March 10, 2014
STILLWATER - The Oklahoma State football team opens spring practice today. The Cowboys will practice for a week, take spring break off, then return for three more weeks of practice. Some spring notes:
Mark Your Calendars For the Orange Blitz
Fans wanting a first look and a chance to interact with the 2014 Oklahoma State football team can get both when the Cowboys host the Orange Blitz at 1:30 p.m. on April 5 in Boone Pickens Stadium. OSU will practice for approximately 90 minutes that day with fans invited to take in the action and then go down to the field to visit with the players and staff in a casual, fun setting when practice concludes. The event is different from previous years' spring finales in that the format will be one of a true practice with things such as position work, one-on-one drills and team periods as opposed to a scrimmage with the score kept.
Oklahoma State's spring football calendar includes Pro Day at Boone Pickens Stadium on March 13. Players will perform the vertical jump, the standing broad jump and the bench press in the weight room, then will go outside for the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle run, three-cone drill, 60-yard shuttle run and position work.
Oklahoma State returns six offensive starters, four defensive starters, its kicker and its punter from last year. Head coach Mike Gundy welcomes back 20 offensive letterwinners and 16 defensive letterwinners. The Cowboys lost nine offensive starters and eight defensive starters. All told, OSU lost 14 offensive lettermen, 15 defensive lettermen and three specialists who earned letters last year.
The Veteran Starters
The Cowboys return a trio of three-year lettermen in defensive tackle James Castleman, offensive lineman Daniel Koenig and fullback/special teamer Teddy Johnson. Only six players on the OSU roster have started 10 or more games in their career with Castleman (24 career starts) and Koenig (22 career starts) leading the way. Receiver Jhajuan Seales, defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson were full-time starters a year ago, with quarterback J.W. Walsh, offensive lineman Chris Grisbhy and running back Desmond Roland all starting at least five games in 2013.
Back In The Fold
Safety Larry Stephens and linebacker Demarcus Sherod return to the field this spring. Stephens has performed well on special teams throughout his career and was slated to see increased action at safety until he suffered an injury in the 2013 season opener. Sherod lost all of 2013 to an injury sustained in the fall. Also back on the field are receivers Austin Hays and Blake Webb. Hays missed most of 2013 due to injury, but was a strong performer as a true freshman in 2012. Webb is a speedster who earned his way onto the field as a true freshman in 2012 but lost most of 2013 to injury.
Coming Out of Redshirt
The stakes are higher for a talented group of players who redshirted the 2013 season. Among those for whom a productive spring could land them a spot in the playing time rotation and perhaps even more are offensive lineman Zachary Crabtree and Jesse Robinson, cornerback Darius Curry, defensive linemen Vili Leveni, Vincent Taylor and Ben Hughes, receiver Ra'Shaad Samples and running back Corion Webster.
Running back Devon Thomas, receiver Tyreek Hill, quarterback Mason Rudolph, tight end Jordan Frazier and linebacker Devante Averette all signed with Oklahoma State as part of the 2014 recruiting class but enrolled early and will participate in spring drills. Hill and Averette both come from the junior college ranks, with Hill from Garden City CC in Kansas and Averette from Ellsworth CC in Iowa. Thomas (Broken Arrow HS), Rudolph (Northwestern HS in Rock Hill, S.C.) and Frazier (Lighthouse Christian HS in Springfield, Mo.) all played high school ball last year.
With 17 starters and 32 letterwinners gone from 2013, Oklahoma State lost a significant amount of production. Among the group of players lost are consensus All-America cornerback Justin Gilbert, first-team All-Big 12 performers Caleb Lavey, Calvin Barnett, Parker Graham and Shaun Lewis and second-team All-Big 12 performers Clint Chelf, Josh Stewart, Daytawion Lowe and Kye Staley. On the defensive side of the ball, departed seniors accounted for 78 percent of OSU's tackles, 73 percent of OSU's turnovers forced, 87 percent of OSU's forced fumbles and 78 percent of OSU's pass breakups in 2013.
A handful of OSU football players already have a 2014 Big 12 team championship to their name, as receivers Tyreek Hill and Blake Webb, safety Tre Flowers and cornerback Jerel Morrow were all members of the Cowboys Big 12 champion indoor track and field team. Hill won the conference title in the 200 meters by clocking a 20.81 in the finals and was the runner-up in the 60 meters by running a 6.639 - which put him just .005 of a second off of the first-place performer.
