By Nick Snow
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Back when Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy played, spring football used to be about battling for playing time and winning a starting spot for the fall.
There are still some battles taking place daily, but that old adage of competing in the spring to start in the fall has vanished similarly to the wishbone offense and three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running game.
“I think that spring has changed — I know it has for us at Oklahoma State,” Gundy said. “The approach coaches used to have was they were trying to win everything in spring, and we don’t see it that way. We’re in the process of trying to develop young players and kind of refine strategic parts of our game in all three phases. We’re hoping to push them physically in June and July, then go hard with them for a few weeks in August and get ready to play a game.
“Spring ball is really important for us, but our philosophy here at Oklahoma State has changed in our approach to our practices and the way we handle our players.”
Players may not be competing as much for starting roles but with Mike Yurcich taking over as the new offensive coordinator for the Pokes, spring football has given Yurcich and the other new assistants time to catch on to Oklahoma State’s complex system.
“It’s extremely important because you don’t want to go into the fall without any idea of what’s going to happen or how your offense is going to be run,” Oklahoma State redshirt sophomore quarterback J.W. Walsh said. “I think right now we’ve got a pretty good hold on how he’s going to call games — it’s been all about tempo.”
Yurcich and the new coaches aren’t the only ones looking to make sure they’re on top of Oklahoma State’s offense and prepared for when the Cowboys strap on the pads for real in August. Guys like senior running back Jeremy Smith also used this time to mentally prepare for the grueling schedule that lies ahead.
“Spring is pretty much just a big mental thing for me to make sure I get everything down pat,” Smith. “The spring, right here, these are the guys that are actually going to be playing this season. There might be a couple guys here and there, but these are the real guys that are going to be competing during the regular season. You just want to get that feel for the guys and get those mental reps in — make sure that everyone is still good to go and make sure that I’m still good to go.”
A year ago, spring ball was all about competition — namely who will replace Brandon Weeden at quarterback. Even now, Smith knows that nobody’s job is safe.
“Every day is always a competition because you can lose your job in a matter of minutes and days,” Smith said. “That’s why you always have to work hard and set goals.”
And as far as that quarterback competition goes, Gundy said that position is already sealed.
“Clint Chelf is our starter, he takes all the reps with the ones right now,” Gundy said. “The other guys compete out there, but I don't necessarily feel like there’s a battle out there to start in the first game. I think with the way that he performed and the way J.W. Walsh performed in certain situations, it’s their job to lose with whatever situation it is on the field. Wes Lunt continues to get better, and Daxx Garman gets reps for us. We’re in an unusual situation and I’m not sure we have all the answers or the right way to handle it but we do get a lot of reps in practice and they’re getting quality work.”
But where Gundy might have been a little nervous heading into the spring season, the Oklahoma State coach seems a little more at ease this season.
“I feel good about our football team,” Gundy said. “I feel good about our program. I’ve said that for the last two or three years. We’re a lot further along as a football team. ...We’re going to be as competitive as anybody in the country we play. I don’t know that there’s anybody out there that we play, if we played well and took care of the football, there’s nobody we couldn’t beat.”
The Cowboys may not be on edge as much this spring with most of the marquee positions filled with returning starters, but that doesn’t mean things are completely stagnant.
“We’re still trying to get used to some different things,” Smith said. “We’re moving a lot faster on offense than last year, but overall, I think we’ve had a really good spring. We’re just trying to adjust to some new things here and there, but I feel good about this team and where we’re at as a group.”
Stillwater NewsPress sports editor Jason Elmquist contributed to this report.