Big 12: Lavocheya Cooper
More fresh faces:
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Josh Stewart, WR: You probably remember a bit from Stewart last year, who broke out and caught 19 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns, but the time is now for Stewart to become a star. OSU needs him after losing Justin Blackmon, Josh Cooper and Michael Harrison. He had a huge spring, and coach Mike Gundy predicted running back Joseph Randle would lead the team in receptions, though it might be Stewart, too. The 5-foot-10, 178-pound Denton, Texas native is as shifty as you might expect, and could emerge as freshman Wes Lunt's favorite new target.
Parker Graham, OT: I knew OSU was going to be replacing starters along the offensive line this year, and at last year's Fiesta Bowl, asked around the Cowboys' line for the young guys who were the most impressive. The same name kept popping up over and over: Parker Graham. He started five games last year and became the team's starting right tackle by season's end after having almost no experience. Now, he's a junior loaded with potential. The 6-foot-7, 315-pounder is now the starter at left tackle and had 20 knockdowns last season, though he did give up two of the 12 sacks given up by OSU's line last season.
Shamiel Gary, S: Gary had no profile last year because he was sitting out after transferring in from Wyoming. Now, he's a co-starter alongside Lavocheya Cooper at strong safety, looking to replace Markelle Martin. Losing Johnny Thomas hurt this squad, but Gary has been a big reason why it won't be a huge issue this fall. He's got prototype safety size at 6-foot, 210 pounds and could challenge for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors by season's end.
2011 conference record: 8-1
Returning starters: Offense 6; defense 8; P/K 2
RB Joseph Randle, WR Tracy Moore, WR Isaiah Anderson, CB Brodrick Brown, LB Shaun Lewis, S Daytawion Lowe, LB Alex Elkins, CB/KR Justin Gilbert
QB Brandon Weeden, WR Justin Blackmon, S Markelle Martin, DE Jamie Blatnick, C Grant Garner, RT Levy Adcock, WR Josh Cooper, WR Michael Harrison
2011 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Joseph Randle* (1,216 yards)
Passing: Brandon Weeden (4,727 yards)
Receiving: Justin Blackmon (1,522 yards)
Tackles: Daytawion Lowe* (97)
Sacks: Jamie Blatnick (8)
Interceptions: Justin Gilbert*, Brodrick Brown* (5)
1. Handing the reins to the youngster: I had my doubts about whether OSU would actually pull the trigger and name a starting quarterback. For the Cowboys to name 18-year-old true freshman Wes Lunt is a big move, and proof of the staff's confidence that the Illinois native is the best man for the job. The summer will be about him establishing himself as the team's leader, but seeing how he handles the fall will be fascinating.
2. Rebooting the offensive line: You could say OSU must replace four starters on the offensive line, but sixth-year senior Jonathan Rush has plenty of experience while he returns from a knee injury, and Lane Taylor returns, too. Michael Bowie was a starter-quality contributor last year, and Parker Graham earned rave reviews for his work in the second unit last year, moving into a starter role for the final five games. Evan Epstein is the man at center, but replacing Grant Garner won't be easy. This is a unit hardly devoid of experience.
3. Emerging stars at receiver: OSU knew Justin Blackmon and Josh Cooper would be gone this year, but Michael Harrison's exit from the team was a surprise. OSU needed talents to emerge in the spring, and they did. Josh Stewart was a big standout, as was juco newcomer Blake Jackson, in the mold of former Sooners star Jermaine Gresham. Charlie Moore exploded for 243 receiving yards and three touchdowns in the spring game.
1. How far can Lunt take the Cowboys? Oklahoma State will carry the banner of defending Big 12 champs for the first time in school history next fall. They'll do so with a wide-eyed true freshman making his way through plenty of unfamiliar territory and playing plenty of new faces for the first time. His ceiling is high, but Oklahoma State will start in the top 25 and is good enough to be a factor in the Big 12 title race. How far will Lunt carry them?
2. Who's filling in for Markelle Martin? Martin was the leader of the defense in 2011, but defensive coordinator Bill Young says replacing him will be done by committee. Lavocheya Cooper, Zack Craig and Shamiel Gary will be in the mix, but how will that rotation work out in the fall?
