Big 12: Daniel Koenig

The past week, we’ve been examining the most indispensable players for every team in the Big 12. In other words, who is the player each team could least afford to lose to injury?

We’re knocking on wood before we turn in these posts, so no need to worry about a jinx.

We pick the series back up with the Oklahoma Sate Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeDaniel Koenig
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsVersatile offensive lineman Daniel Koenig has made 22 career starts for Oklahoma State.
Most indispensable player: Offensive lineman Daniel Koenig

Why Oklahoma State can’t afford to lose him: After graduating 30 seniors, the Cowboys will be the youngest team in the Big 12 next season. And they’ll be even younger along the offensive line.

Oklahoma State’s returning offensive linemen have made only 38 career starts, which is ninth-fewest in the league, just ahead of Kansas. Koenig owns 22 of those starts. Factor in that two of the team’s other experienced linemen -- tackles Devin Davis and Brandon Garrett -- are coming off serious leg injuries, and that longtime offensive line coach Joe Wickline is now coaching for the Texas Longhorns, and Koenig becomes all the more indispensable.

Koenig’s versatility to play either tackle or guard gives new offensive line coach Bob Connelly the flexibility to plug in Koenig whereever he is needed up front. Until Davis returns, Koenig can man left tackle. When Davis does return, Koenig can swing to right tackle or slide inside to solidify one of the guard spots. The fact he can pull off such moves while maintaining an All-Big 12 caliber level makes Koenig one of the Big 12’s most valuable offensive linemen, if the not one of the most valuable players overall.

With a semi-new quarterback, a young group of receivers and a defense in full-on rebuild mode, the fledgling Cowboys could experience some growing pains early next season. Fortunately for them, they have a rock along the offensive line in Koenig, a player they can depend on from the outset as the rest of the team comes along.
On Wednesday, we ranked the Big 12 position-by-position from strongest to weakest.

Last season the strongest position of the league was defensive back, headlined by Justin Gilbert, Jason Verrett, Ahmad Dixon, Aaron Colvin and Ty Zimmerman, among others.

But those players are all gone. So what will be the strongest position in 2014?

With such players such as TCU’s Devonte Fields, Oklahoma’s Charles Tapper and Texas’ Cedric Reed returning, we believe it will be defensive line.

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What will be the Big 12's strongest overall position in 2014?

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Discuss (Total votes: 3,613)

But do you agree?

Maybe you think it will be another position such as receiver, which includes All-American hopefuls Antwan Goodley and Tyler Lockett, and a host of potential 1,000-yard threats such as Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley.

Perhaps it’s your opinion that the strength of the Big 12 will be at linebacker, where Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU bring their entire units back, and virtually everyone else has at least one proven performer returning.

Maybe the conference’s best unit is the offensive line, with experienced centers BJ Finney (Kansas State), Dominic Espinosa (Texas) and Tom Farniok (Iowa State); talented tackles Spencer Drango (Baylor), Le'Raven Clark (Texas Tech) and Daryl Williams (Oklahoma); and versatile stalwarts Cody Whitehair (Kansas State), Quinton Spain (West Virginia) and Daniel Koenig (Oklahoma State).

Or with Baylor’s Bryce Petty, Kansas State’s Jake Waters, Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight, do you believe quarterback is on its way back to becoming the dominant position in a league that not long ago was the nation’s preeminent conference for that position?

Tell us by voting in the weekly Big 12 poll.
Two weeks ago, we ranked every team in the Big 12 position-by-position coming out of the spring. Putting that together, we’ve ranked the overall league position-by-position. In other words, what is the league’s strongest position? What is its weakest?

[+] EnlargeCedric Reed
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesCedric Reed will anchor Texas' defensive line.
In 2013, there’s no doubt the strength of the league was in the defensive backfield. Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and TCU cornerback Jason Verrett were the league’s two first-round picks. Safety Ahmad Dixon earned All-American honors and Texas cornerback Carrington Byndom, West Virginia safety Darwin Cook, Kansas State safety Ty Zimmerman and Oklahoma cornerback Aaron Colvin were longtime stalwarts in their defensive backfields.

Here’s how the positions of the league rank going into 2014:

1. Defensive line: This was easily the most difficult position to rank by team, as line figures to be the defensive strength of TCU, Oklahoma, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State and Oklahoma State. The Horned Frogs had the league’s best run defense last season, and on top of returning basically the entire unit, will be adding back 2012 Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Devonte Fields. The Sooners are also loaded, led by All-Big 12-caliber ends Geneo Grissom and Charles Tapper and tackle Jordan Phillips, and the could also go three-deep across the board next year. The Longhorns have two potential first-round picks up front in tackle Malcom Brown and end Cedric Reed. And Baylor coach Art Briles is already on record stating his D-line could go toe-to-toe with any in the country. Collectively, this should be the best the conference has been at the position since Gerald McCoy and Ndamukong Suh roamed the middle five years ago.

2. Wide receiver: The league has two superstars at receiver in Baylor’s Antwan Goodley and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett, who have the résumés to garner preseason All-American consideration. But they aren’t the only prolific playmakers here. Texas Tech’s Jakeem Grant, Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, Iowa State’s Quenton Bundrage, Oklahoma State’s Jhajuan Seales and Texas’ Jaxon Shipley are all capable of 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Baylor might feature the best receiving corps in the country, Oklahoma State is a solid nine deep and West Virginia returns its entire starting lineup from last season. Even Kansas has the nation’s second-leading receiver from 2011 in Miami (Ohio) transfer Nick Harwell. Assuming the league’s quarterbacks can get them the ball, this could be another banner year for the Big 12’s pass-catchers.

