The rigorous work of the preseason complete, Oklahoma State's active football roster – the two-deep and a bit beyond in certain spots – offers clarity.
With that: the always-anticipated list of true freshmen in the mix.
Not that it's taken this long to identify some of the impact rookies.
Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden will tell you he's known since the summer.
“There's guys who, when the first day they get here, you say they're either going to play, or they're not going to play,” Weeden said. “You can tell. ‘He's going to be a player.' Or not.”
Of course, Weeden's eye is most focused on the offense. Not surprisingly, he immediately focused on a trio of playmakers – receiver Josh Stewart and running backs Herschel Sims and Desmond Roland.
“Those three guys really stood out,” Weeden said. “And those three guys are going to get a chance. I'm excited about them, they've got a chance to be special.”
Weeden's eye for talent meshes with coach Mike Gundy, who also pegged those three for playing time. The complete list:
Josh Stewart, IR. Cowboys offensive coordinator Todd Monken said that 10 or 15 years ago, Stewart would be playing at Northwestern State, just because of his slight size (5-10, 170). The spread changes everything, allowing smaller, yet talented athletes to run with the big boys. Not only will Stewart factor as a receiver, backing up Josh Cooper, but he'll likely get a shot to return punts, too.
Herschel Sims, RB. Sims was one of the prized pickups in the latest recruiting class. And while he hasn't just wowed with his ability – yet – he's been solid in every way, showing comfortable receiving skills and stamping himself as the No. 3 back behind Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith. And if last season is any indicator, he'll have an opportunity to show what he's got.
Desmond Roland, RB. Camp didn't start well for Roland, who struggled through some fumbling issues early. But rather than drift into the background, he came on strong to push Sims and earn a role, both on offense and in special teams. As Gundy pointed out, the really good ones – and he believes Sims and Roland are at that level – typically don't stick around for four years anyway, so you might as well play them if they're ready.
James Castleman, DT. It's a rarity when a freshman cannot only play, but produce on the interior of the defensive front. Castleman shapes up as that rare freshman. “Castleman is playing better than we thought he would at this time. He'll definitely be playing,” said defensive coordinator Bill Young. “He's had some excellent high school coaching, and he's a tough young man who will fight through a little adversity. And when he gets tired, he doesn't shut it down. He's been pushed in high school, and he's got the size – he's 290 pounds, he's 6-3 – he's what you're looking for.”
Ryan Simmons, LB. When backup middle linebacker Tyler Johnson was lost to a minor knee injury, it created an opportunity for Simmons in practice. And he seized his chance, showing that he can provide depth. He should also be a plus on special teams.
Nico Ornelas, LB. Quietly, Ornelas produced a solid camp and put himself into play on Joe DeForest's special teams. Expected to compete for a linebacker spot down the road, special teams will allow him to adjust to the speed of the game.
On the Bubble
David Glidden, WR. The diminutive wideout has been impressive so far. But with so many receivers jockeying for time, the Cowboys would hate to burn a redshirt for a minor role.
Mike Mustafa, DT. Coaches love the long-term potential of Mustafa, but he's still adjusting to the college game.
Kris Catlin, LB. If depth becomes an issue, he could be forced into play. But a redshirt is preferred.
Isaac McCoy, WR. Like Glidden, had a strong camp, but is caught in the logjam.