New Cowboys assistant coach Bob Connelly hopes to catch his breath...soon.
Connelly’s been in a rush since arriving in Stillwater in February.
All new faces.
Instant pressure, too, since outside of perhaps only defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer, Connelly faces OSU’s most pressing “To Do”: rebuilding the offensive line.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Connelly said. “There’s so much going on, obviously. We’re trying to put in an offensive game plan. I’m coming in trying to learn a whole new offensive scheme, terminology, all those things. Trying to stay one step ahead of the players...trying to evaluate our current players. And then as we all know, with the speed of recruiting and year-round recruiting, I’m trying to evaluate our 2015 and even some ’16 kids.”
It would have been nice if Connelly had joined Mike Gundy’s staff finding five fifth-year senior starters ready along the offensive front for an Aug. 30 date with defending national champion Florida State. Instead, he inherits an overhaul, with but one lineman – senior Daniel Koenig – owning more than eight career starts.
Guard Chris Grisbhy, who started eight games as a junior college transfer a year ago, gives OSU another senior up front. Otherwise, the depth chart is dominated by freshmen and sophomores.
If senior Brandon Garrett and junior Devin Davis return to form off major injuries, the line gets a boost in experience and quality. But for now, Connelly is leaning on a starting group that includes sophomore Paul Lewis at center, sophomore Zac Veatch at a guard and true freshman Zachary Crabtree at right tackle. The key backups are sophomore Michael Wilson and redshirt freshman Jesse Robinson.
That’s a lot of pups for a unit that prides itself equally for its versatility in excelling at both run and pass blocking.
“We’ve got a young group,” Connelly said. “We’ve got some inexperienced kids. But for the most part, their hearts are in the right place. They come and work each and every day. We’re making progress.
“And that’s the only thing I ask these guys, ‘Come out here each and every day and everything we do is with a purpose. We don’t come to practice to get through practice. We don’t go to the weight room to get through the workout. We come with a mindset to get better.’”
The good news – Connelly likes the upside of the younger players. Crabtree, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound first-year player from Mansfield, Texas, has been one of the pleasant surprises of the spring.
“I really, really like the kid,” Connelly said. “I think he’s got a bright future. He’s got all the intangibles. He’s got a great work ethic. He got a great mindset. He asks great questions. He’s incredibly motivated for a young kid; he’s further along than you think maturation wise. Very, very mature for his age.”
The players seem to like Connelly as well, which is a key factor in developing a solid and cohesive unit.
Joe Wickline was the longest-tenured assistant of the Gundy era before he bolted for Texas, seeking a change. And Wickline’s record of producing formidable fronts is impressive.
Still, a fresh look can be good for both sides.
“They say change is a good thing,” said Koenig, who reminds that his two brothers, both OSU linemen before him, worked under multiple coaches. “This change is a good thing. You can see it out here. We’re breaking good runs and whatever.”
Connelly is tweaking techniques and steps, while also relieving pressure on the tackles, who were regularly left on their own out on the edge, but now get more double-team help from the guards. It might not make for the sexiest story of OSU’s spring camp, what with Tyreek Hill and Jhajuan Seales and the quarterbacks sparking conversations, but building a line is of vital importance.
“It’s a work in process,” Connelly said. “Things are starting to slow down now, having been here six weeks and having three weeks of spring practice under our belt. I’m kind of getting a better feel for where we are and where we need to be.”