3. Linebacker: Oklahoma, Texas, West Virginia, Kansas and TCU return virtually their entire linebacker units from last year. And from Texas Tech’s Pete Robertson and Kansas State’s Jonathan Truman to Baylor’s Bryce Hager and Oklahoma State’s Ryan Simmons, the rest of the league basically has at least one proven linebacker coming back, too.

4. Offensive line: The strength of the Big 12's offensive lines resides in experienced centers and talented tackles. Kansas State’s BJ Finney, Texas’ Dominic Espinosa and Iowa State’s Tom Farniok are all four-year starters with a combined 113 career starts. At tackle, Baylor’s Spencer Drango, Texas Tech’s Le’Raven Clark and Oklahoma’s Daryl Williams have NFL futures. The league also boasts three other very stout and versatile players up front in Kansas State’s Cody Whitehair, West Virginia’s Quinton Spain and Oklahoma State’s Daniel Koenig, all three of which can man either guard or tackle.

[+] EnlargeDavis Webb
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesDavis Webb seems like one of the few sure things at QB in the Big 12.
5. Quarterback: The Big 12 has one Heisman candidate in Baylor’s Bryce Petty, a proven performer in Kansas State’s Jake Waters and two budding stars in Texas Tech’s Davis Webb and Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. The rest of the league is a big fat unknown at the game’s most-critical position. But if Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh and Texas’ David Ash regain their forms from two seasons ago, Iowa State’s Grant Rohach builds off his strong 2013 finish, Clint Trickett can stay upright at West Virginia, and transfer Matt Joeckel and sophomore Montell Cozart prove to be the answers at TCU and Kansas, the Big 12 could be on the way back to becoming the preeminent conference for quarterbacking once again.

6. Running back: Half the teams lost their leading rushers from last season, and that doesn’t include Texas Tech’s Kenny Williams switching positions to linebacker. The Longhorns pose a potentially devastating one-two punch in Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray, and the Mountaineers could go five-deep with Dreamius Smith, Wendell Smallwood, Rushel Shell, Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie. But the rest of the league will be leaning on potential more than past performance. That said, there is a lot to like in Baylor’s Shock Linwood, Iowa State’s Aaron Wimberly, TCU’s B.J. Catalon, Oklahoma State’s Tyreek Hill and Oklahoma’s Keith Ford.

7. Defensive back: With Gilbert, Verrett, Dixon, Colvin, Zimmerman, Cook and Byndom all gone, this position took a major attrition hit. Thanks to Sam Carter, Chris Hackett and Kevin White, TCU remains well stocked in its secondary. Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have veterans back, too. Everywhere else, there is rebuilding to be done. But the next wave of secondary stars appears to be on its way. Cornerbacks Nigel Tribune (Iowa State), Justis Nelson (Texas Tech) and Daryl Worley (West Virginia) all started as true freshmen. So did Oklahoma State corner Kevin Peterson and West Virginia safety Karl Joseph, who are now both juniors. It might not be long before defensive back is a strength of the league again like it was last season.
Earlier Thursday, we concluded our 22-round draft of current Big 12 players. Below are the three lineup outcomes of that draft, and as you can see, each of us went in different directions.

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Who had the best imaginary Big 12 player draft?

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Discuss (Total votes: 2,440)

Like the St. Louis Rams, Max and Brandon built up their defensive lines before worrying about the rest of their rosters. While I grabbed the best quarterback in the league and surrounded him with protection and weapons.

After each lineup, read our final takes on our teams. Then, decide who drafted best in the weekly Big 12 poll.

BRANDON CHATMON’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Brandon says about his team: “Offensively, as soon as Petty was gone with the first pick I knew I wouldn’t take a quarterback until my final pick. Knight could be the steal of the draft. Versatility is the name of the game with the rest of the offense. We can put Pierson and Smallwood in the backfield and go read option or really ruin your Saturday and throw Daje back there in the Diamond. When you bring more guys in the box, you leave Seales and Lockett one-on-one. Or we can just go five wide and you can try to cover running backs who run routes like receivers with your linebackers. And an experienced offensive line will be the foundation of it all. Defensively, it would be wise for opposing quarterbacks to tell their families to stay home when facing this group. We’re going to man up and have our mail forwarded to the opposing backfield and make you want to take your ball and go home. And with a secondary full of coverage guys, I’m not concerned about the back end of the defense holding up. We’ll win more battles than we lose. By the final whistle, my team will have earned the moniker 'Chatmon’s chaos creators' with Tapper, Reed, Brown, Hunter, Alexander and Robertson living in your backfield.”

MAX OLSON'S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Max says about his team: “You do not want to play against my team. That was my goal going in, and I constructed exactly the team I wanted. I have a great QB in Webb who gets to throw to Goodley, one of the nation's best receivers, and he'd help Jaxon Shipley put up Jordan Shipley numbers. I have the two-back punch of Linwood and Gray. I have Hill, who can do everything, and a good line. We're going to spread the ball around like crazy. Good luck stopping that. On defense, you have Fields, Oakman and Grissom all rushing the passer. That's deadly. We can go three-man fronts or even put Oakman in the middle, letting the 6-foot-8 stud swat your passes down. And while you're worrying about him and Grissom, you have the Big 12's best defensive player [Fields] coming after you. Hager and Shannon will hold it down at the second level, and the secondary is full of playmakers. This is a fun team, plain and simple, and one that can frustrate the heck out of anybody.”

