Less than three months since arriving on campus, Marcell Ateman has already earned a comparison to one of the best receivers in Oklahoma State history.
“He reminds me a lot of Dez,” offensive lineman Parker Graham said, referring, of course, to Dez Bryant, “in the fact that he’s so long and he just makes these crazy catches in practice.”
There’s plenty to like about Ateman, the true freshman who was a four-star prospect coming out of Wylie East High School in Dallas. Cowboy offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich highlighted the sharp cuts Ateman makes while running routes, his solid speed and his great hands.
But what sets Ateman apart — and makes him ready to contribute immediately, despite being part of a stacked receiving corps — is his size. At 6-4 and 190 pounds, he’s already the Cowboys’ tallest target.
“A lot of freshmen come in and they might have the skill set, but the strength and size can be an issue,” teammate Charlie Moore said. “But with a guy like Marcell, he’s just big.
“He’s the biggest receiver we’ve got, and he’s playing like it.”
That has allowed him to already make some highlight-worthy plays in practice because of his ability to out-jump defenders for the ball.
A route that has become a favorite to run with Ateman? The fade.
“He jumps up and catches them over our cornerbacks,” Moore said. “That’s gonna get some attention.”
When asked which true freshmen would likely play in the season opener against Mississippi State next weekend, OSU coach Mike Gundy would not give a specific answer. But here are some other first-year players that could skip the redshirt season and make an immediate impact:
Ben Grogan, kicker
This one is obvious, as Gundy has already named him the starting kicker. The OSU football Twitter account recently posted a video of Grogan nailing a 45-yard field goal while the team huddled around heckling him — and hitting the window behind the goal posts inside the indoor practice facility in the process. The atmosphere will obviously be much more intense when he steps on the field at Reliant Stadium Saturday, but Grogan is known for having a strong mental makeup.
Ra’Shaad Samples, receiver
Again, the receiving corps is crowded. But Samples has the versatility to work inside and outside and boasts blazing speed. Gundy also revealed Thursday that Samples worked some at punt returner during camp.
The running backs: Rennie Childs and Corion Webster
Jeremy Smith and Desmond Roland will be the Cowboys’ 1-2 combo, but running backs coach Jemal Singleton ideally wants four backs that can contribute. Childs in particular has shown an ability to quickly hit a hole and turn it into a big gain, Graham said. But are Childs and Webster mentally ready to play running back at this level? That’s what Singleton has been stressing.
The safeties: Tre Flowers, Jordan Sterns, Deric Robertson
The Cowboys are heavy on veterans at safety, but at least one freshman will be needed on special teams and perhaps in nickel and dime sub packages. That experience will be especially valuable come next season, when four seniors depart. Daytawion Lowe said this week he likes Flowers’ size and length, Sterns’ explosiveness and Robertson’s constant improvement throughout camp.
The cornerbacks: Jerel Morrow, Taylor Lewis, Darius Curry
One of these guys may only be needed on special teams, though cornerbacks coach Van Malone said before fall camp began that his position could require immediate help from the freshman class. Morrow, Malone said then, already looks physically ready for Division I football.
The offensive line: Zachary Crabtree, Jack Kurzu, Jesse Robinson, Jaxon Salinas
Freshmen usually need a year to add strength and adjust to Joe Wickline’s mix-and-match system. But with the lack of experience behind the Cowboys’ first unit — which has become an even bigger issue since projected starting left tackle Devin Davis tore his anterior cruciate ligament — one of these guys could get playing time.