Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy took heat on social media and sports talk radio when the school revealed the Cowboys wouldn’t be holding a traditional spring game next month.
This week, as the Cowboys opened up spring drills, Gundy explained why he chose to hold an “Orange Blitz” open practice for the public instead of the “Orange-White” spring game.
“We need to practice. We need that practice,” Gundy said. “We’re a young football team and there’s not a lot of maturity. So we think it’s best for our team and I think it’s best for the fans, and that’s why we established at an early stage what we want to do.”
Gundy put the youth of his team into perspective, pointing out that the Cowboys will be without 37 members of last year’s 70-man travel roster this spring. Among those are 28 outgoing seniors, plus receiver Josh Stewart (who declared early for the draft), safety Lyndell Johnson (who is no longer with the team), and centers Jake Jenkins and Travis Cross (who both graduated early and moved on from football).
“We have a number of players that won’t be with us from an injury standpoint,” Gundy said. “Some of them because medically we don’t feel they’re ready. Others, I don’t want to push it in the spring.
"In a spring game you have to divide teams up and you got to almost have two-deep on each team before you start switching jerseys, and it becomes an unattractive game for the fans. So I thought it would be best for us to have another practice, and also give our fans a better opportunity to see the things they want to see -- the young quarterbacks, the running backs, some young receivers, those linebackers that are young, the junior college transfers. That setting, in our opinion, is better than a watered-down spring game."
On top of the injuries, the Cowboys will field one of the youngest teams in the Big 12, if not the country, next season. According to ESPN Insider Phil Steele, Utah State is the only FBS program with fewer returning starters than the Cowboys, who bring back just nine total starters.
“We’re young in areas and a little bit limited to open things up in the spring from a play standpoint,” Gundy said. “We have a lot work ahead of us just to play catch up.”
All told, coming off a 10-3 season, Oklahoma State faces the enormous task of replacing its starting quarterback in Clint Chelf; its top three receivers in Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore; and all six of its all-conference defenders in linemen Calvin Barnett and Tyler Johnson, linebackers Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis, and defensive backs Justin Gilbert and Daytawion Lowe.
“What that means is we have a lot of young players we have to bring along in the next few weeks,” Gundy said. “But we also have to be a little careful how we handle them from a rep standpoint, and bring them along slowly. And we need every practice we can get.
"Oklahoma State is fine. We're fine. We just have a lot of young players."