JAKE TROTTER’S TEAM

OFFENSE
DEFENSE
What Jake says about his team: “Max and Brandon are good at talking smack. I’ll give them that. But my players do their talking on the field. Once I was fortunate to land reigning Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year Bryce Petty as my quarterback, my goal was two-fold: to keep him upright from pressure off the edge; and, to surround him with firepower. I accomplished both ends, and then some. I wasn’t able to get either of the two elite receivers in the league in Goodley or Lockett. But I put together the best overall receiving corps in Grant, Shepard and Bundrage, who could all deliver 1,000-yard receiving seasons in 2014. On top of that, I snagged the best pass-catching tight end on the board in Bibbs, as well as Brown, so that we can pound the ball between the tackles when we need. Speaking of tackles, aware that Brandon and Max were focused almost solely on their pass rush in the early rounds, I also added two of the most reliable pass-protecting bookends in the league in Drango and Williams. Defensively, I can bring pressure, too, with Mueller and Striker, who last season respectively placed second and fourth in the Big 12 in sacks. Castleman and Britz are roadblocks, Heeney and Dawson are tackle machines and my entire secondary has All-Big 12 potential. We don’t talk. We just dominate.”
Following up on NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking from current Big 12 players to fill out three 22-man lineups.

Below is a recap of the first 15 rounds of the draft from the past two days, followed by rounds 16-22.

As another reminder, this is NOT a Top 25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to putting a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 16

  • Olson: WR/RB Tyreek Hill, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: OLB Pete Robertson, Texas Tech
  • Trotter: OLB Brandon Golson, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "To combat the offensive attacks I would face in the Big 12, I'm going with a 3-4 on defense. Golson, who led the Big 12 in forced fumbles last season, is another playmaking outside linebacker who would fit in nicely in this scheme opposite Striker." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeJohnathan Gray, Tanner Jacobson
AP Photo/Eric GayGetting potential Big 12 rushing leader Johnathan Gray in the 17th round could be a big steal for Max Olson.
Round 17

  • Trotter: LB Paul Dawson, TCU
  • Chatmon: C Dominic Espinosa, Texas
  • Olson: RB Johnathan Gray, Texas
  • Analysis: “I ended up getting a potential All-Big 12 running back in the 17th round. So I feel pretty good about that. Gray should be healthy for the opener, and he leads all returning Big 12 rushers with 86 rushing yards per game last season." -- Olson
Round 18

  • Olson: OT Troy Baker, Baylor
  • Chatmon: SS Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: OG Mark Glowinski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: "I wanted a safety who is comfortable in holding his own in coverage, while also having the ability to make plays all over the field. Hayes is the guy. With Worley, Shepherd, White, Barnett and Hayes in the secondary, I can unleash the rest of my defense on the quarterback and feel comfortable about my secondary holding its own against anyone." -- Chatmon
Round 19

  • Trotter: OG Nila Kasitati, Oklahoma
  • Chatmon: WR Tony Pierson, Kansas
  • Olson: SS Terrell Burt, Baylor
  • Analysis: "With Max and Brandon hoarding centers, I needed to attack the interior of my offensive line. Kasitati can excel manning either guard or center, and Glowinski is one of the league’s top returning guards." -- Trotter
Round 20

  • Olson: OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai, TCU
  • Chatmon: WR Jhajuan Seales, Oklahoma State
  • Trotter: WR Quenton Bundrage, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "The guys I wanted for my second guard spot weren't available at this round, so I'm going with the mammoth "Big V" Vaitai (6-foot-6, 308 pounds) and moving one of my other tackle selections inside. I ended up with a fairly good offensive line, which was pretty much my plan going in." -- Olson
Round 21

  • Trotter: CB Nigel Tribune, Iowa State
  • Chatmon: WR Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia
  • Olson: LB Nick Kwiatkoski, West Virginia
  • Analysis: “I picked up Bundrage in the previous round to seal up what I feel is the best all-around receiving corps, even if I didn’t get Goodley or Lockett. Tribune, the only true freshman to play for Iowa State in the past two seasons, is a corner with a ton of upside and, paired with Kevin Peterson, should provide me plenty of tenaciousness against the pass.” -- Trotter
Round 22

  • Olson: WR Jaxon Shipley, Texas
  • Chatmon: QB Trevor Knight, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: C Jared Kaster, Texas Tech
  • Analysis: “I just got the steal of the draft, and I knew I would wait until the final round to do so. As soon as Jake snapped up Petty, I knew I would be content with Davis Webb or Trevor Knight and wouldn’t draft a quarterback until the final round. The fact that Max opted for Webb made things even better for me as Knight has the versatility to run a run-heavy offense or spread things out and use his arm. He fits perfectly with the versatility I was striving for with each pick.” -- Chatmon

Imaginary Big 12 players draft, Part II

May, 14, 2014
May 14
9:00
AM ET
Following up off of NFL draft weekend, we’ve been conducting our own draft, picking current Big 12 players with the premise of filling out three 22-man lineups.

So far, this draft has been revealing, accentuating the prospective strength of the conference (defensive line) in 2014, as well as some of the potential shortcomings.

As a reminder, this is NOT a top-25 player ranking. It’s only an exercise in determining where the value of the league lies, and the different strategies to cobbling a team together from the league’s present talent pool.

Below is a recap of the first seven rounds of the draft from Monday, followed by rounds 8-15. We’ll conclude the draft Thursday by picking the final seven rounds.

