STILLWATER — Oklahoma State will kick its spring football practices into high gear this week as the Cowboys return from spring break.
The Pokes have multiple concerns to address during spring drills but OSU also features plenty of reasons to be excited about 2011. The roster could be deeper from top to bottom than the 2010 squad which finished 11-2 and earned a share of the Big 12 South title.
Here are a look at five positions of strength for OSU this spring and how those strengths could pay dividends in the fall:
*Receiver: The Cowboys' passing attack will feature the 2010 Biletnikoff Award winner in Justin Blackmon and one of the Big 12's most consistent receivers in Josh Cooper. Blackmon's combination of quickness, strength and great hands should continue to make him tough to stop in 2011. Cooper is one of the best route runners in the Big 12, and he steps up in big games, having two of his top performances against Nebraska and Oklahoma.
The Pokes lose Bo Bowling, but a healthy Hubert Anyiam and a recommitted Tracy Moore should help offset that loss.
And don't forget Michael Harrison, who many believe has the talent to be the next standout receiver at OSU after Blackmon departs.
With OSU's improved depth at receiver, Blackmon and Cooper could become even more effective in 2011 if Harrison, Anyiam or Moore become consistent threats.
*Safety: Quite possibly the deepest position on the team. Senior Markelle Martin returns to lead the secondary, and his great talent and versatility will be an asset in the fall. Fellow senior Johnny Thomas was one of the surprises of 2010. He stepped in to play a starting role in the secondary and played extremely well as a junior, finishing fourth on the team in tackles with 63.
Sophomore Daytawion Lowe returns from injury behind Thomas, and Martin and could push for extensive playing time. The former Carl Albert standout was slated to play a key role in OSU's defense in 2010 before a shoulder injury forced a redshirt season.
Lavocheya Cooper, Zack Craig and Deion Imade each played special teams roles last season and will provide depth. Keep an eye on Cooper; he could be a pleasant surprise with his combination of size and athleticism.
The exceptional depth and versatility at safety should help the Pokes overcome their youth and inexperience at cornerback. In passing situations, expect OSU to have at least three safeties on the field.
*Star linebacker: The Cowboys have created excellent depth at one of the most important positions on assistant coach Bill Young's defense.