Gundy: Cowboys Are Young But Talented

STILLWATER – Oklahoma State fans should not be surprised to see a number of 18-year-old freshmen play in Saturday's nationally televised season opener against Washington State, Cowboy head coach Mike Gundy said during Monday's weekly news conference. Gundy says he's comfortable in playing as many as 10 true freshmen against the Cougars at Boone Pickens Stadium.

Five of those players – defensive tackle Davidell Collins, linebacker Shaun Lewis, cornerback Devin Hedgepeth, offensive tackle Daniel Koenig and running back Joseph Randle – are just 18 years old.

"We're young in a lot of spots but again I'm comfortable with the athleticism and the future," Gundy said.

"I think we're farther along right now athletically than we were when we took this over (six years ago)," Gundy added. "I said earlier this year that I think the players that are going to compete for us will progress quicker than the group that just left because I think our staff is established and our program is established.

"It's hard to predict how young kids are going to play. The only thing I'm going to say is I think this group will play better earlier than the last group that was here," Gundy continued.

Oklahoma State lost 471 career starts off the 2009 team, and returns just 126 career starts (but 13 of those are from middle linebacker Orie Lemon, who missed all of the 2009 season with a knee injury, and 16 are by Wilson Youman, who now plays defensive end and not tight end where he started those 16 games).

Offensively, running back Kendall Hunter and offensive guard Lane Taylor have combined for 27 career starts while the rest of the offense has a total of 27 career starts, including none by 26-year-old Brandon Weeden, who last started a game at quarterback in 2001 at Santa Fe High School in Edmond, Okla.

The Cowboys will be attempting to replace longtime standouts like offensive tackle Russell Okung (four-year starter), quarterback Zac Robinson (three-year starter), and wide receiver Dez Bryant (two-year starter).

Defensively, the projected starters Saturday include linebackers James Thomas and Justin Gent, both of whom will be making their first career starts, and cornerbacks Andrew McGee and Brodrick Brown, each of whom have started one college game.

Eleven Cowboys are expected to make their first career starts – six on offense and five on defense – against the Cougars.

"I don't know if I'm ever comfortable with not having experienced players there. Running backs, wide receivers, defensive backs are young but they are guys that are talented and I think they'll gain ground quick," Gundy said.

"This is a very good freshman class that we have right now but a lot of the competition is instigated because they have a chance to play on Saturday. The last couple of years we had so many returning starters that there wasn't as much competition to get on the field.

"As you know, we play approximately 75 plays on defense, and the (first-teamers) will be out there 50 or 60 of them, and your twos will get 15 or 20 plays based on how they play. So they're going to get on the field. If you're a freshman and you know you have a chance to get on the field, from a twos standpoint, then the competition goes up. The greatest thing there is is competition at any position, and there are a number of spots that young players to get a chance in the first game."

Gundy said he will be interested in seeing how players who were competing a year ago for Cape Coral (Fla.) High School, Huntsville (Texas) High School, and Derby (Kans.) High School will do in front of more than 50,000 fans inside Boone Pickens Stadium.

"Well our guys have got to learn to play together and compete. We had a number of players the last two or three years that carried this football team, and they were returning starters and they were veterans, and it was important to them. But these guys have paid a price. They've worked extremely hard. They worked hard in the spring, they worked very hard in the summer on their own, (and) we've worked hard in the preseason so they've earned the right to win," said Gundy.

"But they have to go out and play hard, and they have to play together. There will be a lot of good plays but then there will be some plays that aren't, so they'll have to rally and come together as a group, and compete. That's really where we're at with some of the younger players. Athletically, they're going to be fine (but) they need to learn to compete."

Blatnick, Johnson To Play?
Gundy was evasive when asked if Jamie Blatnick and Victor Johnson would play in the season opener. Blatnick, a junior defensive end, and Johnson, a junior free safety, are both listed as second-teamers on the depth chart. Both have been suspended and spent several weeks on the sideline this fall riding the StairMaster as punishment for separate run-ins with the law over the summer.

"I'm pretty caught up to date on where we're at with Jamie and we're going to have those discussions with him this week, and then make the decision on what we're going to do with his options for Saturday," Gundy said. "I've got all the information on Jamie, but there is still some out there on Victor and I am waiting until I get all of that before I make a final decision."

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