Jake Trotter:
Brandon Chatmon:
Max Olson:
Round 8

  • Olson: LB Bryce Hager, Baylor
  • Chatmon: CB Kevin White, TCU
  • Trotter: TE E.J. Bibbs, Iowa State
  • Analysis: "In Grant, Shepard and now Bibbs, I have three of the most difficult matchups for opposing defensive backfields in the league. With Petty at QB, and two of the best pass-protecting tackles in the country, I feel like I'll be able to fling the ball at will." -- Trotter
[+] EnlargeCody Whitehair
Peter G. Aiken/Getty ImagesKansas State's Cody Whitehair provides versatility on the offensive line.
Round 9

  • Trotter: RB Malcolm Brown, Texas
  • Chatmon: OG Cody Whitehair, Kansas State
  • Olson: DT Andrew Billings, Baylor
  • Analysis: “Whitehair should help solidify my offensive line. His ability to play multiple positions up front will be valuable and I had to start addressing my offensive line before all of the top guys were off the board. He’ll join Clark to give me a solid foundation.” -- Chatmon
Round 10

  • Olson: LT Daniel Koenig, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: SS Dante Barnett, Kansas State
  • Trotter: DT Travis Britz, Kansas State
  • Analysis: "Time to start building my offensive line. I don't love that many linemen in the league this year, honestly, so that's why I waited. But Koenig is a good one, and he can play either tackle spot." -- Olson
Round 11

  • Trotter: DT James Castleman, Oklahoma State
  • Chatmon: C Tom Farniok, Iowa State
  • Olson: CB Zack Sanchez, Oklahoma
  • Analysis: "With my offense looking strong across the board, I'm circling back to my defense. I have two of the league's very best getting to the quarterback in Striker and Mueller. Now, it's time to solidify the interior run defense. I got just the guys in Castleman and Britz." -- Trotter
Round 12

  • Olson: RB Shock Linwood, Baylor
  • Chatmon: LB Dominique Alexander, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: CB Kevin Peterson, Oklahoma State
  • Analysis: "I went with Alexander because I love his versatility and instincts. He should be able to hold up in coverage at times but can blitz too. To top it all off, he's just a sophomore who has barely scratched the surface of his ability. Win, win." -- Chatmon
Round 13

  • Trotter: SS Karl Joseph, West Virginia
  • Chatmon: CB JaCorey Shepherd, Kansas
  • Olson: C BJ Finney, Kansas State
  • Analysis: "After loading up on defense early, I'm collecting pieces offensively. I think I got two good ones in the veteran Finney, and the budding Linwood." -- Olson
Round 14

  • Olson: OG Quinton Spain, West Virginia
  • Chatmon: RT Tyrus Thompson, Oklahoma
  • Trotter: FS Chris Hackett, TCU
  • Analysis: “I got my lockdown corner a couple rounds ago in Peterson, and with these last two picks, got safeties capable of being All-Big 12 performers this season.” -- Trotter
Round 15

  • Trotter: LB Ben Heeney, Kansas
  • Chatmon: WR Daje Johnson, Texas
  • Olson: DE Geneo Grissom, Oklahoma
  • Analysis: "Daje makes plays. A lot of them. Nothing more needs to be said here." -- Chatmon

With spring ball done, we’re reexamining and re-ranking the positional situations of every Big 12 team, continuing Thursday with the offensive line. These outlooks will probably look different in August. But here’s how we see them post-spring:

1. Oklahoma (pre-spring ranking: 1): The Sporting News has listed the Sooners as its preseason No. 1 team in the country, due in large part to Oklahoma’s offensive line. That might be going overboard, but the Sooners have a wealth of experience and depth returning up front, which includes four starters. They’ll get even deeper once guard Tyler Evans is cleared this summer, as expected (he was running this spring). Evans has missed the past two seasons with knee injuries but was a three-year starter before getting hurt.

[+] EnlargeCody Whitehair
John Albright/Icon SMIAfter losing both offensive tackles from last season, Kansas State is switching All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair to left tackle.
2. Kansas State (2): K-State responded to losing both tackles from last season by swinging All-Big 12 guard Cody Whitehair to left tackle and slotting juco transfer Luke Hayes at right tackle. With B.J. Finney entering his fourth year as the starting center and more juco offensive line help arriving in the summer, the Wildcats should be more than solid up front.

3. Texas (3): The Longhorns will feature one of the eldest lines in the Big 12, with its projected starting front comprising two seniors and three juniors. Right guard Taylor Doyle emerged this spring at the biggest question spot, but Texas has other options inside with Rami Hammad, Curtis Riser and the versatile Kent Perkins. Center Dominic Espinosa is the anchor of this group, which will be asked to establish itself with the running game in Charlie Strong’s first season.

4. Baylor (4): The Bears are still waiting for left tackle Spencer Drango to return from last season’s back injury, but right tackle Troy Baker showed no lingering effects of the knee injury he suffered last spring. With the depth inside and with Kyle Fuller locking up the center job, there are no weaknesses with this cast -- provided Drango gets healthy and gets back to the field.

5. Oklahoma State (5): The Cowboys are also waiting for their left tackle to return from an injury he suffered last season. Devin Davis has NFL potential but has been slow to recover from an ACL tear last preseason. The Cowboys seemed to also be in a fix at center with their top-two players at the position from last fall moving on from the program with eligibility still remaining. But Paul Lewis slid over from guard this spring and stabilized that spot. Daniel Koenig is an All-Big 12 caliber player and capable of playing tackle or guard. He’ll continue to man left tackle, at least until Davis returns.

6. Texas Tech (6): Tech received some welcome news during spring ball with starting right tackle Rashad Fortenberry being granted an extra year of eligibility. The Red Raiders have one of the best returning tackles in the league on the left side in Le’Raven Clark, and two juco tackles they’re high on in Shaq Davis and Dominique Robertson. With Jared Kaster and Alfredo Morales also returning as starters inside, Tech’s offensive line should be much better than last season's.

