STILLWATER – Nearly three full months after Oklahoma State’s furious Fiesta Bowl comeback past Notre Dame on Jan. 1, the Cowboys open spring football practice this week with hopes of building off the program’s finest season under coach Mike Gundy since 2011.
Gundy enters his 18th spring camp surrounded by both constants and changes. Fiesta Bowl MVP Spencer Sanders returns for his fourth season under center as Kasey Dunn begins Year 3 in charge of the offense and with redshirt senior Brock Martin back to lead an OSU pass rush that could once again pace the nation.
But gone are linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper along with a collection of crucial defensive backs from the Big 12 conference’s top defense from a year ago. First-year defensive coordinator Derek Mason arrived from Auburn in January with plenty of questions left to be answered on the depth chart behind the talent-packed defensive line.
OSU begins its slate of 15 spring practices Tuesday, culminating in the spring finale on April 23 at Boone Pickens Stadium.
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Storylines Sanders back in the saddle
The last time Sanders donned an OSU uniform, he unleashed a record-breaking, four-touchdown Fiesta Bowl performance in the Cowboys’ 37-35 win over the Fighting Irish. Sanders’ redshirt junior season offered some of the best OSU has seen from its 6-foot-1 passer, but also featured seven interceptions across two games against Baylor as his career pick tally grew to 31 in 2021.
With question marks on defense, the Cowboys may have to lean back into their high-scoring past in 2022. OSU will need more Fiesta Bowl-like performances from Sanders to get there.
Holes to fill on defense
Mason inherits a defensive unit that finished fifth nationally in total defense last fall now missing some of the key parts that catapulted Jim Knowles’ group to the top of the Big 12.
Third-year linebackers Mason Cobb and Kamryn Farrar and Tyler Junior College transfer Xavier Benson are poised to battle for the linebacker vacancies left by Rodriguez and Harper. Behind them, OSU is expected to field new starters at cornerback in Jabbar Muhammad and Korie Black with Jason Taylor II the lone returning starter at safety.
Spring camp offers the first look at the Cowboys’ 10 mid-year enrollees who arrived on campus in January.
Four-star wide receivers Braylin Presley (Bixby) and Talyn Shettron (Edmond Santa Fe) lead OSU’s class of eight freshman newcomers this spring. With only Dominic Richardson returning from the Cowboys’ core running back group from 2021, opportunities out of the backfield could be available for four-star running backs CJ Brown (Beggs) and Ollie Gordon (Fort Worth, Texas).
The 15 spring practices also serve as an introduction for Benson and his fellow junior college transfer, offensive tackle Tyrone Webber.
Players to watch
The third-year wide receiver delivered another bowl game masterpiece with 10 catches for 137 yards against Notre Dame and should factor even more heavily into the Cowboys offense in 2022. The former Bixby star caught 50 passes for 619 yards as a sophomore in 2021.
OSU found creative ways to use Presley’s speed last fall. With no clear replacement for Tay Martin, Presley enters the spring as the Cowboys’ top pass-catching option.
Oliver led the nation’s top pass rush with 11.5 sacks as a freshman last fall and earned Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year and Freshman All-American honors at the end of his debut season in Stillwater. In 2022, he returns to a loaded pass rushing group that includes Martin, Tyler Lacy and Trace Ford as he looks to build on a dazzling freshman campaign.
The Cowboys are missing 80% of their running back carries from a year ago with Jaylen Warren, Dezmon Jackson and LD Brown all gone, and Dominic Richardson remains as one of only two OSU rushers who eclipsed 100 yards a year ago.
Enter Ollie Gordon. Mike Gundy said in December that he expects the first-year running back to play at 230 pounds someday and Gordon may be the more ready of the two freshman rushers as OSU searches for production at the position.
Position battle to watch
OSU is down two starters in Josh Sills and Danny Godlevske, and its depth on the offensive line took a hit with three lineman heading to the transfer portal in the offseason. Webber and former Butler Community College transfer Caleb Etienne are among the offensive lineman who could slot in alongside the Cowboys’ returners in 2022.
Davis Dotson (Berryhill), Austin Kawecki (Frisco, Texas) and Calvin Harvey (Houston) will fill out inexperienced depth upfront for OSU.