The Oklahoma State Cowboys didn’t quite live up to their preseason hype in 2017, but they still managed to win 10 games for the third year in a row. When spring practices begin on Tuesday, head coach Mike Gundy’s team begins what appears to be a long climb back if another season of double-digit wins is in the cards.
Gundy is facing an overhaul of OSU’s passing attack this spring, while he also has ordered a facelift for his defense. Here are five of the key stories that will dominate spring football in Stillwater.
5 Storylines to Watch During Oklahoma State’s’ Spring Practice
1. Knowles business
Gundy gave veteran defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer his walking papers at the end of the season after a rash of collapses on D ruined OSU’s hopes of a Big 12 title in 2017. The defense is now under the watch of former Cornell head coach Jim Knowles, who had served as Duke’s defensive coordinator since 2010.
The Cowboys aren’t facing massive changes as Knowles implements his 4-2-5 defensive scheme. Even so, the new coordinator will use the spring session to evaluate personnel fits within the current roster and to assess how the Pokes are picking up on changes to their roles. Knowles can also add any potential tweaks to his scheme to deal with the steady diet of spread offenses on OSU’s schedule.
2. Missing Mason
Mason Rudolph won’t be taking snaps at quarterback for the Cowboys for the first time in four years. Two signal-callers are generally thought to be vying for the starting job this spring.
Thanks to his experience and command of the offense, fifth-year senior Taylor Cornelius – he of the 24 career pass attempts – probably has the inside track on the job after spending 2017 backing up Rudolph. Meanwhile, sophomore Keondre Wudtee will also make his bid for the gig.
No matter how well the QBs play this spring, don’t expect Gundy to name a starter until August. The coaching staff will want to see what they have in Hawaii graduate transfer Dru Brown and incoming freshman Spencer Sanders.
3. Who’s next at receiver?
The Pokes’ losses at wideout are significant. James Washington and Marcell Ateman are taking more than 130 receptions, 2,700 receiving yards and 21 touchdown catches from last season with them to the NFL.
A trio of proven pass catchers will certainly see their fair share of targets in 2018 – senior Jalen McCleskey, junior Tyron Johnson and sophomore Dillon Stoner. The bigger questions lie with less-established receivers such as lanky redshirt freshman Patrick McKaufman, whose height could make him a possible candidate to play Ateman’s role as master of jump balls inside the red zone.
4. New offensive foundation
The Rudolph-to-Washington show was the headlining act in Stillwater for the last three years. Their aerial wizardry overshadowed a running game that took big steps forward when Justice Hill (above, right) became the bell cow in the backfield in 2016.
Count on Gundy and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich basing more of their offense this season around Hill and the rushing attack. That shift starts this spring.
5. Position battles in the secondary
Knowles plays five defensive backs as part of his base defense, which should only add to the intensity of the competition for playing time in a secondary looking to replace starting safeties Tre Flowers and Ramon Richards. Leading candidates to break into the starting lineup include sophomores Thabo Mwaniki and Malcolm Rodrigues.
At cornerback, don’t expect A.J. Green and Rodarius Williams to move off the top line of the depth chart, though.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.