STILLWATER — Mike Gundy gave his opinion on the do-spread-offenses-cause-more-injuries debate last week at Big 12 Media Days, stating that he believes the system actually makes football less dangerous because there are fewer rough collisions and piles near the line of scrimmage, which naturally come with ground-and-pound attacks.
The Oklahoma State coach also, unsolicited, roped Josh Stewart into his answer. Not to attach to the topic of injuries, but to highlight the increased opportunity the spread offense can give to a 5-foot-10, 185-pound slot receiver.
“If you were in a traditional style of offense, where does he play?” Gundy said. “Even though he's a really, really good player, does he get 100 catches and do we know who he is across the country? I would say no.”
Stewart, who enters 2013 as statistically the Big 12's top returning receiver, is certainly not the first to thrive at that position in the age of hurry-up, wide-open systems.
Wes Welker, who's now widely regarded as the best slot receiver in NFL history, was a primary target of Kliff Kingsbury when he was slinging the ball around in Mike Leach's Air Raid attack at Texas Tech. Former Cowboy Josh Cooper currently ranks in the top 10 in school history in both receptions (161) and receiving yards (1,695), even while playing alongside two-time Biletnikoff winner Justin Blackmon, and parlayed that production into a spot on the Cleveland Browns' active roster as an undrafted free agent.
But Stewart is the latest to develop into a legitimate Big 12 star after a breakout 2012 season where he tallied 101 catches and 1,210 receiving yards.
Why can the system make such a difference? The key is getting Stewart the ball in space, which is usually easier while playing inside receiver in the spread than playing on the outside in more conventional, two-receiver offensive formations.
While playing in the slot, Stewart is often matched up with linebackers or safeties in the middle of the field, rather than cornerbacks. That allows him to get the ball fast and then use his quickness and ability to dart through defenses — rather than vertical speed or size — to make defenders miss in the open field.