NCF Nation: Ra'Shaad Samples

STILLWATER, Okla. -- Few programs in college football are equipped to overcome losing three of their four most productive receivers from the previous season.

At least without missing a major beat.

[+] EnlargeMarcell Ateman
AP Photo/Brody SchmidtAs a freshman in 2013, Marcell Ateman caught 22 passes for 276 yards for the Cowboys.
But Oklahoma State could be one of those few programs, armed with several young wideouts on the cusp of breaking out in 2014.

Starters Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore and Charlie Moore, who combined for 146 catches and almost 2,000 receiving yards, are gone, leaving rising sophomore Jhajuan Seales as the only returning starter.

But the Cowboys also welcome back a host of budding young receivers, who seem poised to keep the Oklahoma State passing attack humming.

“I think the receiving corps is going to be good,” Seales said. “I think our offense will be the same. People have to step up and fill in for Tracy and Charlie and those guys. But I think we have the guys who can do that.”

The Cowboys have Seales, which is a nice start.

As a redshirt freshman last season playing alongside Stewart and the Moores, Seales hauled in 39 catches for 571 yards. Two of Seales’ three touchdowns came in two of Oklahoma State’s final three games. Though he still has much to prove, Seales has the same combination of physicality and speed reminiscent of another Cowboy receiver who donned the jersey No. 81 -- Justin Blackmon.

“I feel I can be a go-to guy,” Seales said. “But there are other guys out there who can be that go-to guy, as well.”

Such as Marcell Ateman, who like Seales, carved out a role at outside receiver as a freshman, and caught 22 passes.

“Ateman, when he decides to play hard, he’s a big, physical body,” coach Mike Gundy said.

Sophomores Brandon Sheperd (223 receiving yards) and David Glidden (15 catches) received plenty of time in the rotation last season.

The Cowboys also bring back Blake Webb and Austin Hays, who both started in 2012 as freshmen before injuries sidelined them for virtually the entire 2013 season.

Hays, who played with Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight in high school in San Antonio, started nine games two seasons ago and finished with 394 receiving yards. But he was unable to play most of last season because of a nagging hamstring injury.

“It was so frustrating,” he said. “I kept thinking I was going to come back and never did. Not getting to get on the plane with the team, that very frustrating.”

Hays is close to 100 percent again this spring, and he has shown the versatility to play on the outside or in the slot. But he might have more competition for playing time now than he did two years ago.

The Cowboys signed junior-college speed demon Tyreek Hill, who has already broken numerous sprint records on the track team. Ra'Shaad Samples, who redshirted as a freshman last season, can also fly and reportedly has run the 40-yard dash in 4.32 seconds. Both players could bring major speed to the inside receiver positions.

“Some of those young receivers are starting to make a few plays,” Gundy said. “So it’s exciting that we have talent on our team that can make plays in the future.”

No doubt, Oklahoma State will miss Stewart, Charlie Moore and Tracy Moore at receiver. But that doesn’t mean the Cowboys will miss a beat there, too.

Said Seales: "Now we get to follow in their footsteps.”

Spring preview capsules: Big 12

February, 24, 2014
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Spring football is rapidly approaching.

Here's a team-by-team look at what to watch in the Big 12 this spring:

Baylor

Spring start: Feb. 28

Spring game: April 5

What to watch: Who will replace Lache Seastrunk? The Bears' running back was the engine that helped keep the Baylor offense balanced and defenses honest. Shock Linwood will step in, but is he ready to handle the burden of keeping the offense balanced? . . . Baylor, the 2013 regular-season champion, has to find key replacements on a defense that is losing half of its starters. But several second-teamers -- including Jamal Palmer, Shawn Oakman, Andrew Billings and Orion Stewart -- are poised to fill the void . . . The Bears need to replace guard Cyril Richardson along the offensive line. Several candidates, including junior college transfer Jarell Broxton, will battle for the job. Baylor has arguably the league's best group of skill position players, but that will mean nothing if its offensive line takes a step backward.

