Dallas Colleges: Joe Bob Clements
Next up: Oklahoma State.
Strongest position: Pass-catchers
I'll have to apologize to Oklahoma State's trio of safeties in Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary and Zack Craig here, but I'm going with the guys hauling in balls in OSU's pass-first offense as the strongest position. I don't care to debate whether Blake Jackson is a receiver or a tight end (he's the former), but I'm obviously including him in this group. He'll be an interesting guy to watch this year after struggling with drops but clearly possessing loads of potential and averaging better than 20 yards a catch on his 29 grabs.
Oklahoma State had nine players with at least 12 catches and 150 receiving yards last season and returns six of those players, including Tracy Moore, who was given an extra year of eligibility. He won't be joined by Michael Harrison, who sat out 2012 and was expected to return, but won't be doing so after a strong 2011 season under Justin Blackmon.
Somehow, we've gotten this far without mentioning the unit's headliner, breakout star Josh Stewart. He was overshadowed by a trio of superstars in Baylor's Terrance Williams and West Virginia's Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, but all three are gone and Stewart is easily the Big 12's best returning receiver. He caught 101 balls for 1,210 yards and seven scores last season, which is more than 150 yards more than any other returning receiver in the league. Stewart's underrated for now, but that could change soon, even though Oklahoma State has a ton of depth at the position with guys like Austin Hays and Charlie Moore filling out the position and Blake Webb emerging late in the season. Will incoming freshmen like Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman find space to make an impact right away? It won't be easy, because this is Oklahoma State's biggest strength.
Weakest position: Defensive end
I've got nothing against juco transfers, who can walk on campus and be game-changers immediately, but if you're bringing in guys to do that, it shows a weakness at the position. Oklahoma State is doing that with Sam Wren, the nation's No. 16 overall juco prospect, after the Pokes lost three defensive ends from last season's team in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett. Tyler Johnson is a solid player who made six tackles for loss a year ago, but OSU needs to find him help on the other side or opponents will be able to shut him down with double teams. Kansas State's Joe Bob Clements is a new addition to the staff who'll coach the position and try to sort it out this spring, but look for guys like Trace Clark, Jimmy Bean and early enrollee Naim Mustafaa to try to earn a starting spot, too.
More Weak and Strong.
Schedule: The Cowboys hold the first of 15 NCAA-allowed practices today with their Spring Football Finale set for April 20 at 1:30 p.m. at Boone Pickens Stadium.
What's new: What isn’t new could be the better question. The Cowboys open spring football with a new offensive coordinator, new defensive coordinator and multiple new assistant coaches. Linebackers coach Glenn Spencer takes over as defensive coordinator replacing Bill Young, making the transition on the defensive side of the football relatively easy. On offense, former Shippensburg (Pa.) offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich arrives to run OSU’s explosive attack and will have all eyes on him this spring. Inside receivers coach Jason Ray and defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements are the other newcomers to the staff.
New faces: Junior college transfers Sam Wren, a defensive end, and Brandon Garrett, an offensive lineman, should provide depth along the line of scrimmage with Wren appearing ready to make an immediate impact this fall. Meanwhile Alpharetta (Ga.) defensive end Naim Mustafaa, an early enrollee who spurned offers from Florida, Georgia, Florida State, Ole Miss and others to sign with OSU, will also participate in spring drills.
All eyes on: Mike Gundy raised plenty of eyebrows with his hiring of Yurcich. This spring is the first look at Yurcich in action so Cowboy fans will be intriqued to see how quickly OSU’s new offensive coordinator is learning the Cowboys attack and how he will put his own stamp on the offense.
All eyes on, part II: The quarterbacks. Senior Clint Chelf opens spring as OSU’s starting quarterback but the Cowboys have three proven signal callers and the competition to become the man should be fun to watch. Sophomore Wes Lunt has several games of experience under his belt and sophomore J.W. Walsh brings a running ability that is unmatched by the other two quarterbacks. And relatively unknown transfer Daxx Garman could insert himself into the competition as well.
Question marks: The Cowboys always seem to find a way to be productive offensively while maintaining a balanced attack. So Spencer’s defense will garner most of the attention and could ultimately decide if OSU can win its second Big 12 title in three seasons in 2013. In order to do that, the Cowboys will have to find a consistent pass rush and shore up it’s secondary, which took a step backward in 2012 after a stellar 2011 season. OSU needs senior cornerback Justin Gilbert to step up and play at an elite level and senior defensive end Tyler Johnson could use a stellar Heart of Dallas Bowl performance as a springboard to become a difference maker this fall.
Breaking out: Jeremy Smith. The senior running back has quietly been one of the Big 12’s best running backs for the past two seasons and has been a contributor in OSU’s offense since his freshman year. This year he finally gets a chance to be the headliner in OSU’s backfield with Joseph Randle leaving early for the NFL. It should be a career year for Smith if he stays healthy in his final season.
Big shoes to fill: Oklahoma State's defensive ends
This unit will be getting used to a brand-new position coach in Joe Bob Clements, who came over from Kansas State this offseason. The Cowboys are losing three of their top players at the position in Nigel Nicholas, Ryan Robinson and Cooper Bassett, and behind them is a bit of a messy situation. Tyler Johnson is the only guy I'd lock into a starting spot after making four sacks, six tackles for loss and 27 stops last season as a reserve, along with an interception and a pair of forced fumbles. Still, with a new position coach, you can never know for sure. Beyond him, it's a crap shoot. We might see sophomore Trace Clark emerge, or junior Jimmy Bean and sophomore Taylor May. The Cowboys might even slide a guy like Davidell Collins over. Either way, it's a huge spot for the Cowboys next season. You can't underestimate the importance of a pass rush in a league full of great quarterback play and high-powered offenses. Johnson must grow into his increased role if Oklahoma State's defense is going to have a better 2013 under new coordinator Glenn Spencer.
More big shoes to fill:
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