3. Can the defense carry more of the load? OSU forced 44 turnovers last season, the most of any team in college football. It also finished 107th nationally in total defense. The Cowboys won't have the same awe-inspiring offense in 2011, but the defense returns a lot of experience and a lot of talent. Defensive ends Jamie Blatnick and Richetti Jones leave holes in the pass rush. The defense should be better, but it has to be. The margin for error will be much smaller.
- You've heard enough about Oklahoma State's QBs for today (Part 1, Part 2), with more to come on that trio, but whoever wins the job won't be short for targets. Receiver Josh Stewart's made the biggest improvement this offseason, but Tracy Moore has come on strong on the outside, too. Inside, you really do have to watch out for Blake Jackson. I regret not putting him on my "Top Newcomers in the Big 12" list from earlier this week. He's playing inside, but he's basically a tight end, and was the best of the junior college ranks last year. He's also a man. He's a huge target with great, great hands. Look for him to get some run on the goal line, but in this offense, he may actually be my frontrunner for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. I'd almost guarantee him getting a high volume of touches, and he's going to be tough to bring down at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds. He's every bit of that, too. "He's a big body guy and has really good hands. If it's in the general area of him, he's going to catch it," quarterback J.W. Walsh said. "He's got really good leaping ability and great ball skills."
- Speaking of newcomers, you don't hear as much hype around him, but defensive coordinator Bill Young is hopeful that Calvin Barnett can have a big impact on the defensive line. Plenty of folks were after the one-time OSU commit, turned Arkansas signee, turned juco All-American, turned Cowboy signee. The 6-foot-2, 300-pounder has big-time potential, but he has to pick up the speed of the game and focus on technique. OSU's defense may ultimately depend on strength at the defensive tackle spot. "He's a very talented guy, he's really strong and powerful. Weight coaches have raved about what he's done in the weight room," said Young. "He's a big guy who can run and change direction. We're fortunate to have him." Big impact? "We're hoping he can," Young said.
- Fired Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt, an Oklahoma State alum, was back on OSU's campus on Wednesday visiting with the coaching staff. Colorado coach Jon Embree also showed up unannounced earlier this spring to meet with Gundy, who granted the request.
- Oklahoma State's corners and running backs are both having great springs, as expected. Those two spots might be the biggest strength on the team. OSU has a great case as the Big 12's best set of running backs, and is second to only Texas at cornerback.
- Defensively, Mike Gundy feels like this year's team is the most talented and deepest of any team he's had dating all the way back to even when Gundy was an assistant under Les Miles.
- Oklahoma State may be hurt the most of anyone with the new rule changes in special teams. Kickoffs have been moved up to the 35-yard line and touchbacks are now brought out to the 25-yard line. That negates two huge advantages OSU has had the past two season. Quinn Sharp boomed 61 touchbacks last season. No other kicker had more than 40. Meanwhile, Justin Gilbert is one of the most dynamic return men in the league, but he'll have fewer opportunities. He says he'll still plan on taking it out when he gets a chance, but he'll have to dial it back some and take the unselfish route a whole lot more. Sad to see that. He's electrifying.
- Oklahoma State moved safety Daytawion Lowe to nickel back and Lavocheya Cooper is holding down the free safety spot. The void at strong safety will be filled by committee, Young said. Zack Craig will be part of it, as and Shamiel Gary and Deion Imade will get a shot, too. "The good thing about is we have all the backups back," Young said.
- OSU is missing center Evan Epstein this week. He's out with pneumonia.
- Former OSU lineman Levy Adcock showed up briefly to Oklahoma State' facilities on Wednesday. I can confirm he's shaved his mullet, just like he said he would.
Schedule: Oklahoma State kicks off the first of its NCAA-allowed 15 practices Monday, leading up to the spring game on April 21. Practices are closed to fans and media.
What's new: The major characters in the story of the Cowboys' 2011 Big 12 title run (and subsequent Fiesta Bowl win) are gone. Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon hooked up for 232 completions and 38 touchdowns the past two seasons, carrying Oklahoma State to 23 wins in consecutive years that were each the best in school history. Replacing both is the primary issue in the spring.
New faces: Special teams coordinator Joe DeForest left after 12 years in Stillwater and leaves a big void of his own. New assistant Van Malone will coach OSU's safeties, but coach Mike Gundy won't decide who fills the special teams role until after the spring. Malone comes to OSU via Tulsa. Oklahoma State also welcomes four early enrollees: QB Wes Lunt, TE Blake Jackson, DT Calvin Barnett and LB Jeremiah Tshimanga.