Quarterbacks - Coached by Mike Yurcich
OSU lost second-team All-Big 12 quarterback Clint Chelf to graduation, but junior J.W. Walsh gives offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich an experienced, athletic option. Walsh started three games as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and five games as a sophomore in 2013. He finished last season as one of only five sophomore quarterbacks with 20 or more career passing touchdowns and 10 or more career rushing touchdowns. The other four on that list were Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley and BYU's Taysom Hill. Third-year man Daxx Garman is a natural thrower who lacks game experience, but has given reason for optimism on the practice field. True freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early after a decorated high school career, and could see his development accelerated as a result. Even OSU's walk-on quarterbacks are solid, with redshirt freshmen Jake Hubenak and Richard Lagow both capable of making throws.
Highest Career Adjusted QBR For Quarterbacks Returning for 2014 Season (min. 400 action plays)
1. Marcus Mariota, Oregon - 88.7
2. Jameis Winston, Florida State - 88.5
3. Bryce Petty, Baylor - 85.3
4. Nick Marshall, Auburn - 82.9
5. Davis Webb, Texas Tech - 82.6
6. Dak Prescott, Mississippi State - 82.2
7. J.W. Walsh, Oklahoma State - 80.1
8. Kevin Hogan, Stanford - 78.7
9. Brett Hundley, UCLA - 77.2
10. Marquise Williams, North Carolina - 76.2
Wide Receivers - Coached by Kasey Dunn and Jason Ray
Oklahoma State loses three of its top four receivers from 2013 and no player on the current roster has more than 40 career catches or 580 career receiving yards. That said, wide receiver would still be considered a position of relative strength this spring because the Cowboys have stockpiled an impressive group of receivers capable of continuing OSU's recent tradition of pass-catching excellence. The most accomplished player of the group to date is sophomore Jhajuan Seales, who was third on the team last year with 39 catches for 571 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Brandon Sheperd and sophomore Marcell Ateman both have big-play ability on the outside and saw meaningful action a year ago. After missing last season to injury, Austin Hays returns as well. Slot receiver will be an interesting position to watch during the spring, with returner David Glidden (16 catches for 191 yards and a touchdown in his career), joined by an infusion of new talent in redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples and junior college transfer Tyreek Hill, plus the return of Blake Webb from injury. Both Hill (five-star recruit by Scout.com) and Samples (consensus four-star recruit) were highly-regarded recruits.
Running Backs - Coached by Jemal Singleton
Senior Desmond Roland was one of the better running backs in the Big 12 after taking over the starting role last season, but he is not the only name to know in the OSU backfield, as sophomore Rennie Childs and redshirt freshman Corion Webster both have provided reason for optimism behind Roland. Childs gave a boost to the Cowboy offense as a true freshman last year and played an important role in spurring OSU to a close victory over TCU. He finished the season with 41 carries for 200 yards and a touchdown. Webster is an explosive one-cut back who could very well parlay a productive spring and summer into meaningful playing time in the fall.
Offensive Line - Coached by Bob Connelly
First-year offensive line coach Bob Connelly - an 18-year coaching veteran with full-time coaching stops at such programs as Alabama, UCLA, Arizona State and Washington State - is part of an offensive line unit that would be best described as uncertain. Other than senior tackle Daniel Koenig, no player up front has a large enough career work sample to be considered as a proven commodity. Tackle Devin Davis was expected to be among the team's best linemen going into 2013 before a fall camp injury ended his season before it started. He's out for the spring, but should be back for the fall. Junior Chris Grisbhy adjusted to play at the Division I level on the fly last year and will get a shot to earn a role as an everyday starter this spring. Paul Lewis and Zac Veatch both figure to be in the mix on the interior of the line, but neither has carried a heavy workload prior to this spring. Some youngsters to watch include sophomore Michael Wilson and redshirt freshmen Zachary Crabtree and Jesse Robinson.
