Cowboy Football: Spring Practice-12

STILLWATER - Mike Gundy was a little worried that his Oklahoma State football team would return from the Easter weekend and have a sluggish workout Monday. But the Cowboy head coach had no reason to be concerned as the senior leadership stepped to the forefront Monday afternoon, and the Cowboys entered their final week of spring practice with a session that pleased their head coach.

The defense seemed to bounce back in Monday's practice after the offense had the better day in Friday's scrimmage. The offense found it harder to make plays on Monday.

While so much attention during the spring has been on the defense with the anticipation of building depth on the defensive line, especially at tackle. The look of three veteran starting linebackers along with the young and explosive safeties in the secondary has also been watched extensively. Defense has been important, but offense has had some interesting situations playing out too.

One of the most fun positions to watch this spring has been wide receiver. Gundy may not agree that the absence of Dez Bryant, who is sitting out the spring after the minor knee surgery he had following the bowl game, along with the unscripted departure of Damian Davis and the suspension of slot receiver Bo Bowling, has made the receiver position a problem.

That trio caught 116 of the 127 passes thrown to the wide receivers last season. It's only a problem if nobody steps up and Gundy's excitement shows that has not been the case.

"The most fun part of our job as coaches is to watch young players develop and make plays," said Gundy, talking not just about the wide receivers but a lot of positions. "They make mistakes and correct them."

DeMarcus Conner made a huge catch in the scrimmage Friday, a 30-yard pretty touchdown strike from backup quarterback Brandon Weeden. Conner has been and will continue to be a starting wide receiver because of his blocking prowess but making a play like that gets anybody charged up.

"For any player who catches the ball, any receiver, tight end, or running back, a play like that when you catch the ball makes you feel good and makes the quarterback feel good about throwing you the ball," exclaimed Conner, a senior that has played four consecutive seasons. "It makes the whole team feel good about you and all around is good for the team."

Conner has the great reputation as a blocker but he takes a lot of pride in being a wide receiver and he made a concerted effort to make himself a more rounded wide receiver. He too wants to make catches.

"This whole offseason and spring my job was to work on my hands, work on my speed, and try to work on my endurance on the football field," said Conner. "I know I can make the plays. I just have the confidence in my hands to go out there and make the plays.

"It is not if I can or can't, I just like playing football. If I had to go out there and block 100 plays then I would go out there and block 100 plays. But my job is that when the ball comes to me then I have to catch the ball and last season I didn't do that the way I wanted to. This year my focus is to catch the ball when it comes to me and still do my job on the blocking end."

Bryant earned consensus All-America honors last season with 87 receptions for 1,480 yards and a school-record 19 touchdown catches. He is there for practice and is doing some of the drills, but is held out of team and all thud and full contact work. It really opens up reps for the other receivers to develop or show they have developed. It is a huge opportunity for his teammates.

"It gives us a chance to go out and make plays and show the coaches and the quarterbacks that we can also make plays and help Dez out," explained Conner. "Dez is going to get his.

"Every team has that one great receiver that is going to get his. They also have to have that extra core group of receivers that come in and make a play when they double cover Dez. It can also help to keep the double team off of Dez. Hubert (Anyiam) has been making plays the whole spring and (Justin) Blackmon has been making plays the whole spring and when (Josh) Cooper comes back from injury he can make plays. It is our job to show the coaches and the quarterbacks that we can make plays at the same time."

That takes us back to the Gundy comment on young players, and the youngest of the wide receivers that has made an impact this spring is the the 6-1, 195-pound and very athletic Justin Blackmon. You want to know how good a player is, ask the other players.

"He really does impress me," said Conner. "He's got the speed and he's got the hands. He's got the overall size. Blackmon is going to be a vertical threat to the safeties and inside he can block the safeties and the linebackers. He's not scared.

"Overall, he's got good hands. Sometimes he goes out there and catches balls without gloves. We had to force him to wear gloves when he got here. He has great hands and he is going to be contributing to this team a lot."

The rites of spring, young players making an impact and showing they are ready to contribute when the bright lights of September come on. It has happened this spring at Oklahoma State. It has happened with the wide receivers and that is why that is a position for fans to watch on Saturday in the Orange-White game at 6 p.m.

There are two more practices to tune up for that and for other young receivers like Justin Horton, Isaiah Anderson, and Adrian Richards to impress. The Cowboys practice on Wednesday and Thursday and will scrimmage some one of those days.

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