7. West Virginia (7): The Mountaineers have the league’s most reliable one-two punch at guard in Quinton Spain and Mark Glowinski, who have 38 career starts together. The rest of the line, however, is a question. Left tackle Adam Pankey impressed coach Dana Holgorsen early in the spring and won a starting job before the Gold-Blue Game. If Pankey pans out, the Mountaineers could be a load up front.

8. Iowa State (8): The Cyclones had disastrous luck with the health of their offensive line last season, but that should pay off in 2014 with so many different players having gotten experience. Left tackle Brock Dagel has immense upside, and center Tom Farniok is an All-Big-type player. But the Cyclones were especially pumped with the development of sophomore right guard Daniel Burton, who is physical and one of the smartest players on the team. If they get better luck with good health, this could wind up being a very a tough and balanced unit.

9. TCU (9): The Horned Frogs welcomed the return of tackle Tayo Fabuluje, who left the team before the start of the season last fall. Fabuluje, however, missed several practices with an ankle injury, allowing redshirt freshman Joseph Noteboom to move ahead of him on the depth chart. Fabuluje will have a chance to earn his spot back in the spring opposite Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who replaced Fabuluje last season. But the way the 2013 season went, the Horned Frogs can’t have too many reliable offensive tackles. Juco transfer Frank Kee impressed during the spring and should lock down a starting spot at guard next to center Joey Hunt, who did a nice job of adapting to the new offense during the spring. With 6-foot-7, 350-pound Matt Pryor also likely to fit in somewhere in the rotation, the Frogs will definitely be bigger up front than they were in 2013 -- and probably better, too.

10: Kansas (10): Because he can get in and out of the pocket, Montell Cozart winning the starting job should help the offensive line. The fact that new offensive coordinator John Reagan is also an offensive line coach should be a boost, as well. The Jayhawks have several battles up front that will continue into the fall, including center, where walk-on Joe Gibson made a huge impression during the spring.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be analyzing the depth charts of every Big 12 team coming out of the spring, continuing Wednesday with Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have yet to release an official depth chart, so this is only a projection:

OFFENSE (projected starters in bold)

QB: J.W. Walsh (Jr.), Daxx Garman (Jr.) OR Mason Rudolph (Fr.)

Walsh lost the job to Clint Chelf last season, but he all but reclaimed it with a steady spring. Coach Mike Gundy said the competition would continue into the fall, but barring injury, it’s only a matter of time before Walsh is named the starter for the opener against Florida State.

[+] EnlargeTyreek Hill
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiExpectations are high for newcomer Tyreek Hill.
RB: Desmond Roland (Sr.) OR Tyreek Hill (Jr.), Rennie Childs (So.)

FB: Jeremy Seaton (Jr.), Teddy Johnson (Sr.)

The Cowboys added what figures to be the favorite to be named preseason Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year in Hill, who was dynamic in the spring despite splitting duties with the track team. With Roland back to grind out yards between the tackles and Hill a threat to go the distance whenever he touches the ball, the Cowboys have the opportunity to create problems for opposing defenses when they play on the field at the same time, which should happen a lot next year. Childs, who rushed for 189 yards as a freshman, adds depth to the position, while Seaton is a solid lead-blocking fullback who can also catch passes out of the backfield.

WR: Jhajuan Seales (So.), C.J. Curry (So.)

WR: Marcell Ateman (So.), Brandon Sheperd (Jr.)

IR: Austin Hays (So.), Ra’Shaad Samples (RFr.)

IR: Blake Webb (So.), David Glidden (Jr.)

TE/FB: Blake Jarwin (So.), Jordan Frazier (Fr.)

From Rashaun Woods to Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys have often had the luxury of a superstar wideout to throw the ball up to. The strength of his group, however, will be in its number. Seales, who had 39 catches as a freshman last season, headlines this unit, but Ateman, Hays, Webb, Glidden and Sheperd have all played in big games before. Hill will also boost this group whenever he moves from running back to the slot. Samples was banged up most of the spring, but he’ll also eventually bring speed to the rotation.

LT: Devin Davis (So.), Brandon Garrett (Sr.), Michael Wilson (So.)

LG: Chris Grisbhy (Sr.), Zachary Hargrove (Jr.)

C: Paul Lewis (So.), Jaxson Salinas (RFr.)

RG: Zac Veatch (So.), Colby Hegwood (Jr.)

RT: Daniel Koenig (Sr.), Zachary Crabtree (RFr.)

The Cowboys have some major questions up front that won’t be answered until the fall. Davis missed all of last year after tearing his ACL in the preseason, and still wasn’t cleared in the spring. Garrett’s leg was broken in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, and he too is still working his way back. On top of that, longtime position coach Joe Wickline is now at Texas. If Davis and Garrett return to 100 percent, Lewis is able to successfully man his new position at center and new offensive line coach Bob Connelly builds on Wickline’s success, the Cowboys could field yet another banner offensive line. Of course, that is a lot of "ifs."

DEFENSE

DE: Jimmy Bean (Jr.), Trace Clark (Jr.)

DT: James Castleman (Sr.), Vincent Taylor (RFr.) OR Vili Leveni (RFr.)

DT: Ofa Hautau (Sr.), Ben Hughes (RFr.) OR Eric Davis (So.)

DE: Sam Wren (Sr.), Emmanuel Ogbah (So.)

Even though the Cowboys graduated all-conference tackle Calvin Barnett, this should be the strength of the defense. Castleman is capable of performing at an All-Big 12 level, and Wren, Bean and Ogbah can get to the quarterback. Oklahoma State will be even stronger along the defensive line if former four-star signees Hughes and Taylor emerge in their second years on campus.

