Cowboys Put On The Pads

STILLWATER - There are several key dates during fall camp. There's report day, the first practice, and Friday evening the Oklahoma State Cowboys entered the next level of the NCAA acclimatization stair-step when they practiced with shoulder pads for the first time. Sunday will be the first day in full pads, but that isn't as significant as Friday.

Head coach Mike Gundy predicted the physicality 24 hours in advance when he said his players were more physical in helmets and shorts than he would want. Gundy got that physical play as during drills and work in the first hour the offensive line played very physical, but the defense was the overall better side of the ball in the practice, according to the head coach.

"It was a great day for the defense," said Gundy after the two-hour, 30-minute practice on the grass practice field. "The offense was sloppy. We had good effort from both sides.

"It was warm, which was good, drained them, pushed them, and guys really practiced hard but the defense played with much more enthusiasm and the offense was sloppy. We have to bear down and compete on that (offensive) side of the ball, but I like the defense and the plays they are making."

There were all the usual periods including inside drill, pass pro, 7-on-7, and team. Much of that was done after the first open hour of practice, but Gundy identified exclusively defensive players as the playmakers of the day.

"Perrish Cox, Orie Lemon, Andre Sexton, Victor Johnson, Jeremiah Price are guys that showed up and made some plays today," Gundy said.

"It's much more physical (in the trenches). It's a lot better way to practice. I liked the push that our defense was getting. I like the aggressiveness and their ability to play in the backfield and run to the football."

While the defense will come under a critical eye throughout the preseason and even more of a glare from the coaches, media, and fans alike during the season, starting with the opener against Georgia, you can look at the defensive tackles as a predictor of how well the defense plays overall.

Friday was really the first day to get a gauge on the tackles with Derek Burton, Swanson Miller, Shane Jarka, Chris Donaldson, and redshirt freshman Nigel Nicholas being the primary contributors. You'd have to rate Friday as a good one. How well they play all season will go a long way to determining how well the ends play and pass rush, how well the linebackers stop the run and blitz, and how long the secondary has to cover receivers. The tackles are a big thing.

"You're right, but understand the defensive tackles have picked it up a lot," said defensive end Jeremiah Price. "Swanson, Burton, Chris, Shane, Nigel ... everybody has picked it up a lot from last spring. Everybody is playing harder, playing faster, assignment football and I think we are going to be pretty good."

"I work with the defensive line and in our meetings they are real attentive and they seem to understand what we are trying to accomplish," said new defensive coordinator Bill Young, who I can guarantee has their full attention in meetings. "It is critical where we get that down to where there is no thinking involved, it is just automatic reaction type attitude there."

Price can usually see how the action is going inside out of the corner of his eye, and if he is seeing a double team then it isn't going well. The linebackers get the better view especially the middle linebacker. Senior Orie Lemon has his eye on the tackles and they have his confidence.

"They have improved a lot from last year," said Lemon. "They are getting more penetration. They got bigger in the weight room this summer to start off before getting out here for camp. They have improved a lot quickness-wise, so they are able to do their stunts better than what they were doing."

Young seconds Lemon's observation that the defensive tackles ar both bigger and quicker. "No question, Rob (Glass) did a great job with them," said Young. "He and his (strength) staff have really busted their tail and I can't say enough good things about them."

Now the hope is that come the middle of the season, we will all be saying those kinds of things about the defensive tackles. It can be hard to really determine how well defensive tackles are playing. The best indicator is yards per rush, especially on runs that are tackle to tackle, and how many sacks and hurries the defense has along with the opponent's pass completion percentage.

The play of the tackles isn't always indicative of their tackles and sacks, but more of the overall production of the defense and how many tackles and sacks the defensive ends and linebackers have.

Saturday will be another busy day for the defensive tackles and the entire Cowboy squad as it starts with a 9:15 a.m. practice in helmets and shoulder pads. After meetings and lunch the team will be involved in picture taking and interviews with media day activities.

Finally, there is Fan Appreciation Day and a case of writer's cramp for the likes of quarterback Zac Robinson, wide receiver Dez Bryant, running back Kendall Hunter, offensive tackle Russell Okung, cornerback Perrish Cox, and head coach Mike Gundy. Fans need to remember one autograph item per person, per player, starting at 5 p.m. in Gallagher-Iba Arena and Athletic Center. Also, fans can come out and watch the first hour of the practice at 9:15 a.m.

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