Defensive Line - Coached by Joe Bob Clements
Similar to the wide receivers, the OSU defensive line lost a lot on paper, but has enough talent that has been waiting in the wings that the dropoff doesn't figure to be severe. Leading the way is junior defensive tackle James Castleman, who has been an important player for two years. Senior Ofa Hautau joins Castleman on the interior of the defensive front following a year in which Hautau saw plenty of meaningful reps as a backup. Junior defensive end Jimmy Bean - a returning starter from last year - came on strong at the end of the 2013 season and a productive spring and summer could vault him into a leadership role. Senior defensive end Sam Wren is an exciting prospect who appears poised for a strong final year thanks to his competitiveness, explosiveness and flexibility. He is athletic enough to do things that many defensive linemen can not. Also figuring to be regulars in the playing time rotation are defensive end Trace Clark and sophomore Emmanuel Ogbah. Both were strong performers in 2013. An interesting prospect to watch is redshirt freshman defensive end Vili Leveni, who packed on 15 pounds since coming to campus and looks ready to contribute ahead of schedule.
Linebackers - Coached by Glenn Spencer
Perhaps no position group was hit harder by graduation than linebacker. As three-year starters and All-Big 12 performers, Shaun Lewis and Caleb Lavey were at the absolute core of the Cowboys' defensive resurgence last year and leave a massive void. Junior Ryan Simmons joined Lewis and Lavey in the 2013 starting lineup and now stands as one of the leaders of the 2014 defense. Simmons played weakside linebacker last year, but returns to his natural middle linebacker position this spring. The most likely candidates to join him with the first group are sophomore Seth Jacobs, junior Kris Catlin, sophomore Demarcus Sherod (who returns after losing 2013 to injury) and junior college transfer Devante Averette.
Cornerbacks - Coached by Van Malone
Junior cornerback Kevin Peterson will carry a leadership role for the first time in his career and he is well-equipped for it. Peterson started 12 games last year and joins James Castleman and Ryan Simmons as the most productive defensive returners for Oklahoma State. What will happen opposite Peterson? Junior Ashton Lampkin figures to get first dibs, based on his strong work on special teams and the fact that he played his share of meaningful reps in 2013. Junior Miketavius Jones is another candidate to work his way into the rotation for the first time. One of the team's fastest players, Jones enters his fourth year in the program and has earned a look from the coaches. Past those three, OSU will look to underclassmen to fill out the playing time rotation. Redshirt freshmen Darius Curry and Jerel Morrow are the most likely candidates.
Safeties - Coached by Tim Duffie
OSU lost a combined 62 career starts with the departure of safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary after the 2013 season. Sophomores Deric Robertson and Jordan Sterns are the two most likely candidates to get first dibs at the vacated starting spots, with senior Larry Stephens also in position to get a look. Stephens was pegged to be in the playing time rotation a year ago before he sustained a season-ending injury in week one.
Specialists - Coached by Robbie Discher
Starting punter/kickoff specialist Kip Smith and starting kicker Ben Grogan are both back from 2013. Smith proved himself to be a capable directional kicker with good hang time, both on punts and kickoffs. Grogan's focus this spring is consistency. He had an important four-field-goal performance in a tight win over TCU last year, and is working to make performances like that the norm. OSU must fill the void left by the departure of holder/backup punter Michael Reichenstein and long snappers Andrew Suter (punts) and Connor Sinko (placements). Redshirt freshman Kaleb Smith figures to take over long snapping duties.
A battle with reigning national champion Florida State at the 2014 Cowboys Classic on Aug. 30 and a trip to Norman for Bedlam on Dec. 6 mark a sensational beginning and a sensational ending to the 2014 Oklahoma State football schedule. Also notable is that the Cowboys return to the Thursday night slate for the first time since 2011 when they host Texas Tech on Sept. 25 in Boone Pickens Stadium.
Aug. 30 - vs. Florida State (Arlington, TX)
Sept. 6 - Missouri State (Stillwater, OK)
Sept. 13 - UTSA (Stillwater, OK)
Sept. 25 - Texas Tech (Stillwater, OK)
Oct. 4 - Iowa State (Stillwater, OK)
Oct. 11 - at Kansas (Lawrence, KS)
Oct. 18 - at TCU (Fort Worth, TX)
Oct. 25 - West Virginia (Stillwater, OK)
Nov. 1 - at Kansas State (Manhattan, KS)
Nov. 15 - Texas (Stillwater, OK)
Nov. 22 - at Baylor (Waco, TX)
Dec. 6 - Oklahoma (Stillwater, OK)