STILLWATER – Justin Blackmon, operating as a decoy, hooks up with a linebacker, scrapping and blocking to the whistle and beyond, clearing a crease for freshman receiver Josh Stewart to slip through for a nice gain.
Next snap, Blackmon drives a shoulder into a defensive back, well downfield on a running play.
Blackmon might be Oklahoma State's magazine and media guide cover boy, but he's no pretty boy. The 2010 Biletnikoff Award winner made his way here – from off the map to top of the charts – by working.
And he's not about to relax now.
“Every day, Blackmon comes out and grinds,” said Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken. “He's a great player, but he's not a prima donna.
“He doesn't act like he's ‘arrived' at all. He acts like he wants to get better. And he will.”
Better? Better than 148.5 receiving yards per game, which led the nation? Better than his school-record 20 touchdowns and 111 catches? Better than his 1,782 yards, the sixth-best receiving season in NCAA history?
Better than All-American? And Biletnikoff winner?
“There's always room for improvement, no matter where you're at,” Blackmon said. “This summer, I just basically tried to strip down and work on everything little by little, explosion and catching the ball…
“There's a lot of things to work on.”
So Blackmon works.
At blocking. At fighting through defenders at the line. At creating a better burst. At route running, which scouts say may be his lone weakness.
“I can see him becoming a better player,” said Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden. “He's running better routes. He's continuing to work. He's getting faster and stronger. He's doing all the things to put himself in position to have better numbers.”
And, Blackmon insists, he's not taking anything for granted, no matter how dominant he was last year, when he caught a touchdown pass and totaled at least 100 yards in an NCAA record 12 straight games.
None of that can matter when you aren't looking back.
“I can't even tell you the exact numbers I had last year,” Blackmon said. “That's something I really don't pay attention to.”
Yes, of course he envisioned becoming a go-to great receiver at OSU.
“That's where you want to be,” Blackmon said. “When you come to college and you sign the letter of intent, you want to be that guy.”
It's just that you get the feeling Blackmon still doesn't fully realize he is that guy. He practices like he still has something to prove.
“I still think it's weird to see myself on the cover of the media guide,” he said.
Weeden said Blackmon's assets extend beyond the physical, too.
“The stuff you guys don't see is how smart he is,” Weeden said. “He's able to read defenses and really understand what they're trying to do to him. He can route adjust and find a seam, find a hole. And we're on the same page. You can't coach that.
“He's a confident, big-body guy who can make plays. And he has the smarts to go with it.”
Weeden sees it all. And so, it seems, do the other OSU receivers, who have extended themselves throughout the preseason, creating some of the most competitive position battles in the program's recent history.
“If they don't, they're damn fools,” said Cowboys receivers coach Kasey Dunn. “That guy works his butt off. To not work like that is a damn shame. Hopefully our young guys look at it and realize this is what it's going to take.”