deal statistically. It is time for that to change and if Burton is going to play defensive tackle then he is determined to make it count using his performance and his influence on others.

"We have a long way to go but just from the first scrimmage (Monday) and the first series you could see the improvement that we've made from the bowl game," added Burton. "It seems like we play a little more physical and a little quicker and that helps us compete (in practice) against one of the best offenses in the country."

Burton and the rest of the Cowboy defensive linemen, which includes a strong group of defensive ends, Burton's former position, will all be back on the field at 3:30 p.m. Friday. They can show off a little bit as high school coaches from across Oklahoma and some from out of state will be at the practice as part of the OSU coaching staff's annual coaches clinic.

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