MLB: Ryan Simmons (Jr.), Dominic Ramacher (So.) OR Demarcus Sherod (So.)

WLB: Devante Averette (Jr.) OR Kris Catlin (Jr.) OR Seth Jacobs (So.)

Simmons moved inside this spring after flanking All-Big 12 veterans Caleb Lavey and Shaun Lewis last season. Simmons will be the new leader of this unit. The Cowboys also seemed pleased with the development of Averette and Catlin during the spring. Oklahoma State signed a very highly touted linebacking class in February, but chances are, those freshmen won’t be ready to contribute until at least 2015.

NB: D’Nerius Antoine (Jr.) OR Josh Furman (Sr.)

CB: Kevin Peterson (Jr.), Darius Curry (RFr.) OR Taylor Lewis (RFr.)

CB: Ashton Lampkin (Jr.), Miketavius Jones (Jr.)

FS: Jordan Sterns (So.), Larry Stephens (Sr.) OR Jerel Morrow (RFr.)

SS: Deric Robertson (So.), Tre Flowers (RFr.)

Like with so many other teams in the Big 12, Oklahoma State’s secondary is an uncertainty. Peterson, who is one of the top budding cover men in the league, will anchor the group as its lone returning starter. The Cowboys should be in good hands at the other corner with Lampkin, who has appeared in every game his first two years and had a pick-six in Oklahoma State’s “Orange Blitz” scrimmage. Safety is a complete unknown as Robertson and Sterns have little experience. The Cowboys could get some much-needed help from Furman, who transferred in from Michigan during the offseason and will be eligible immediately.
STILLWATER, Okla. -- Oklahoma State didn't have a traditional spring game but held an “Orange Blitz” open practice Saturday in its place, which culminated with a lengthy scrimmage at the end. Here’s a recap of what happened:

[+] EnlargeBlake Webb
Richard Rowe/USA TODAY SportsWR Blake Webb missed almost all of 2013 with a foot injury, but is ready to make an impact in 2014.
Best offensive performance: Despite losing three of its top four pass-catchers from last season'steam, Oklahoma State could be as deep as it has ever been at wide receiver. And Blake Webb, who had a big performance Saturday, could be a big reason why. On the opening series of the scrimmage, Webb hauled in a long pass over a defender down the middle of the field from J.W. Walsh. On the ensuing series, he beat the secondary deep again and reeled in a 55-yard touchdown catch from freshman quarterback Mason Rudolph. Webb was a big part of the receiving rotation two years ago as a freshman, but missed virtually the entire 2013 season with a foot injury. He came back to impress this spring, and he seems poised to give the Cowboys a reliable weapon out of the slot.

Best defensive performance: The Cowboys need a replacement for All-Big 12 cornerback Justin Gilbert, who will likely be a first-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft. Ashton Lampkin looks primed to step into the starting lineup for Gilbert opposite two-year starter Kevin Peterson. Lampkin, who has been a key reserve the last few seasons, intercepted Walsh during the scrimmage for a pick-six by wrestling away the ball from receiver C.J. Curry, then racing down the sidelines for a touchdown. Lampkin was named Oklahoma State’s special teams MVP last season. He should have a much bigger role on the defense in 2014.

Best debut: Behind closed practices, running back/receiver Tyreek Hill had been generating plenty of buzz with his breakaway speed. Hill didn’t break away any big runs in the Orange Blitz, but he still showcased his track speed by getting to the edge of the line of scrimmage on a couple of his runs. Hill only touched the ball five times Saturday, but there’s no doubt he’s going to be a big part of the Oklahoma State attack in the fall. The Cowboys have plans to utilize the blazing-fast Hill the way West Virginia did Tavon Austin two seasons ago -- both as a running back and as a slot receiver -- to keep opposing defenses off-balance.

Notable play: Rudolph struggled a bit, often making ill-advised throws into coverage. But he also showed off his big arm with the touchdown pass over the top to Webb. Rudolph put the ball on the money, and offered a glimpse of the throws he can make to stretch a defense.

Developing storyline: Walk-on quarterback Daxx Garman had been one of the breakout performers for the Cowboys this spring, shining during a scrimmage earlier in the week. Garman, however, did not participate Saturday after injuring his knee in practice the day before. Coach Mike Gundy said the extent of the injury wasn’t certain, but that he thought Garman would “be fine.” Garman is scheduled to be evaluated again sometime today.

Biggest question answered: This is the third year in a row the Cowboys have gone through spring with a quarterback competition. That competition, however, could be coming to a close. Walsh took all the snaps with the first team Saturday, and while Gundy stopped short of naming Walsh the starter afterward, all signs point to that happening soon. “I think so,” Gundy said, when asked if Walsh had the clear edge. “We’ll finish up next week and then make a decision on exactly what we want to do. But I would have to agree.”

Quotable: “[Walsh] has become more of a leader. He’s staying in the pocket more, which is good. Maybe a year or two years ago, he’d get nervous back there and start scrambling. But now he’s sitting in there and throwing. And that’s great. … he’s going to be our guy. He has to be.” – veteran offensive tackle Daniel Koenig
Over the next two weeks, we’ll be breaking down the 10 best players at the moment on every team in the Big 12.

These lists won’t include junior college or freshman signees who haven’t arrived on campus. Rather, they will include only the players currently on their teams this spring. Some of these rankings might look different after the spring, but this is how we see them now. Next up, Oklahoma State:

1. DT James Castleman: Castleman is the Cowboys’ most experienced player after starting the last two seasons alongside All-Big 12 performer Calvin Barnett. With Barnett gone, Castleman will command more attention. He, too, has the ability to be an All-Big 12 player.

