STILLWATER — Oklahoma State's 15 spring practices did not answer the question of who will be the Cowboys' starting quarterback in 2012. At least not yet. Coach Mike Gundy will meet with the offensive staff on Wednesday and plans to announce OSU's No. 1 quarterback heading into the summer shortly after that.
But the spring did provide some clarity on what to expect from the Cowboys in several other areas.
Here are three things I took away from spring ball, as well as three non-quarterback questions I still have going into fall camp.
What we learned
1. The Cowboys have enough depth, talent at offensive skill positions
Much like the way Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith were asked to collectively make up for the loss of Kendall Hunter in 2011, the Cowboys have a group of receivers who can produce enough together to account for the losses of Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper, Hubert Anyiam, Colton Chelf and Michael Harrison.
Was I expecting to see Charlie Moore break out with nine catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns? No way. But was I shocked to see him emerge as a prominent target? No way.
Moore had a great spring, often using his athleticism and ability to time his jump that was on display Saturday to haul in big catches during practices. He should challenge Isaiah Anderson for the starting outside receiver spot opposite Tracy Moore.
Speaking of Tracy Moore, his transition from the inside to the outside has been a huge success thus far. Josh Stewart was often the best receiver on the field for the Cowboys during the spring, and Blake Jackson is a big, athletic target that will continue to develop. Youngster Torrance Carr did not perform as well in the spring finale as I had anticipated, but Kevin Johnson was better than I expected.
And we already know Randle and Smith will be huge weapons for the OSU offense.
“We have some versatility in our offense,” Gundy said. “Our coaches will find a way to get the ball in the hands of the guys that can make plays. We have enough of those guys.”
2. The defense will be better in 2012 because of one thing: speed
I asked Gundy about the biggest question he felt was answered this spring, and he said that the defense, particularly the speed at linebacker and in the secondary, lived up to his high expectations.
The Cowboys are stacked at linebacker, with players who can run well from sideline-to-sideline and straight ahead. Gundy said the defense blitzed more Saturday than in any previous spring game because of that speed. We saw glimpses of that aggressive defensive scheme late last season, as well, particularly against Oklahoma.
Gundy also praised the speed and athletic ability of the cornerbacks to play tight coverage on the receivers, which led to a fair amount of coverage sacks on Saturday.
“Everybody has fast guys that touch the ball now in these offenses,” Gundy said. “I really feel like that we've accomplished our goal, which we set three or four years ago, which was to try to get enough speed to run people down on defense. I think we'll be so much faster than we've ever been.”
3. DT Calvin Barnett is the real deal
Barnett was only credited with one pass break-up Saturday, but he is already a projected starter at tackle and “further ahead than just about any junior college player I can remember,” Gundy said.
And the former High School All-American is only in average physical shape right now, according to Gundy. He should benefit greatly from Rob Glass' strength and conditioning program this summer and become an immediate impact player on the interior in 2012. That's something OSU has not had in recent seasons.
Three looming questions
1. Who returns punts?
The Cowboys ranked 115th out of 120 teams in the nation in punt returns last season, and the consistent bobbles by Josh Stewart (he dropped three) and Justin Gilbert (he dropped one) were the most troubling development in the spring finale.
Gundy said that David Glidden, who missed Saturday's scrimmage because of a high ankle sprain, will go into fall camp as the Cowboys' top punt returner. Gilbert and Brodrick Brown will also work get some reps there.
Stewart will have another chance, as well, but not for long if he can't cleanly catch the punt.
“He's been fairly sure-handed…and he has the ability to make people miss,” Gundy said. “But he won't return any if he does that (drops them).”
Another special teams question: will the Cowboys have a coordinator in 2012?
2. Which freshmen will have an impact?
The Cowboys signed six wide receivers and four defensive ends, the two positions still in need of the most depth.
C.J. Curry and Blake Webb appear to be most primed to play right away at wide receiver, while Trace Clark, Eric Davis, Emmanuel Ogbah and Victor Irokansi will likely battle for one spot in the defensive end rotation.
OSU also signed four offensive linemen, including four-star tackle Michael Wilson. Dominic Ramacher, an “athlete” and former high school teammate of Stewart, J.W. Walsh and Jimmy Bean, is also an intriguing prospect as a tight end/hybrid player.
3. How much playing time will these backup linebackers demand?
Do I think Shaun Lewis, Alex Elkins or Caleb Lavey is in danger of losing their starting job? No.
But a ton of this added speed on defense comes from backup linebackers like Lyndell Johnson, Ryan Simmons, Nico Ornelas and Joe Mitchell. The way the rotation develops during fall camp and this season will be interesting to watch.
There certainly won't be a shortage of fresh legs in the middle of that defense.