Iowa State

Spring start: March 10

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: New offensive coordinator Mark Mangino arrives in Ames to bring more points and creativity to the Cyclones’ offense. The spring is the first opportunity for Mangino to get a feel for the playmakers and the players to get a feel for Mangino’s expectations . . . The quarterback competition is another thing to keep an eye on. Grant Rohach ended the season as the starter, but Sam B. Richardson could take his job back with a strong spring. And there are other young quarterbacks on campus who could insert themselves into the mix . . . Defensively, the Cyclones need to replace linebacker Jeremiah George and safety Jacques Washington, who finished 1-2 in tackles in the Big 12 in 2013 and finished their careers with 59 career starts combined. Iowa State seems to always have quality linebackers, so finding a replacement for Washington could be the defense’s top priority in the spring.

Kansas

Spring start: March 4

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Shuffling the offensive coaching staff has been the theme of the offseason. New offensive coordinator John Reagan, who was a KU assistant from 2005 to 2009, returns to the Jayhawks after running Rice’s offense last season. The spring is Reagan’s first chance to identify the playmakers who will be the foundation of his offense this fall. Expect wide-open competition across the board after KU finished 115th in the FBS in points scored ... The quarterback position will grab the headlines, with T.J. Millweard joining the competition with Jake Heaps and Montell Cozart, who each started games in 2013. Millweard transferred to KU from UCLA before the 2013 season.

Kansas State

Spring start: April 2

Spring game: April 26

What to watch: Finding John Hubert’s replacement sits high on the Wildcats’ priority list. The former running back carried the ground attack for the past three seasons, and there’s no clear favorite to step into his shoes. Will someone step up during spring football? . . . What will happen with quarterback Daniel Sams? The Wildcats have a proven Big 12 playmaker in Sams, a junior, and another proven quarterback in Jake Waters. Sams is an exceptional open-field runner who started two games in 2013, but look for Kansas State to start exploring ways to have both on the field together this spring . . . Replacing Ty Zimmerman’s playmaking and leadership on defense is another key this spring. The defense has to replace several starters in the secondary and at linebacker. Keep an eye on junior college defensive back Danzel McDaniel, who has the versatility to step in at several different spots.

Oklahoma

Spring start: March 8

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: With Trevor Knight poised to start at quarterback in 2014, Blake Bell moves to tight end after starting eight games under center in 2013. Bell’s transition to tight end will be the talk of the spring, with the senior’s commitment to the program and OU's need for help at the position . . . The battle to be the starting running back is another storyline, with sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross hoping to make a statement this spring before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer. Ford forced his way into the lineup as a freshman before an injury slowed him . . . The Sooners will be looking to shore up the secondary after the departure of All-Big 12 cornerback Aaron Colvin and starting safety Gabe Lynn. Sophomore Stanvon Taylor could be set to replace Colvin, while sophomores Hatari Byrd and Ahmad Thomas will battle to replace Lynn.

Oklahoma State

Spring start: March 10

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Incoming freshman Mason Rudolph enrolled early to participate in spring football with the hope of replacing quarterback Clint Chelf. J.W. Walsh has won a lot of games in a Cowboys uniform, but will have to hold off stern competition to earn the starting spot as a junior . . . The Cowboys lose seven seniors off one of their best defenses in recent memory. The overall quality might be upgraded, but spring football will be the first chance to see if those talented yet inexperienced defenders are ready to step into the fire. Defensive end Jimmy Bean, linebacker Ryan Simmons and cornerback Kevin Peterson could emerge as the foundation of the defense . . . Who will step up at receiver? The Cowboys lose three of their top four receivers, with Jhajuan Seales as the lone returnee. But several youngsters appear poised to step in, including sophomore Marcell Ateman and redshirt freshman Ra'Shaad Samples.