2. OT Daniel Koenig: In recent years, the Cowboys have developed a penchant for taking lightly recruited offensive linemen and turning them into All-Big 12 players, notably Levy Adcock, Lane Taylor and Parker Graham. Koenig appears to be the next in that growing line. He can play anywhere along the line but will likely settle in at right tackle, barring injuries elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeJhajuan Seales
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesJhajuan Seales is poised for a breakout in 2014.
3. WR Jhajuan Seales: With Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore all gone, the Cowboys will be looking to Seales to take over as the team’s go-to receiver. Seales has the speed and physical tools to be a force, and he produced last season despite being the third or fourth option in the passing progressions. Seales was lightly recruited coming out of high school with a mediocre offer list. But, as they did with Justin Blackmon, the Cowboys appear to have uncovered another diamond in the rough.

4. CB Kevin Peterson: Future NFL first-round draft pick Justin Gilbert was the ace of the Cowboys secondary in 2013. Now that responsibility falls to Peterson, who has been a key part of the secondary since he arrived in Stillwater. Peterson might not have Gilbert’s elite athleticism, but he has the talent to be an elite cover corner.

5. RB Desmond Roland: Roland isn’t the flashiest or fastest running back. But when the Cowboys needed two yards last season, there was no better back in the Big 12 at getting it. After leading the conference with 13 rushing touchdowns despite starting only half the season, Roland is back to anchor the Oklahoma State backfield.

6. ILB Ryan Simmons: Simmons played on the outside last season but will slide to the middle with Caleb Lavey gone. Simmons was overshadowed by Lavey and Shaun Lewis, who were both All-Big 12 linebackers. But he still finished fourth on the team with 67 tackles, including nine for loss. With Lavey and Lewis gone, Simmons will take over as the undeniable leader of the Oklahoma State linebackers.

7. WR Marcell Ateman: Ateman played a major role at wideout as a freshman, even though the Cowboys were loaded at the position. Ateman finished fifth on the offense in receiving with 276 receiving yards. At 6-foot-4 and almost 200 pounds, Ateman has the stature to demolish smaller corners. If he builds off his first season, he could be in for a super sophomore campaign opposite Seales.

8. WR/RB Tyreek Hill: Hill is the only newcomer on this list and has never played a down on the FBS level. But it’s difficult to envision the No. 4 juco prospect in the country not making a major impact in his first season. Hill, who placed fifth in the 200 in the NCAA Indoor Championships, might be the fastest player in college football. This spring, the Cowboys have been devising ways to get Hill the ball in space. If they’re successful, look out.

9. QB J.W. Walsh: This is a big spring for Walsh. He flashed much potential as a redshirt freshman before taking a step back as a sophomore, losing the starting job to Clint Chelf. Walsh is the only quarterback on the roster with any experience, but he’ll have to perform to fend off hot shot true freshman Mason Rudolph, who is already enrolled and participating in spring ball. Walsh struggled last year, but he was also fifth in the country in the Adjusted QBR metric just two seasons ago.

10. DE Jimmy Bean: He started every game for the Cowboys last season as a sophomore and got better as the season progressed. In the AT&T Cotton Bowl, Bean finished with a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss. He also had a sack against Missouri. Together with Emmanuel Ogbah, Sam Wren and Trace Clark, Bean will lead what should be a solid rotation off the edge defensively.

Big 12 pre-spring breakdown: OL

February, 21, 2014
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As we wait for the start of spring ball, we’re examining and ranking the positional situations of every team, continuing Friday with offensive line. Some of these outlooks will look different after the spring. But here’s how we see the offensive lines at the moment:

1. Oklahoma: The Sooners lose their captain in All-American Gabe Ikard, who kept the line together through several moving pieces. Those pieces, however, are almost all back. Tyrus Thompson and Daryl Williams are steady veterans at tackle. Inside, guards Dionte Savage and Nila Kasitati both started the Sugar Bowl, and former starter Tyler Evans returns after sitting out the last two years with injury. The Sooners also have been grooming Ikard’s replacement at center in Ty Darlington, who has played well in a reserve role the last two years. Even without Ikard, this is a seasoned unit.

[+] EnlargeJoe Wickline
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiJoe Wickline's move from the OSU staff to Texas is an important storyline in the Big 12.
2. Kansas State: The Wildcats will be stout inside. Guard Cody Whitehair and center BJ Finney are All-Big 12 caliber. Veteran starters Cornelius Lucas and Tavon Rooks are gone at tackle, but Bill Snyder signed two of the top 15 juco tackles in the country in A.J. Allen and Luke Hayes. If Allen and Hayes can solidify the bookends, K-State could be stout up front.

3. Texas: The Longhorns return veteran center Dominic Espinosa, who has 39 career starts. But with three starters gone, the Longhorns really need the light to come up for Desmond Harrison. The talent is there, and if Harrison can put it all together, he’ll give Texas a much-needed bookend on the left side. There’s potential elsewhere in freshman guard Rami Hammad and sophomore tackle Kent Perkins, who could both earn starting roles this spring. The biggest addition to this group will be new assistant Joe Wickline, who worked magic with the offensive lines in Stillwater.

4. Baylor: The Bears need left tackle Spencer Drango to make a healthy recovery from his back injury. After Drango was injured in November, Baylor struggled at times to keep quarterback Bryce Petty upright. Departing unanimous All-American guard Cyril Richardson is irreplaceable, though Desmine Hilliard had a solid sophomore season at right guard. Sophomore Kyle Fuller looks ready to take over at center, but the Bears will need another piece or two to emerge. The skill talent is in place for the Baylor offense to keep humming. How the players up front perform will determine whether it will.

