Big 12 spring practice preview: Oklahoma State

Oklahoma State Cowboys
2009: 9-4 (6-2)

After pushing the first day back because of inclement weather, Oklahoma State began spring practice in Stillwater on Tuesday with 15 projected new starters on both sides of the ball.

Calling the Cowboys a young team wouldn’t be inaccurate — only seven seniors are listed as starters on the spring depth chart along with five sophomores. But assigning the youth tag to new quarterback Brandon Weeden, who replaces three-year starter Zac Robinson, would be a bit of a stretch.

The 26-year-old junior is closer in age to some of the coaches than his teammates, but that could benefit the inexperienced Cowboys this season.

Weeden, a fourth-year junior who had a five-year run in professional baseball, saw action in three games in 2009, going 15 of 24 for 248 yards and four touchdowns — including a 10-of-15, 168-yard, two-touchdown performance against Colorado in relief of Robinson.

“I was very, very excited to get out there and practice [Tuesday],” Weeden told the Tulsa World. “It was fun to get out there and take some snaps and throw some routes.”

While the 6-4, 225-pound Weeden does have playing experience, his familiarity with the playbook will not benefit the Cowboys this spring. That’s because everyone on offense must learn the intricacies of new offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen’s spread passing attack. Last season at the University of Houston, Holgorsen’s unit was ranked No. 1 nationally in total offense, passing yards and scoring. He’ll take over play-calling duties from head coach Mike Gundy, though Gundy still has the final say for play calls.

Running back Kendall Hunter is a key returning starter on offense, especially after missing half of the ‘09 season with a foot injury. Now healthy, Hunter says he’s comfortable in the new scheme. Gundy believes Hunter could touch the ball as much as 250 times in his senior year — in varied fashion, as the new offense will utilize running backs in unique ways, including different pass-catching roles. In 2008, Hunter led the Big 12 with 1,555 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Also benefiting from the new offensive attack could be inside receiver Isaiah Anderson and running back Travis Miller, sophomores who may not have seen the field in Stillwater if the Cowboys were running their traditional scheme.

After surrendering only 11 sacks in 2009, the offensive line must replace four starters along with learning the new blocking schemes of the spread. Development up front could be the key to whether this offense takes flight in the fall.

On the defensive side, second-year coordinator Bill Young will have to find replacements for nine starters — making the spring season more of an evaluation period than anything else for this unit. The lone returning starters are strong safety Markelle Martin and defensive end Ugo Chinasa. Young is excited to work with OSU’s new talent, though, including highly recruited redshirt freshman linebacker LeRon Furr, freshman linebacker Caleb Lavey and JUCO transfer Malcolm Murray — a potential impact cornerback.

Expectations are subdued nationally and even within the state of Oklahoma regarding the Cowboys’ bowl prospects in 2010. With so many new starters trying to fit into a new offensive system, along with so many new faces defensively, questions abound whether Gundy and Co. can match the nine wins from ’09. However, if the offense is prolific — which is a distinct possibility given Holgorsen’s track record — we could see some fun shootouts in Stillwater this fall.

“It's motivation,” Weeden said of prognosticators’ low expectations for the Cowboys. “People aren't going to give us credit because we lost so many guys.

“It motivates me to get better and make the guys around me better.”

Giddyap, Cowboys fans.

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