Oklahoma State opened up spring practice Monday. Below is a preview of what to look for from the Cowboys during spring ball:
Offensive returner ready to take next step: Jhajuan Seales quietly led all Big 12 freshmen in receiving last season, hauling in 39 passes for 571 yards. With Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore all gone, Seales could take over as the Cowboys’ primary receiver. Reminiscent of former Oklahoma State All-American Justin Blackmon (they both wear the same jersey number, 81), Seales has the combination of power, speed and hands to dominate opposing corners. Blackmon wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school. Neither was Seales. But it appears the Cowboys have unearthed another potential diamond in the rough at the position.
Defensive returner ready to take the next step: Third-year cornerback Kevin Peterson had the opportunity to play alongside one of the best corners in college football last season in Jim Thorpe finalist Justin Gilbert. That should do wonders for Peterson’s development. With Gilbert moving on to the first round of the NFL draft, Peterson will take over as the No. 1 corner in the Oklahoma State secondary. As the only returning starter in the defensive backfield, the Cowboys need Peterson to elevate his game. After a solid progression the last two seasons, Peterson is primed to do just that.
Redshirt freshman to watch: The Cowboys face the unenviable task of replacing Stewart, who was ultra-productive throughout his college career. But Oklahoma State does have an intriguing prospect in Ra’Shaad Samples, who has the potential to also become an All-Big 12 player down the line in the slot. Samples had offers from the likes of Notre Dame, Ohio State and USC coming out of high school, but wasn’t needed immediately with Stewart manning the slot. Samples has big-time speed and could anchor the slot in the Oklahoma State attack the way Stewart did the previous three seasons.
Most significant position battle: J.W. Walsh returns after making eight starts over the last two years, but the starting quarterback job is not his yet. Mason Rudolph, one of the most highly decorated QB recruits in Oklahoma State history, is on campus and competing for a starting role. The early enrollee threw for 64 touchdowns and led his team to the state championship last fall in Rock Hill, S.C. Rudolph has the arm, intelligence and savvy to press Walsh for the job. The Cowboys also have an intriguing walk-on in Daxx Garman, who has a big arm and has been on campus for two years.
Key midterm enrollee: Junior college transfer Tyreek Hill is already turning heads, and not on the football field. Last week, Hill was named the Big 12 track and field freshman of the year after breaking sprint records at various meets. With the indoor track season winding down, Hill will begin to shift some of his focus to spring football. Hill has the speed to be a game-breaker for the Oklahoma State offense, and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich should enjoy himself this spring tinkering with ways to get Hill the ball in space.
Question that could be answered: Head coach Mike Gundy has preferred in the past to name a starting quarterback before summer workouts. He did so in 2012 when he pegged freshman Wes Lunt his starter after a three-way battle with Walsh and Clint Chelf in the spring. Gundy might not declare a starter before the summer this time, with defending national champ Florida State looming in the season opener. But he should have a pretty good idea coming out of the spring of what his plan will be for the position in 2014.
Question that won’t be answered until fall: Only Utah State has fewer returning starters at the FBS level than Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were hit hardest by graduation on the defensive side, where they'll have to replace four first-team All-Big 12 performers. With so many inexperienced players assuming bigger roles, it will be a while before coordinator Glenn Spencer knows exactly what he has defensively, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary.