STILLWATER — Back in early January, Oklahoma State figured to enter the 2014 football season with a deep and experienced collection of centers. The position group should have been a strength among so many other concerns on the roster coming into a new year.
But jump forward to fall camp and that’s all changed — dramatically.
Less than two weeks after the Cowboys fell in the Cotton Bowl, offensive line coach Joe Wickline accepted the same position at Texas. Soon after, OSU’s former starting center, Jake Jenkins, and his backup, Travis Cross, each left the program to pursue other career paths, despite remaining eligibility.
So who fills the void at center? And how much experience does he have?
Sophomore Paul Lewis. He’s recorded just one career start for the Cowboys. But don’t think that hurts his confidence.
“I know this offense like the back of my hand,” he said.
That frame of mind is good news for OSU, especially considering Lewis’ new-found responsibilities with the first team. As new offensive line coach Bob Connelly puts it, when Lewis is on the field, he must be “a direct reflection of me.”
It’s the center's job to understand the exact mechanics of each set in the Cowboys’ playbook. When Lewis approaches the line, he’ll have to identify the opposing defensive scheme, blitz packages, coverage drops, lineman shifts and everything in between. Lewis will then bark orders to his four teammates on the offensive line: who slides, who pulls and who stands pat.
And in OSU’s high-tempo offense, it all happens in mere seconds before it’s on to the next play.
“The tempo gets a little out of control,” Lewis said. “J.W. (Walsh) is back there going, ‘Now! Now! Now!’ And slapping his hand … It gets kind of hectic sometimes, but you’ve got to just keep going with it.”
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