STILLWATER — After a few days off following its Heart of Dallas Bowl victory over Purdue, the Oklahoma State players return for class and winter conditioning Monday.
That signals the start of the march to the 2013 season.
The offseason always provides plenty of roster shuffling. Players declare early for the draft. Others transfer or leave the team. Others make big strides during spring football or fall camp.
But here's an early look at players likely to replace the Cowboys' departing senior starters.
Out: Lane Taylor
In: Eli Dickerson
It's been a long, long time since OSU needed a right guard, with Taylor starting 47 games over four seasons and developing into an All-Big 12 performer.
Dickerson, a rising junior from The Woodlands, Texas, was a key reserve for the Cowboys in 2012. He was consistently listed as Taylor's backup, but also played some tackle.
Travis Cross, who will likely be the backup center, played some right guard in 2012.
Out: Evan Epstein
In: Jake Jenkins
Though Epstein's only season as the starting center was a successful one, Jenkins got valuable experience in 2012.
Jenkins started in place of an injured Epstein against Louisiana-Lafayette and saw significant snaps against Texas Tech and Arizona. And as a rising junior, he could be the answer at the position for the next two seasons.
Out: Cooper Bassett, Ryan Robinson, Nigel Nicholas
In: Tyler Johnson, Trace Clark, Emmanuel Ogbah
For the second consecutive season, OSU will need to replace both starters at defensive end. And, really, the Cowboys had three starters, with Bassett and Nicholas splitting time at the spot opposite Robinson.
Johnson perhaps showed his potential in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, tallying six tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles. The former linebacker has the speed and athleticism to drop into coverage from the hybrid “Leo” position and should benefit from a second spring since he switched positions.
Trace Clark, who played in six games as a true freshman, has the early edge to occupy the other side because of his quick grasp of the defensive scheme. But also watch for Emmanuel Ogbah and Victor Irokansi, who both redshirted in 2012, and have athletic ability that has impressed teammates and coaches.
Out: Alex Elkins
In: Lyndell Johnson, Demarcus Sherod, Joe Mitchell
Sherod was Elkins' backup on the weak side in 2012 and could be the logical choice to slide into the starting spot.
But Lyndell Johnson, a backup on the strong side, was a versatile playmaker for the Cowboys in 2012, tallying 28 tackles (6.5 for loss), two sacks, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery in nine games. He's a candidate to flip sides and start, or to remain a situational player off the bench.
Joe Mitchell, a rising senior who has worked at both outside linebacker spots, will also be in the mix to start.
Out: Brodrick Brown
In: Kevin Peterson
Peterson saw plenty of crucial action as a true freshman, picking up 20 tackles and two pass breakups. Fellow freshman Ashton Lampkin will also be in the running to replace Brown.
Out: Quinn Sharp
In: Michael Reichenstein
Reichenstein, a rising senior, has punted just once during his OSU career — a 49-yarder in a blowout victory against Kansas in 2011.
Out: Quinn Sharp
In: Bobby Stonebreaker, Ben Grogan
Stonebreaker, a walk-on from Tuttle, did not attempt a field goal in 2012 but did boom six kickoffs (three for touchbacks). Commit Ben Grogan, who is rated the No. 9 kicker in the nation by Rivals, could compete for the job immediately.