TCU

Spring start: March 1

Final spring practice: April 5

What to watch: Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie have arrived to take over as co-offensive coordinators at TCU. The Horned Frogs need a jump start and could get it from the “Air Raid”-style offense the duo will bring to the table. This spring will be an important first step in improving the offense . . . Who will be the quarterback? Trevone Boykin started several games in 2013 but might actually be TCU’s top receiver. Tyler Matthews, a redshirt freshman, also saw time under center, but he faces stiff competition. Don’t expect the battle to end until fall camp . . . TCU needs someone to step up in the secondary, with Jason Verrett NFL-bound after spending the past two seasons as one of the Big 12’s top coverage cornerbacks. Ranthony Texada and Travoskey Garrett are among several young defensive backs who could try to fill the void.

Texas

Spring start: March 18

Spring game: April 19

What to watch: David Ash's health will be one of the main storylines of Texas’ first spring under coach Charlie Strong. Ash has the talent to be a key piece of the puzzle, but head injuries are always tough to overcome. If Ash is 100 percent healthy, the Longhorns will feel better about the overall status at quarterback . . . Strong has talked of instilling a tough mindset in Austin since he arrived in January, and spring football will be the first real taste of what the Longhorns’ new coach is trying to bring to the program . . . Where are the playmakers? Texas has a talent-laden roster, but didn’t have the exceptional talent who could consistently change games. This spring gives several returning skill players, including receiver Jaxon Shipley and all-purpose standout Daje Johnson, the chance to become the foundation of the offense in 2014.

Texas Tech

Spring start: March 5

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Davis Webb's health is the No. 1 priority for the Red Raiders, who have seen three quarterbacks leave the program since the beginning of the 2013 season. Coach Kliff Kingsbury could have the toughest job of the spring as he tries to manage the lack of quarterbacks with the desire to have a productive spring for the roster as a whole . . . The Red Raiders have some consistency among the defensive coaching staff, meaning they could improve in 2014 despite losing multiple starters, including defensive tackle Kerry Hyder, linebacker Will Smith and safety Tre' Porter. Tech could start seeing dividends of that continuity . . . The Red Raiders have to replace Jace Amaro and Eric Ward, who combined to catch 189 passes for 2,299 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Jakeem Grant and Bradley Marquez made a bunch of plays in 2013 and Devin Lauderdale, a junior college transfer and early enrollee, will get the chance to show why he had Texas Tech fans buzzing when he initially signed in February 2013.

West Virginia

Spring start: March 2

Spring game: April 12

What to watch: Finding a quarterback is critical for the Mountaineers, who have talent at the skill positions but won’t transform into an explosive offense without efficient quarterback play. Clint Trickett is recovering from shoulder surgery, meaning Paul Millard, junior college transfer Skyler Howard and former receiver Logan Moore will run the offense this spring . . . Tony Gibson takes over as WVU’s defensive coordinator after coaching the safeties in 2013. His promotion allows some continuity on the defense after former DC Keith Patterson left for Arizona State after the season . . . Replacing defensive tackle Shaq Rowell and defensive end Will Clarke, who started 56 combined career games for WVU, won’t be easy. The Mountaineers will lean heavily on veteran juniors Isaiah Bruce and Karl Joseph, who have started since their freshman seasons.

Oklahoma State stacked at receiver

August, 5, 2013
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STILLWATER, Okla. -- Through the years, Oklahoma State’s high-powered offense has featured better individual receivers. Wideouts like Hart Lee Dykes, Rashaun Woods, Dez Bryant and Justin Blackmon -- who were all first-round draft picks.

Yet top to bottom, coach Mike Gundy agrees his Cowboys have never featured a deeper, more talented overall receiving corps than the one he’ll take into this season.

[+] EnlargeJosh Stewart
Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY SportsJosh Stewart is just one of the many solid players returning for the Cowboys' receiving corps this season.
“I think we have a really good group,” he said. “At times it’s a little unfair to compare guys to Dez and Blackmon -- two of the most talented guys to compete in this league.

“But from top to bottom ... we have 10 or 12 guys that I think in three weeks could play in a game and go out there with the ones and have success. So we may be as good at that position as we’ve ever been -- without having maybe a potential first-round guy.”

