BY GINA MIZELL, Staff Writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State opens fall camp in a position it has never been in before — projected to win the Big 12 championship.
The conference is wide open, of course, with six teams receiving at least one first-place vote in the preseason media poll. That means OSU still has plenty of questions as the Cowboys begin fall camp Friday morning.
There's a quarterback competition that has, technically, not been yet been settled. There are several position battles, such as defensive end and kicker/punter, to be staged. Highly touted newcomers have arrived but have not yet participated in a practice.
Here's a primer of some of the storylines The Oklahoman will be monitoring as the Cowboys begin their march toward their season opener against Mississippi State in Houston.
Clint Chelf: Still expected to win the starting job, despite Gundy's refusal to make an official announcement before the Cowboys' opener. He still has the best grasp of the Cowboys' Air Raid system and has displayed ability as both a thrower and occasional runner. Accuracy could still improve, and should come with continued work with the first unit.
J.W. Walsh: Unless he has dramatically improved his ability to throw to the outside receivers and downfield, overtaking Chelf for the starting job would be a surprise. But the sophomore will be involved in the OSU offense regardless. How much? We'll see. But his versatility and athleticism in his short-yardage and goal-line package down the stretch of last season brought a valuable new dimension to the Cowboy attack. And his intangible leadership qualities are undeniable.
Daxx Garman: Wes Lunt's transfer frees up Garman for more reps during the fall. The transfer from Arizona has impressed Gundy with his arm strength, but he has little experience running the Cowboys' system. Last season, though, shows Garman will need to be ready.
Top position battles
With the departure of Ryan Robinson, Nigel Nicholas and Cooper Bassett, OSU has big holes to fill here for the second consecutive season. Tyler Johnson, a former walk-on and converted linebacker, looks poised to start as a senior. Several others will be in the mix for significant playing time, including junior college transfer Sam Wren, sophomores Jimmy Bean and Trace Clark and redshirt freshmen Victor Irokansi, Eric Davis, Emmanuel Ogbah and Jeremiah Tshimanga.
Gundy was candid in his assessment of the kicking game during the spring, calling it average at best. The gigantic void left by triple threat Quinn Sharp is an underrated storyline, and true freshman Ben Grogan will likely be relied on to immediately contribute in some capacity. Kip Smith, a UCLA transfer, and Bobby Stonebreaker are also in contention for kicking duties, while Smith and Michael Reichenstein are in the mix to punt.
Shamiel Gary started all 13 games last season but struggled at times, particularly in pass coverage. Now playmaking dynamo Lyndell Johnson has moved to the position and will likely challenge for the No. 1 job throughout camp. Word is, though, that the spring battle has pushed Gary to improve. Zack Craig will also see playing time here.
This position battle got a new member after spring practice, with Tyler Patmon transferring from Kansas for his final season of eligibility. He'll challenge sophomores Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin for the starting spot opposite Justin Gilbert. Cornerback coach Van Malone also will be looking for contribution from sophomore Miketavius Jones, as well as incoming freshmen Jerel Morrow, Taylor Lewis and Darius Curry.
Jeremy Smith is primed to step into the starting job vacated early by Joseph Randle, but the competition for the roles behind him should be intriguing. Desmond Roland has apparently turned a corner, running backs coach Jemal Singleton said. But watch out for incoming freshmen Rennie Childs and Corion Webster, who could contribute early on.
Newcomers to watch
Grogan, rated the ninth-best kicker in the nation by Rivals, fits the Quinn Sharp mold. He can kick field goals beyond 50 yards. He can punt. He can boom kickoffs for touchbacks. Grogan hails from the same high school as TCU and preseason All-Big 12 kicker Jaden Oberkrom — and Grogan beat Oberkrom out for the starting job as a junior.
The Kansas transfer has a wealth of experience, compiling 146 tackles (11.5 for loss), two sacks, six interceptions and 22 pass breakups during what was sometimes a bumpy career in Lawrence. At the very least, he'll bring depth to a position that needs it.
Rennie Childs and Corion Webster
Recent history has shown true freshmen can have an immediate impact at running back at OSU, and the Cowboys will likely need that from Webster and/or Childs this season. Both possess a combination of strength and elusiveness, along with an ability to catch the ball out of the backfield.
Marcell Ateman and Ra'Shaad Samples
These two receivers — along with cornerback Jerel Morrow — are considered the gems of the 2013 class. And despite the bevy of receivers already at the Cowboys' disposal, Ateman and Samples will both play right away. Ateman is a big-bodied outside receiver, while Samples is a speedster expected to play in the slot.
Practice schedule (all closed to public)
Fri., Aug. 2
Sat., Aug. 3
Sun., Aug 4
Mon., Aug. 5
Tues., Aug. 6 (first in full pads)
Wed., Aug. 7
Thurs., Aug. 8
Fri., Aug. 9 (two)
Sat., Aug. 10 (scrimmage)
Mon., Aug. 12 (two)
Tues., Aug. 13
Wed., Aug. 14 (two)
Thurs., Aug. 15
Fri., Aug. 16 (two)
Sat., Aug. 17 (scrimmage)