Spring Football: Running Backs Love Offense

STILLWATER - Scrimmage number one more than a week ago finished lightning fast as head coach Mike Gundy and his staff squeezed in 115 plays in just over an hour. Friday, there was a team period of scrimmage followed by a number of two-minute scenarios and the scrimmage wasn't as lightning fast and it wasn't as productive for the offense but the defense may have had its best day so far this spring.

"We kept the offense out of the end zone, so any day where we keep the offense out of the end zone then I claim it a pretty good day for the defense," said senior starting middle linebacker Orie Lemon.

"We need to emphasize even more the third person coming in striping and riping. We got some turnovers today but it wasn't enough," Lemon added.

"We were just making some mistakes that we don't normally make," said quarterback Brandon Weeden. "There is a flow and you have to get positive plays and build on them and we had too many negative plays.

"Today was one of the more bumpy days for the offense. We were in that two-minute situation and we were thinking we needed to score on the first play and what we needed to do was complete passes, get first downs, move the chains, and keep the clock on our side," Weeden continued.

From on offensive standpoint, neither the head coach nor the new offensive coordinator were happy but they also weren't pushing any panic buttons. The offense has been pretty solid in making progress so far in the spring.

"We had a good practice today," said Gundy. "It was sloppy at the end. We had some two-minute scrimmage and you can tell we had some new players out there. We had problems understanding the clock, getting out of bounds, things like that are really important in those situations.

"We had procedure penalties and we gave up some big plays defensively in situations that you don't want to give up big plays. We will work that again next week, take a segment of time and work some more in two-minute situations. We weren't very good in our execution on offense and on defense we were better but still made some key mistakes."

"We weren't ready for that," said Dana Holgorsen referring to the two-minute offense. "I'm not worried about it. We're still learning the offense.

"I can't make these guys catch it and we'll be better the next time we do it. It is more important right now to learn the offense than it is to put ourselves in a two-minute situation. The two-minute offense needs to be ready when we play Washington State," said Holgorsen.

As for the Oklahoma State running backs, they have taken to this spread offense like fish to water. The general suspicion was this offense would cut back on the importance and role of the running backs at the school known as "Tailback U." The truth is running backs, and especially Kendall Hunter, may get more touches than ever.

"This is really an exciting time for the guys in the backfield," said running backs coach Robert Gillespie. "Having a guy like Kendall Hunter and Travis Miller, those guys are really excited about the opportunity to catch the ball out of the backfield a little bit more.

"That is what Coach (Dana) Holgorsen has brought, the excitement to the backfield and understanding that they are going to catch a lot of balls in space this year."

"The new offense is in and it really fits me with my speed and shiftiness," said Travis Miller. "I am really excited and can't wait for this season with this offense to get started.

"We still have a lot of work to do as running backs but I think we are also adjusting and going with this offense pretty good. I can make a lot of plays in this offense. It is a great offense for the running backs," added Miller.

All of the backs have jumped in the circle with both feet. Just like in Friday's scrimmage, throughout the spring the running backs, Kendall Hunter, Travis Miller, Jeremy Smith, and Dexter Pratt have all made plays. They have all broke off runs but also caught passes and found a way to get loose in the open field.

"They have all bought into it and they have rallied around the idea in this offense," explained Gillespie. "At first it was hard for them to understand it but once they got out there and they saw how everything ties in together they are just real excited about it.

"Take a guy like Bryant Ward, who really shouldn't fit into this offense but with his work ethic he does. He is a real leader and the backfield has rallied around him. He also fits in this offense because he loves football and is going to do what it takes to be successful."

That is not surprising as Ward missed Friday's scrimmage as he is out with a ruptured sleen. He ruptured it in the spring's first scrimmage.

"You know he ruptured it during the scrimmage and kept playing," said Gillespie of Ward, who has certainly earned a tough man reputation.

While Hunter and Miller have the talents to more naturally fit in the offense and capitalizing on getting the ball in space it is a little different for redshirt freshmen backs Jeremy Smith and Dexter Pratt. Like Ward, they are bigger, but they are both very athletic and both have proven to be good at catching the football.

Smith missed a week of practice after spring break as he was suffering from what might best be described as "spring fever." The Tulsa World first reported his absence and said it was more personal issues than it was football issues. It was never completely clarified. Football players have been known to have those second thoughts and some give in and quit the game. Smith came back and with his practices since has not looked back. He has been double determined to make an impact.

"You have to be real with yourself, people can say football is fun every day and practicing is fun but it's not," said Gillespie.

"As a coach I have to be understanding of that and I have to motivate them and make them aware of the big picture. Show them that football is not just the best thing for the next three or four years of their life but it is going to help the character that builds for them as a father and everything else he wants to be after he leaves OKlahoma State.

"Jeremy Smith is a great football player and great young man and he has come back and had a really good spring. The sky is the limit for him," Gillispie continued.

Not only is this offense fun to play in, Gillespie says it is a lot of fun to coach. His backgroud is in catching the football as a running back, so he can easily sell it with passion to his players.

"That was one of the reasons that I decided to go to Florida because I realized that a back my size was going to have to catch the ball out of the backfield," said Gillespie, who finished his college career as the second all-time leading pass catching running back at Florida.

"It's fun for me to coach because everybody is involved. More than last season and coming from South Carolina I had learned the option offense and now I get the chance to learn another offense. This offense gets everyone involved and forces the defense to cover the entire field and opens up big running lanes for a back like Kendall Hunter."

Give credit to Gillespie and the other running backs as they have accomplished something that Gundy, Holgorsen, and just about every member of the media has been unable to do. Hunter does speak, he just does it with his fellow backs and Gillespie.

"We have a good group and we get into our meeting room, close the door, and he is a totally different guy," said Gillespie. "He talks and he is a great personality.

"He really genuinely loves to play football and he is truly one of those guys that every time he touches the ball you hold your breath. He is the most talented I have ever had a chance to work with or as a player that I ever had the chance to play with."

Oklahoma State fans are looking forward to seeing Hunter bounce back to the kind of season he had as an All-American in 2008. They are looking forward to a preview at 6 p.m. Saturday, April 17, in the Orange-White Game. Before that there are two other practices next week as spring practice really starts to wind down.

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