The Cowboys might not have that potential first-round pick, but thanks to the fortuitous timing of an injury, they do have two go-to guys.

Oklahoma State went into 2012 counting on senior Tracy Moore to take over for Blackmon as the No. 1 receiver. Moore proved up to the challenge, hauling in four touchdown passes in a shootout loss at Arizona early in the season. But a month later, Moore’s season was derailed when he suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for the year.

“Other than (running back) Joseph Randle, before Tracy got hurt, he was our best player on offense,” Gundy said.

Moore getting hurt, however, provided a silver lining that should benefit the Cowboys this season: it cleared the way for Josh Stewart to shine out of the slot. After taking over as Oklahoma State’s primary pass-catcher, Stewart rapidly developed into one of the most dangerous receivers in college football and finished with 101 receptions, third-most in the Big 12.

And because Moore played less than 30 percent of the 2012 season, he was given a medical redshirt to come back, providing Oklahoma State with two playmakers who have shouldered the No. 1 receiver role.

“Not a lot of teams have that,” Stewart said.

Moore and Stewart will have plenty of help, too.

The Cowboys return two other starters at receiver in Charlie Moore and Blake Jackson, who combined for more than 65 receptions and 1,000 yards last season. Oklahoma State also brings back Austin Hays, who filled in admiringly after Tracy Moore got hurt with 29 catches, and Blake Webb, who got the start against Oklahoma.

“It’s crazy because last year I thought that we had great depth at the position,” said Jackson, who plays on the inside opposite Stewart. “Now getting Tracy back for another year, it’s crazy how many good receivers we have. We have 12 guys that could start right now and we’d be productive and keep moving.”

Among those 12 are underclassmen David Glidden, Brandon Sheperd and Jhajuan Seales, who all are vying for time. Seales has been especially turning heads. Gundy singled him out as someone who developed physically during the offseason as much as anyone on the squad.

“Anyone in the starting lineup go down, we’ve got someone that could fill them up at every spot and do good, and I’m not just saying that,” Stewart said. “We’ve had pretty good depth the last three years -- but nothing like this.”

The Cowboys are also about to reap the benefits of more fruitful recruiting efforts. In its most recent signing class, Oklahoma State landed four-star receivers Ra'Shaad Samples and Marcell Ateman, incoming freshmen who appear talented enough to contribute right away.

“The success we’re having has a lot to do with this, the previous success,” Tracy Moore said. “People see what Blackmon did, people see what Dez Bryant did. They want to come here and we’re getting top guys now."

The Cowboys don’t have a Blackmon or a Bryant. But the position in Stillwater has never been better.

“We are so stacked on receivers,” Moore said. “We’re definitely pretty stacked.”
Incoming freshmen have started arriving at Big 12 campuses for the summer, taking part in offseason strength and conditioning programs as well as 7-on-7 work with teammates, an especially important exercise for spread offenses popular in the Big 12.

Samples
Samples
Wide receiver Ra'Shaad Samples signed with Oklahoma State last February as the nation's No. 19 receiver, No. 166 overall recruit and the Cowboys highest-ranked signee of the 2013 class, but just a few months later, he's already turned a few heads when he announced via Twitter that he'd run a 4.32 40-time in summer workouts. He got some corroboration on the social networking site when starting quarterback (probably) Clint Chelf congratulated him and said in addition to running the 4.32 40, he "balled out" in a scrimmage.

Now, spare me your arguments on the faulty times we constantly see on 40s. I agree with you. It's silliness. Samples did not run a 4.32, no matter what the stopwatches in Stillwater tell you. The only times I truly trust are those at the NFL combine, and Samples' 4.32 would have been faster than all but Texas' Marquise Goodwin at last Feburary's combine in Indianapolis. That means guys like Tavon Austin, Denard Robinson and others would be left in Samples' dust. I don't buy it.