5. Oklahoma State: The key for the Cowboys here will be a healthy return of left tackle Devin Davis. Davis might have been Oklahoma State’s best lineman last season, but suffered a torn ACL during a preseason that knocked him out for the year. Davis has NFL ability, and if he resumes his role, that will allow Daniel Koenig to move back to right tackle. The O-line in Stillwater was something never to worry about because of Wickline’s masterful track record of mixing and matching to get a right fit. It will be interesting to see how the line performs next season with Wickline now at Texas.

[+] EnlargeLe'Raven Clark
John Albright/Icon SMITexas Tech's Le'Raven Clark is one of the best offensive tackles in the Big 12.
6. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders have an NFL talent in left tackle Le'Raven Clark, who earned All-Big 12 honors as a sophomore. Despite Clark, the Red Raiders line struggled last year, giving up 33 sacks (second-worst in the Big 12). But it should be improved in 2014. Juco tackles Dominique Robertson (ESPN JC 50) and Shaq Davis are on the way, and 2013 RT starter Rashad Fortenberry could be back, too, if the NCAA grants him a medical hardship waiver. Losing guard Beau Carpenter to dismissal hurts, but Baylen Brown has starting experience. Brown, Alfredo Morales, James Polk and center Jared Kaster all return after combining for 31 starts along the interior last season.

7. West Virginia: The good news is that the Mountaineers should be superb inside. Quinton Spain is one of the best returning guards in the league, and Mark Glowinski had a solid season at the other guard spot. Tackle, however, is the biggest question on the entire squad going into the spring, outside QB. Coach Dana Holgorsen said Friday that guard Marquis Lucas would be swinging to the outside to compete with Adam Pankey, Marcell Lazard and Sylvester Townes.

8. Iowa State: A healthy Tom Farniok at center would go a long way in stabilizing an inconsistent offensive line that gave up a Big 12-high 38 sacks last season. Farniok was never healthy last year, and it showed. The Cyclones are excited about the potential of Brock Dagel as a cornerstone at left tackle. Jacob Gannon will battle Jake Campos for the other tackle spot, while Jamison Lalk, Oni Omoile and juco transfer Wendell Taiese will compete for the guard spot opposite Daniel Burton. Under the new offensive regime, this line could enjoy huge improvement from 2013.

9. TCU: The line was one of many reasons why the TCU offense struggled so much in 2013. Getting Matt Pryor on the field would be a big help. Pryor is massive at 6-foot-7, 350 pounds, and could fill a need a tackle. Getting Tayo Fabuluje back after a year away from football could help, too, assuming he’s not too rusty. Juco guard Frank Kee, who chose the Horned Frogs over Oklahoma, could fill a spot inside immediately. True freshman Ty Barrett, the prize in a hotly contested recruiting battle, could challenge for time quickly, too.

10. Kansas: John Reagan takes over at offensive coordinator and line coach, and he’ll have some talented newcomers to weave into the rotation. Devon Williams and Keyon Haughton both arrived as three-star guards from Georgia Military College. Haughton is already on campus and could start right away. Freshman Jacob Bragg, the No. 3 center recruit in the country, could vie for time immediately, too, at the vacancy at center (2013 backup center Dylan Admire has moved to fullback/tight end).
Camp is open up in Stillwater. Before we get too deep in sweltering hot practices, I'll offer up a quick preview of what you need to know heading into the season.

See more fall camp previews.

Next up: Oklahoma State.

Media's predicted finish: Fourth.

Biggest story line: Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon are gone. The Cowboys are going from a 28-year-old quarterback to an 18-year-old quarterback, but he's got to find a handful of new targets to come close to what Oklahoma State was used to with Weeden and Blackmon in 2010 and 2011. The Cowboys enter the season in the unfamiliar position of defending champs, but outside of the quarterback and pass-catching spots, this team is anything but rebuilding.

Biggest question mark: Wes Lunt. We know he beat out J.W. Walsh and Clint Chelf this spring to amazingly win the job as a true freshman who should have still been in high school, but how will he handle the first year of major college football? It won't be easy, especially considering the strength of the league's defenses, which should be stronger than they've been in recent seasons. Can Lunt be productive and also take care of the ball?

Who needs to step up: The cornerbacks. Justin Gilbert and Brodrick Brown should be absolutely nasty at cornerback, but they simply have to be great this season. The margin for error for the defense is nothing like it was last season. It may surprise some, but the Cowboys actually led the Big 12 in scoring defense in conference games last season. That's nice. OSU still has to be better, and it's going to start with the Pokes' pair of returning starters at corner.

Biggest position battle: Starting left tackle Michael Bowie broke team rules and was suspended, but chose to leave the team, leaving the Cowboys reliant on a sudden position battle at left tackle. Parker Graham started three games there last year and may grab the spot, but sophomore Daniel Koenig, redshirt freshman Devin Davis and juco transfer Chris Grisbhy will be in the mix, too.

Don't forget about: RB Jeremy Smith. Joseph Randle is the headliner. Herschel Sims was the superstar recruit kicked off the team this spring. Smith will have to join Randle in supporting his new quarterback, proving that their success on the ground -- the duo combined for almost 2,000 yards -- was more than defenses being distracted by Weeden and Blackmon. Smith is a power back, but even he broke out for scores from 74 and 30 yards against Texas, the league's best defense.

Breaking out: There are lots of receptions to be had in this offense. The only question? Who's going to get them? Tracy Moore, Isaiah Anderson and Josh Stewart are the most likely candidates, but look out for spring breakout star Charlie Moore and newcomer Blake Jackson, one of the nation's best juco tight ends a year ago.

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