Cowboy Football Is Getting Physical

STILLWATER - It is really hard to do a whole lot other than feature and note the daily practice reports, and we hope you understand. We will give you all the information we can from practice, but really have to rely on the accounts of players and coaches. That said, Sunday was the first day in shoulder pads for the Cowboys, and according to most observers it was a good day.

The players, young and old alike, seemed to understand that it was time to turn it up a notch. The coaching staff isn't out to giving any awards over a good physical start to padded practices but it does produce some smiles.

"We're pleased with where we are after a few practices," said head coach Mike Gundy in an upbeat tone. "It was good to get in shoulder pads today and give our players a chance to be involved in real football.

"It was nice to do that. We've got a number of young players that are showing signs of having opportunities to play as freshmen. We have some more mature players that are having a good camp, in particular Kendall Hunter and Ugo Chinasa are having good camps and have done well the first few days.

"I like where we're at with Orie Lemon, he's moving around well. Safeties Markelle (Martin) and Johnny (Thomas) are performing like we would have anticipated."

Linebackers coach Glenn Spencer said review of the practice video revealed a good physical starting point for the Cowboys who will put on full pads for the first time on Tuesday.

"We watched the film after we got in today, and I made the comment to Bill (Young, defensive coordinator)," said Spencer. "I said athletically now we don't have a drop off, none at all.

"Let's not kid ourselves. You can't replace whatever, a 1,000, 1,200, or 1,800 reps that you had between (Andre) Sexton and (Patrick) Lavine. Athletically, there is no dropoff and it is just a matter of time.

"A lot of practice, what do we have 27 to go, a couple of scrimmages and get into game week and we'll be better and make strides. Just the want to and the physical ability we haven't had much of a dropoff at all," Spencer continued.

Linebacker Orie Lemon agreed.

"It was very impressive even to see those young guys out there getting ready to hit," said Lemon. "They came in ready to go. This will be a very physical and tough football team.

"We are grinding it out right now and we will continue to grind it out knowing what we want to accomplish and that will continue to motivate us."

Lemon is the unquestioned starter at middle linebacker but he has veteran Tolu Moala and freshman Caleb Lavey, who arrived in the spring, both pushing behind him.

Justin Gent is a veteran at weakside linebacker and there is talented redshirt freshman LeRon Furr wanting playing time. The star linebacker position is downright inexperienced but James Thomas, a veteran player, and freshmen Joe Mitchell and Shaun Lewis are talented and determined.

"I told the kids after practice today that competition is a better coach than I will ever be," said Spencer, a former head coach at the Division II level. "That's the main motivator that you need for a great defense and for someone to get better."

Lemon said, "We need all the help we can get because we know when we come off the field the guys behind us need to be ready. I think those young players came in here like they had been together before and they haven't been acting like freshmen."

That extends into the secondary where young pups like corners Devin Hedgepeth and Justin Gilbert and safeties Zach Craig and Levocheya Cooper are all hungry and eager to play. They are not timid.

All of that said, the head coach said he is still evaluating and is waiting until he sees more before proclaiming his Cowboys a physical football team.

"Not really, in comparison to last year when we had enough returning players that we could anticipate what they would do on game day," answered Gundy about physicality. "There are enough young guys out there that we are a few weeks away from having a feel to how they will play and how they will hold up when it gets physical."

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