STILLWATER — Mike Gundy's early take on his latest cast of freshmen: special.
“We really like this class,” Gundy said Thursday. “I think this is the best class we've had in eight years, from top to bottom, for a variety of reasons.”
Well, it better be.
Examining Oklahoma State's depth chart for next week's season opener against Savannah State, there's a heavy influence of true freshmen. Overall, six rookies hold starting or backup roles.
Clearly, the Cowboys are significantly reliant on several in this group of freshmen to produce.
Of course, Wes Lunt is the headliner as the No. 1 quarterback. The others, all in backup roles: receivers C.J. Curry, Blake Webb and Austin Hays; cornerbacks Kevin Peterson and Ashton Lampkin. And more are pressing.
Gundy has boasted of previously unseen depth that ranges top to bottom on the roster. And it appears to be evident.
Still, attrition in the sophomore and junior classes have forced the freshmen to get ready in a hurry. And youth rules overall, with redshirt freshmen and sophomores filling 19 more spots on the two- (and in some instances three-) deep.
So while the Cowboys might be talented and it might bode well for the future, there are immediate concerns that come with so much inexperience at key spots. Patience might be in order.
“I have got to be better in understanding that guys are going to develop,” said offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “It happens at different stages for different guys. Justin Blackmon redshirted — enough said.
“You have to keep reminding yourself of that in a business where nobody wants to wait. That's the hardest part about what we do. It has all got to be now. We want it now. We need them to be good now.
“It annoys me when they aren't good now. So now I am going to move on, and I have to fight that.”
A look at OSU's areas of confidence and concern along the depth chart:
Linebacker: Cowboys coaches feel like they're legitimately three deep at all three spots, with starters returning across the board: Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey and Alex Elkins. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Glenn Spencer said he even considers Lavey and Ryan Simmons — one of the redshirt freshmen — as co-starters. And Lavey finished third on the team in tackles a year ago.
Running back: In Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, the Cowboys have one of the top tandems in the Big 12, if not the country. Sophomore Desmond Roland appears ready to contribute, too. There's not much behind that trio. Still, three's enough.
Offensive line: The pre-camp loss of left tackle Michael Bowie was a hit, no doubt. Still, it came at a position somewhat capable of absorbing such a loss. Line coach Joe Wickline feels good about his top three tackles — Parker Graham, Daniel Koenig and Devin Davis. The guards, Lane Taylor and Jonathan Rush, are vets. And there are youngsters pushing.
Defensive line: OSU has produced some stars along the line — Leslie O'Neal, Kevin Williams, Jamal Williams — but might have never enjoyed better depth at all four spots. Calvin Barnett appears to be a great addition at tackle, and sophomore James Castleman pushed himself to the top of the depth chart opposite him. Defensive coordinator Bill Young can feel comfortable rotating as many as 10 guys into the four spots.
Quarterback: While belief in Lunt bubbles over inside the Cowboys camp, he's still yet to do anything under the game lights, with defenders free to tee off. Backup J.W. Walsh is a redshirt freshman yet to throw a college pass, while junior Clint Chelf was passed by the youngsters in a spring competition.
Receiver: Blackmon is gone, putting the go-to guy role up for grabs. There's faith that Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart, Isaiah Anderson and Charlie Moore will produce. But in this offense, seven or eight receivers are mandatory. And the backups are raw rookies. Talented raw rookies, we hear, yet totally unproven in vital roles.
Secondary: The starters are outstanding, with corners Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown capable of shutting down receivers and free safety Daytawion Lowe the team's returning leading tackler. The lingering position battle remains at strong safety, and the backup corners are true freshmen in a league where teams chuck the ball all over the place.
Verdict: Concern (beyond the starters)