Big shoes to fill: OSU's receiving corps. Blackmon is gone, but the search goes a lot deeper than just for OSU's No. 1. No. 2 receiver Josh Cooper graduated, as did No. 4 receiver Hubert Anyiam. The team's receiver with perhaps the most potential, Michael Harrison, also left the team after being suspended by the NCAA for the 2012 season. Last year, nine OSU players caught at least 19 passes for 200 yards. There's a lot of receptions to go around. Receivers have to step up this spring. Tracy Moore, Josh Stewart and Isaiah Anderson are the most likely candidates to grab 80-100 balls next year.
All eyes on: The quarterback battle, obviously. Gundy says junior Clint Chelf hasn't done enough to make the job his to lose. Freshman J.W. Walsh has a full year in the system under his belt, but can the dual-threat prove his mettle as a passer? Lunt enters this spring with what's likely the biggest arm of the three, but can he pick the system up fast enough to earn the job? Gundy says he wants to know his starter at the end of the spring, but all three will receive equal reps to begin practice today.
Breaking out: Jackson. We mentioned him earlier, and the early-enrolling tight end is already making a splash. He opens the spring at the top of OSU's depth chart at inside receiver. You don't see that every day. The 6-foot-3 juco transfer was an All-American last year and is already up to 238 pounds from 220 earlier this year. Don't be surprised if he makes major waves in the coming weeks.
Question mark: Markelle Martin wasn't the fastest safety in the league, but he provided valuable leadership, had tons of experience and was arguably the Big 12's biggest hitter. Lavocheya Cooper gets the first crack at replacing him, but will he be good enough? In the pass-happy Big 12, there's no overstating the importance of safeties that get in receivers' heads and prevent the big play.
You can see the full chart here.
A few thoughts:
- Gundy made it official on the depth chart: It's a three-man race for the QB job, and right now, junior Clint Chelf doesn't have the advantage. Chelf and freshmen J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt will compete for the job in the spring and are all separated by an "or" on the chart.
- Junior college All-America tight end Blake Jackson just signed with OSU and has already earned a bit of pre-spring hype, and he'll enter the spring as a starter. Not at tight end, though. He's starting opposite Josh Stewart at inside receiver. That's an interesting selection. Not many 6-foot-3, 238-pound inside receivers in the Big 12. Jackson was listed at 220 when he signed, too. Looks like he's packed on a lot of muscle.
- Grant Garner leaves a huge hole in the middle of OSU's offense at center, but Evan Epstein will start the spring as his replacement. Parker Graham played a lot in 2011, but he'll replace Levy Adcock at right tackle after playing left tackle last year. Senior Michael Bowie will move to left tackle after playing a reserve role in 2011.
- Cooper Bassett and Ryan Robinson slide up, as expected, to replace OSU's pair of departed defensive ends, but those jobs aren't settled. Nigel Nicholas and Tyler Johnson are newcomers to the position. Nicholas played DT last year and Johnson was a linebacker. Nicholas is a co-starter with Bassett and Johnson is No. 2 behind Robinson.
- Lavocheya Cooper gets the first crack at replacing Markelle Martin at safety, but he's probably going to have a battle on his hands with Zack Craig for that spot. Cooper missed time with an injury last year, and Craig was the top reserve at the position.
- Sad to see Michael Harrison not on the depth chart. A personal issue prompted the NCAA suspension and his decision to leave the team, but I hate to see potential go unfulfilled. Harrison had a whole lot, and he was my pick to be the next big-time receiver in the program.
Sooners lose another starter
It's been a less-than-ideal offseason for Oklahoma, which heads into the fall as one of the favorites to win the national title. It got even less ideal when starting right tackle Jarvis Jones suffered a ruptured patellar tendon in his knee.
"We were in a team period and it just buckled on him," coach Bob Stoops said in a release.
Jones started four games last season, but he's expected to miss six months and return in late September or October. That's a big deal for the Sooners, who play at Florida State, a likely top five opponent, on Sept. 17. If Jones can get ahead of schedule on his rehab, it wouldn't be shocking if he returned by then, but it's another setback for the Sooners.
Three starters had run-ins with the law before spring practice, and All-Big 12 cornerback Jamell Fleming, the team's best cover man, is not currently enrolled at Oklahoma after reported academic dishonesty. His future is still in flux, and though none of the offseason happenings are complete game-changers, they're all unnecessary distractions for the Sooners, who have admitted themselves that this season is all about gunning for the national title.
