STILLWATER — Tyreek Hill came to OSU billed as the next Josh Stewart. The next Tavon Austin is more like it.
Hill spent all of the Cowboys’ Orange Blitz practice Saturday at tailback. The results weren’t spectacular; four carries for 15 yards, plus 10 yards off a swing pass. But in a scrimmage earlier in the week, Hill went 75 yards with a handoff out of the backfield and it seemed to take him all of three seconds to go cross country. And that’s after spending the first several spring practices at slot receiver.
It’s clear that the OSU coaches don’t know exactly what they have in Hill, a Garden City (Kan.) Community College transfer, other than something quite unique.
“I don’t see him as a receiver that lines up in the backfield,” said OSU running backs coach Jemal Singleton. “I don’t see him as a back that lines up as a receiver. I just see him as a guy that is a tool. And when you’ve got a good tool, you’ve got to figure out different ways to use it.”
Hill’s speed tantalizes OSU coaches. Hill won the Big 12 indoor 200-meter race in March and finished second in the 60 meters, with a time of 6.64 seconds. Mike Gundy’s mantra seems simple and direct. Get Hill the ball.
Gundy said he’d like to get Hill the ball via catch or carry 10-15 times a game, just like Stewart, OSU’s primary slot receiver the last three seasons, who declared for the 2014 NFL Draft. The Cowboys even put the diminutive Stewart at tailback a few plays last season, though little came of that endeavor.
“When we came off the field and Josh only touched the ball 3-4 times a game, I never felt good about our plan as a coach,” Gundy said. “Sometimes, the defense can dictate. Maybe if we can play him (Hill) at running back some and receiver some, then we can get him enough touches to help our offense.”
Which brings us to Austin, the game-breaking West Virginia receiver who suddenly shifted to tailback late in the 2012 season and became a terror, including a memorable debut of 344 rushing yards against bewildered Oklahoma.
“I think those references are valid,” Singleton said. “A guy that can run, shifty, make you miss, a smaller stature guy that can do multiple things.”
That scream you just heard came from the pit of Mike Stoops’ stomach.
Don’t misunderstand. No one knows if Hill can get within Austin’s area code as a ballplayer. Hill apparently can catch the ball, else he wouldn’t have been a junior college star. Can he hold up as a Big 12 ballcarrier, at 5-foot-9, 185 pounds? Nobody knows. But now’s the time to start finding out.
“We have to see how he adjusts to the physical part of football at this level and what’s the best way for us to get him the football,” Gundy said.
Hill gives the 2014 Cowboys a chance to daze and confuse opponents not with a sudden position switch, a la Austin vs. OU, but with play-to-play position swaps. Situational substitution is all the rage in modern football. Defenders are dispatched based on which offensive players take the field.
But if Hill pans out at tailback, defenses will have no clue what formation the Cowboys might use. Could be no-back. Could be one-back. Could be two-back. A lightning/thunder backfield with Hill and burly tailback Des Roland would be awfully interesting.
“They’re not going to know what to expect,” said Roland, who is sitting out this spring recovering from a shoulder injury.
As a newcomer, Hill is not available for interviews this calendar year but said on the field during interaction with fans that he’s planning to play tailback.
“We’re just figuring out ways to put the ball in his hands, see what he’s capable of,” Singleton said. “We all know he’s fast. Now see if he can do that on the football field. We’ve been very pleasantly surprised with what he’s been able to do so far. He’s got some lateral mobility you don’t find very often with a straight-line, fast, track guy. So we’re excited.”
Can’t blame the coaches for that. In the never-ending chess game that is high-stakes football, the Cowboys suddenly have a very interesting piece.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.