Fall Camp: Grading The Cowboys

One of our annual routines at the close of fall camp is to go position by position with our observations and collective feedback from coaches and players to give you a feeling for where Oklahoma State is heading down the stretch in preparation for the season opener. The shortened camp impedes on that a little but Mike Gundy gave media and fans a decent amount of time to observe. So, here we go ...

Quarterback
The injury to Zac Robinson, while not serious, did send OSU fans into a mild panic and that was helped along by "Chicken Little" reporting by several in the media that can't help themselves.

Robinson has not limped since the day of the injury and has suited up and been out for each practice. He has done more and more each day on his own and is expected to get back into reps with the offense this week.

The beauty of Robinson taking back is that Alex Cate and Brandon Weeden have gained a ton of reps and valuable experience running with the first-team offense and against the first defense. That has been good and bad. Gundy has talked about a lot of turnovers the defense has had in practice. The quarterbacks have admitted that some were good plays by the defense but some were learning mistakes by them.

Cate has shown signs of improving. Weeden has lost weight and added some quickness and mobility to his game that already includes an NFL-caliber rifle arm. Gundy just needs to chose one and it won't be easy because what is lacking is maybe the most defining ingredient to the answer, game experience.

Clint Chelf has also had reps which have shown his promise. But he is not ready to battle for the backup job which was a very high expectation of the freshman.

The good news is that before he pulled up with the hammy, Robinson was playing fantastic. His arm was obviously stronger. He was flying the ball into the hands of all receivers including being really on line with Dez Bryant. He was moving confident and acting very comfortable with a senior quarterback role that includes being one of the top faces of the program.

Robinson has that quality of being a star and making all of his teammates feel that they are stars right along with him. He has an inclusive personality. Gundy said he had a problem this summer, very similar with the other hamstring and after a week or so was fine. There is no reason based on how he has looked walking on and out of practice and reports of his progress to think it will be any different this time.

Camp Grade: B-, if Gundy names a backup quarterback based on this past week and scrimmage performances. It was the major objective. The negative is just that Zac had any injury at all.
Incomplete, if Gundy can't decide between Cate and Weeden.

Running Back
If the season goes according to the what the Cowboys have at the running back position then look out Florida and BCS championship game because here come the Cowboys.

Kendall Hunter has been his usual spectacular self with great effort and looking sharp in everything he does. He is very tough for defenders to get a solid shot on. Keith Toston has performed great and looks like he may have dropped a few pounds to add a touch more speed to his power. Beau Johnson had a one day out of practice for a big hit, but he is another that has done nothing but improve.

Now you have the youth brigade, and they are good. Kye Staley is down from 241 pounds (high) to 212 pounds (consistent) but was as low as 205. Staley is running great, catches the ball really well and has the confidence of his head coach. Travis Miller has improved and put on a few pounds on his frame. He has also taken on a big load of work in camp.

The two freshmen have also done well with Union product Jeremy Smith being very impressive and Dexter Pratt improving every day drawing plus comments from Gundy on Friday.

Add new running backs coach Robert Gillespie to this mix as he is more demanding especially in the fundamentals and the toughness characteristics of his players.

The bonus now is OSU has two fullbacks to play with as Bryant "Stillwater" Ward is on scholarship and is experienced, while David Paulsen is a 6-3, 250-pounder who can punish. Paulsen is coming along and learning the system quickly. Expect more fullback play this season.

Camp Grade: A+

Wide Receiver
A lot of fans would like to take Dez Bryant out of the mix when discussing and grading the wide receiver position. They are concerned with who else Robinson will throw to. This is simple. For every five times (including returns) that Bryant touched the ball last season, he scored a touchdown.

The running game has and will continue this season to be the major play off throwing the ball to Bryant in this offense. When defenses put eight or more in the box, then Robinson will look to Dez. When the defense backs off the box and double or triple, teams or brackets Dez in coverage then look for Kendall Hunter or another back or Robinson to run. This just in, Bryant is as good a wide receiver, in my opinion, as I have ever seen at Oklahoma State.