Baylor defense bounces back
Baylor's defense couldn't have played much worse in the team's last scrimmage, but new coordinator Phil Bennett had to be pretty happy with the effort in a weekend scrimmage.
The Bears had eight sacks and scored three touchdowns. Defensive end Willie Jefferson, a converted tight end, led the team with three sacks and scored on a 30-yard fumble return. Jared Edwards also had a pair of sacks.
"I thought we made some strides this week. I think we are starting to get some people in the right positions," Bennett told reporters after the scrimmage. "As I told them, we aren’t there yet, but I saw some steps. We put them in some tough situations. We moved the ball downfield, we did some red zone with one minute and they responded better. But like I said, we are not there yet. I told the guys that if we can stay on an even keel with our offense, we are going to get better and win some games.”
Terrance Ganaway put up a nice stat line with 42 yards on seven carries and a touchdown, and Darius Jones led all receivers with 70 yards on six receptions.
Kicker Aaron Jones struggled down the stretch after a fast start last season, but he was 4-of-5 on field goals, including a 57-yarder and another from outside 50 yards.
Oklahoma State sits Markelle Martin for spring surgery
Safety Markelle Martin should be one of the leaders of Oklahoma State's defense next spring, but Oklahoma State elected to end his spring for shoulder surgery.
"We cleaned his shoulder up,” coach Mike Gundy told reporters. "He really didn't need the surgery right now, but there was no reason [to delay the surgery], because we have a lot of depth at safety."
Top among those remaining safeties is Daytawion Lowe, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, but has impressed throughout the spring. Lavocheya Cooper is listed behind Martin at strong safety on the spring depth chart.
Cyclones snatch another Knott
Linebacker Jake Knott is already one of Iowa State's best players after making 130 tackles in 2010, third-most in the Big 12.
Now, his little brother, quarterback Luke Knott, is ready to follow. The native of Lee's Summit, Mo., gives Iowa State two 2012 commitments, both quarterbacks.
California native Grant Rohach committed to the Cyclones this month.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin
It's the end of a long grueling week for me after the media days. I'm still having flashbacks about too many coaching clichés and too much Dr Pepper after I finally got home last night.
But there were a nice collection of links across the blogosphere today to finish my week.
There is one that I bet will provide a little fodder for my friends in Nebraska.
Enjoy the weekend.
- The pundits at the Sporting Blog detail their list of worst coaches in history. And, yes, Bill Callahan is mentioned rather prominently.
- More than 2,500 mourners -- including former coach Barry Switzer and teammate Brian Bosworth -- attended Rick Bryan's funeral in Coweta, Okla., John Hoover of the Tulsa World reports. Bryan, a former two-time All-American at Oklahoma, died Sunday at the age of 47.
- The Birmingham News' Jon Solomon writes about speculation that the Atlantic Coast, Pac-10 and Big 12 conferences are working on a collective television network for their schools.
- Mike Finger of the Houston Chronicle/San Antonio Express-News provides a primer on the five most-predictable questions he repeatedly heard during the recent Big 12 media days.
- Good story by Samuel McKewon of the Nebraska State Paper. He analyzes the role of walk-on players in Nebraska's football program.
- Oklahoma State athletic director Mike Holder told the Tulsa World's Bill Haisten that the school has already sold a record number of season tickets for the upcoming season and should finish by selling at least 42,000.
- The Oklahoman's Berry Tramel was frozen by Bill Snyder's conversational curveball at the Big 12 media days.
- Playmaking defensive back Lavocheya Cooper of Arp, Texas, committed to Oklahoma State, the Oklahoman's Brandon Chatman reports. Cooper chose the Cowboys over Iowa, Missouri, Utah, TCU, Houston and Baylor.
- The Austin American-Statesman's Randy Riggs profiles multi-tattooed Texas Tech offensive lineman Brandon Carter.
- Kansas City Star Big 12 beat writer Blair Kerkhoff compares Bill Snyder before and after his coaching sabbatical.
- USA Today's Brent Foster provides an extensive team-by-team breakdown of the Big 12.
- Mammoth 6-foot-9, 305-pound Colorado tackle Nate Solder still appears to be growing, the Denver Post's Jim Armstrong reports.