Still, to quabble over tenths of seconds is even sillier. Samples is clearly fast, and he claimed the time was the fastest ever for a freshman in Oklahoma State history. I believe that, but cornerback Justin Gilbert, who'll get a shot of his own at next year's combine, chimed in on Twitter with a little smack talk that one can only assume was directed at Samples.

"Might i add...we didnt run fortys when we came in as freshmen lol," Gilbert tweeted.

Gilbert's a guy with a case as the fastest man in the Big 12, an informal title that Baylor receiver Tevin Reese and Kansas State WR/KR Tyler Lockett all have a claim to, but I'd love to see Oklahoma State settle this at some point in fall camp. Maybe a little after practice showdown?

I joked on Twitter earlier this week that if Oklahoma State set up and hyped the event, it could bring in at least 2,500 fans at a dollar a pop. The general consensus I got from OSU fans was that number was way, way low.

Either way, I'd love to see it happen. Samples vs. Gilbert. Who you got?

Big 12 recruiting primer

February, 6, 2013
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ESPN RecruitingNation has signing day covered. Follow ESPNU’s coverage, chat with analysts and get breaking news on our Signing Day Live page beginning at 7:30 a.m. ET through 7 p.m. ET. For more on what to expect on signing day, check out the Big 12 conference breakdown Insider.

Bold Prediction for the Big 12: Kliff Kingsbury saw a lot of success as offensive coordinator at Texas A&M. He’ll see similar success as head coach at Texas Tech.

Baylor
Biggest Need: Offensive linemen to protect the talented skill-position players.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 150 receiver Robbie Rhodes (Fort Worth, Texas/Southwest) has the tools to be not only a starter but also an all-conference player as a freshman.

Iowa State
Biggest Need: With only one commit at the position, the Cyclones need linebackers.
Biggest Recruit: Four-star offensive tackle Shawn Curtis (Orlando, Fla./Olympia), at 6-foot-6 and 270 pounds, should be a future leader for the Cyclones’ offensive line.

Kansas
Biggest Need: The Jayhawks need a running back or two.
Biggest Recruit: Juco defensive tackle Marquel Combs (Memphis, Tenn./Pierce College) is the No. 3 junior college prospect in the country for a reason. He’s a run-stopper.

Kansas State
Biggest Need: Running back, just like its Sunflower State counterpart.
Biggest Recruit: Linebacker Nick Ramirez (Lee’s Summit, Mo./Lee’s Summit West) is the only four-star commit, but three-star junior college quarterback Jake Waters (Council Bluffs, Iowa/Iowa Western Community College) might be the sleeper of the class.

Oklahoma
Biggest Need: Linebacker is a huge necessity.
Biggest Recruit: If ESPN 150 running back Keith Ford (Cypress, Texas/Cypress Ranch) stays healthy, he could have a promising college career -- which could lead to an NFL opportunity.

Oklahoma State
Biggest Need: The Cowboys need help at quarterback and linebacker.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 300 receivers Ra'Shaad Samples (Dallas/Skyline) and Marcell Ateman (Wylie, Texas/Wylie East) bring different dynamics but similar results to the football field.

TCU
Biggest Need: Playmaking wide receivers.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 300 running back Kyle Hicks (Arlington, Texas/Martin) has the potential to be outstanding, but three-star athlete Ty Slanina (East Bernard, Texas/East Bernard) could be stellar at several spots.

Texas
Biggest Need: While Texas is strong on the offensive line, it needs defensive linemen.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 150 center Darius James (Killeen, Texas/Harker Heights) leads a very talented class of Longhorns offensive linemen.

Texas Tech
Biggest Need: The Red Raiders could use more defensive tackles.
Biggest Recruit: Quarterback Davis Webb (Prosper, Texas/Prosper), an Elite 11 finalist last summer, could be special under the wing of Kliff Kingsbury.

West Virginia
Biggest Need: Players in the secondary.
Biggest Recruit: ESPN 300 inside linebacker Darrien Howard (Dayton, Ohio/Chaminade-Julienne) has the tools to shut down a lot of plays before they even get started.

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