That said there are other options in the passing game. Oh and don't forget throwing to the backs, which I think could happen a little more this season. DeMarcus Conner will start at receiver. He has improved as a pass catcher, but is a devastating blocker that continues to improve at that important role. He gives up his body and is physical on linebackers, safeties, and even defensive ends.

In camp Josh Cooper, Justin Blackmon, and Hubert Anyiam have stuck out among the veterans. Isaiah Anderson has speed but needs to catch the ball better and major improvement has been seen out of Adrian Richards, who is a huge target at nearly 6-5. Two freshmen have played well enough to be in the mix at receiver. Tracy Moore is big, physical, and catches the ball nearly every time. Gundy likes the way he has picked up the offense. Dallas product Michal Harrison is a big time athlete that is capable of big plays and again has not played like a freshman.

Camp Grade: A+

Tight End
The tight ends have kind of been forgotten with the "big dog" Brandon Pettigrew gone. The good news that while they haven't made huge plays they also haven't stunted the performance of the offense. Wilson Youman is better -- better at blocking, which was his strength, and better at catching passes.

Jamal Mosley is better at blocking, which wasn't his strength, and he is really good at catching passes. Justin Horton is fast and is getting better. Cooper Bassett is strong and really improving his blocking and pass catching quickly. Doug Meacham is coaching the group from the ground floor up and leaving no step skipped. It is something that he didn't have to do as much with Pettigrew.

The tight ends aren't great, but they are, as a group, solid.

Camp Grade: B

Offensive Line
It is really starting to look like you will see that all senior offensive line that was rumored in the summer. Let's start at left tackle where Russell Okung has not just pancaked defensive teammates in camp, he plants them, at times driving them into the ground. Okung may be the absolute best football player on the entire team. Read that again, RUSSELL OKUNG MAY BE THE ABSOLUTE BEST FOOTBALL PLAYER ON THE ENTIRE TEAM!

Noah Franklin is getting pushed as Andrew Morgan would really like to play. Franklin is fighting for this job with everything he has as the fifth-year senior wants it bad and physically he is more than ready. Morgan is good too and has really used the summer to improve his conditioning and lose a few pounds.

Andrew Lewis is fantastic at center and I think he will play in the NFL too. Lewis is smart, already has a degree, and knows all the calls on the line, and is physical. He loves Oklahoma State and will fight for the team and his teammates.

The move of Andrew Mitchell to guard may be another genius one for Joe Wickline as Mitchell pushed Brady Bond to get ready in the spring, competing at tackle and now plays alongside him at guard. The right side is solid. Key backups on the line include center Grant Garner, guard Nick Martinez, and NEO transfer Levy Adcock at tackle.

Another camp mission was to check out the newcomers. You will love freshman tackles Michael Bowie and Parker Graham. Brandon Webb is going to be really good too. That trio will push for starting roles, likey after redshirting this season, as soon as next spring.

Camp Grade: A+

Defensive Line
It is better but not nearly as good as you would like it to be. Let's start at tackle where Oklahoma State fans need to have full and complete admiration for two players. Derek Burton has sacrificed for the good of the team. Burton, who is an OSU legacy, has moved to tackle full-time despite being about 10 to 15 pounds light for the position. He is tough and battles the big men and as Mike Gundy likes to say is getting better at it. His athleticism will help him make some plays, but his frame will cost him at times. He has to look for ways to make up for it.

Shane Jarka reminds me of a defensive version of former OSU center Ben Buie. Buie left pieces of his body scattered across the Big 12 and fought pain every day to play. Jarka does the same thing. We won't say where it hurts so as to not clue in opponents, but fans just remember Jarka plays with pain every day. Gundy talks of getting 15 plays a game out of Jarka, but we think you will get more.

Chris Donaldson has really improved and has made plays in camp. Donaldson could really help. Nigel Nicholas is ultra quick and needs to get bigger and is getting close. He has a chance to really be good, but remember he is just a redshirt freshman. Swanson Miller is big enough, strong enough, athletic enough to be a factor. The question is will he bring it?

