Spring Football: Shorts, Helmets, Wind & LBs

STILLWATER - With the cold front that blew into Stillwater and caused a real chill inside Boone Pickens Stadium on Wednesday, the Oklahoma State Cowboys went in shorts and helmets for their 11th of the allotted 15 spring practices. The practice was scheduled to include a lot of review on offense and continued installation of the new offense.

Fundamentals were a priority throughout the two-hour, 20-minute workout including a lot of basics on the defensive side of the football. The team is scheduled for its second major scrimmage of the spring on Friday. The last time the team scrimmaged they blew through 115 plays in just over an hour. The scrimmage on Friday will take place around 5 p.m. after going through some practice work.

The early word on the Orange-White game at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 17, is that it could be a lot more up tempo than in the past and may last around an hour and a half.

One area where the Cowboys are going through a major transition is at linebacker. It helps that Orie Lemon returns in the middle after missing last season because he suffered a torn ACL on the Monday before the season opener with Georgia.

The other two starters, Patrick Lavine at weakside and Andre Sexton at star, are both gone as is the capable fill-in for Lemon in the middle in Donald Booker. Fans are anxious to see the new offense but they are also wanting to see the defense and the new personnel that dot the starting line-up on defense.

"There's a lot of question marks with us and we're out there every day, so I can just imagine how the public feels," said Cowboys linebackers coach Glenn Spencer.

"We've got a lot of guys that have not been seasoned with game reps. We've got some we forced reps on them last year. From my perspective of having Justin Gent playing behind Patrick (Lavine) every chance I would get I would put him in for a series here and there. Those reps were just invaluable but there are a lot of question marks."

The answers, it may be best said, have come in parts. It is a gradual process and the scrimmages are designed to provide the biggest answers.

"In the scrimmages we are seeing a lot of good and a lot of bad, and realize that we have a lot of work to get to the level that we all want to be at," added Spencer.

The real key to the rebuilding at linebacker is Lemon. The coaching staff felt he was the best linebacker on the team going into last season. Now a year removed and coming off that ACL reconstruction he really needs to be the best linebacker for the Cowboys.

"He's missing a step and just got released right before the (spring) break," explained Spencer, who has done a fabulous job coaching the linebackers. "Before the break I was just feeding him some reps here and there to knock some rust off slowly.

"He has a ways to go and the big thing here on out is the fatigue factor. That knee gets fatigued a little faster than it will be in a month or two.

"We all know what Orie Lemon can do. We'll limit him as we let him get back into it and that is a good opportunity to look for a backup. We'll need to play five or six every game."

A good way to describe the situation is that the Cowboys said goodbye to 249 tackles after last season with the graduations of Lavine, Sexton, and Booker.

Lemon sat out with the injury while Justin Gent, James Thomas and Tolu Moala mean they return 58 tackles. There are new players that are going to have to step up and play as well.

One candidate for that is at "star" linebacker where Joe Mitchell, who is fresh off returning to the OSU campus after getting caught up in an academic controversy he had nothing to do with at his high school alma mater forced him to go home and re-take Algebra. Mitchell is physically what you are looking for and seems to catch on fast.

"He's changed positions because last summer, and the few weeks in camp that we had him, he was a safety," said Spencer. "His body changing and we have moved him to star. He looks the part and the same thing at that position.

"James Thomas got some reps last season to spell Andre. Not a lot, but those reps were gold. Same thing with Tolu (Moala), while LeRon Furr and Caleb Lavey have never seen it before.

"You look from last year to this and look at how many reps of experience we have lost with Andre Sexton and Patrick Lavine and even Donald Booker it has to be thousands of reps in game speed, so we've lost that. James Thomas, Joe Mitchell, Tolu, LeRon, Caleb, those guys have just got to play."

The crazy thing is that they have continued to work and improve while defensing an advanced offense.

"First day of spring practice and they are motioning to empty, and that is something that we'd do the last couple of practices of spring for different looks at places I've been in the past," said Spencer. "It was full tilt from day one with this offense.

"Our guys have had to learn on the run and it does build on the mental aspect of playing. We have to in our drills focus on the fundamentals and that we have to hit and tackle and square away that part of it."

They get another exam on Friday when the Big 12 officials show up and it is time for scrimmage number two of the spring.

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