Another bonus here is that if all other positions on defense play as well as they are capable, they will lift the defense and the line up to a greater level.

A guess, and just a guess here based on what we've seen in camp, juco transfer Horace Hubbard and freshman Anthony Rogers will redshirt this season.

Defensive end has improved. The ends get better every day just going against the great Russell Okung and ultra experienced Brady Bond. The expected starters are Jeremiah Price and Ugo Chinasa. Price is one of my "picks to click." That is a Kevin Klintworth (associate A.D. and SID) term and it means I think Price will be greatly noticed as a playmaker and contributor this season.

Chinasa has all the physical skills and is getting pushed. Behind them are two players that came in together and are ready to play. Jamie Blatnick is relentless and a real physical player. Richetti Jones is as healthy as he has been and has that burst back and is playing like he is hungry.

Darius Hart is improving everyd ay and could be a factor by Big 12 time with some experience. The pup is freshman Andrew Hudson and he will redshirt, but has made some plays and plays with a great motor.

Camp Grade: C

Linebacker
This could be a big strength of the defense. Not only are the top four experienced but the combination of "star" Andre Sexton, middle Orie Lemon, weak Patrick Lavine, and bouncer Donald Booker have strength, speed, desire, and have shown a strong ability to make plays. It has to be the senior aspect but the foursome are playing with a huge amount of enthusiasm and emotion. Booker is a big hitter, but the other four have shown that tendency as well. They also seem to be taking to Bill Young's defensive schemes and the position coaching of Glenn Spencer.

From a depth standpoint, that may be the best aspect of the linebackers discovered in camp. James Thomas is playing really well behind Sexton at the star. Tolu Moala has lost weight, close to 30 pounds, and he is playing well inside. Justin Gent is really ready to play behind Lavine. There is a solid two deep and Booker is like a fourth starter. The young linebackers in Jordan Barnes and LeRon Furr are showing promise, but look for them to redshirt.

Camp Grade: B+

Secondary
If the Cowboys get an improved pass rush then the secondary may go down this season as one of the better in Oklahoma State recent history. Okay, I know, you are saying, 'Robert, has those "orange shades" on again.' But the cornerbacks have been excellent in camp as the starters of Perrish Cox, a sure fire NFL draft pick, and Terrance Anderson have played well.

the real bonus is the kind of performance that DB coach Jason Jones has seen out of Maurice Gray and Brodrick Brown. That pair have had their share of picks and passes defended. Gray may have had the best fall camp of all. Brown plays well over his 5-10 size. Andrew McGee came in from junior college in the fall and he has played well enough to be second team or be in the mix and rotation at corner. He has also shown some big hits in camp in drills with the wide receivers.

At safety the news is as good as Gundy has bragged more on this position than any other in post-practice news conferences. They are young but the combination of big hitter and senior Lucien Antoine, big hitter and sure tackler Victor Johnson along with Markelle Martin, and perhaps Gundy and DeForest's "pick to click" (if they had one) at safety in Johnny Thomas. The very athletic Thomas is a junior beast at safety.

They are only going to get better, and add in freshman Daytawion Lowe, who can also play corner, and it is really solid. Senior transfer Walker "Texas Ranger" Smith is also a favorite of Gundy's and will likely get plenty of special teams duty.

Camp Grade: A

Specialist
Dan Bailey is solid on PAT and field goal as he is perfect on PATs and 17 of 23 career on field goals. I know, he hasn't made any long ones but he hasn't had the chances with this offense. The operation on kicks was a concern coming in but snapper Marc Yerry and holder Taylor "Soko" Sokolosky are getting better every day and will be fine.

Punter Quinn Sharp started camp a little inconsistent but is now to the point that he is killing the football. Get ready because Sharp, when he is on, has a Howitzer for a foot. Do you really need a rundown on returns. Just say Bryant, Cox, and Johnson. That all that is needed.

Camp Grade: A

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