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Boone: 4 Questions and a Thought About Fall Camp



A little more than a week into fall camp, the shorts and helmets workouts have been scaled up to full pads. Now it’s time to get into the nitty gritty details of the 2017 season.

Over the last few weeks, our crew has laid out their five biggest questions for fall camp. Now it’s my turn to lay it all on the table, with the benefit of seeing how things have played out in fall camp through 10 days of camp. I’ve got four questions and one parting thought.

1. Will the graduate transfers settle in?

Before fall camp, OSU landed commitments from Aaron Cochran and Adrian Baker to address major question marks at left tackle and cornerback, respectively. Now their success in picking up the system could be the difference between a conference contender and a team that struggles to protect the quarterback and consistently gives up deep balls—an eerily similar description of the flaws of the 2014 team that barely squeaked out seven wins.

“We had the one offensive line position that we feel like we have three guys that we’re comfortable with. Aaron (Cochran), our transfer, is a guy we feel comfortable with and then Shane Richards and Dylan Galloway both are playing well,” Gundy said this weekend. “I feel better about our corners right now than I did when we started. I’m seeing guys that are very competitive and their success right now with the youth at that spot will be dependent on our pass rush and our ability to get to the quarterback so that we don’t leave those guys out there for a long period of time.”

At tackle, there are plenty of options. Junior college transfer Shane Richards enters his second year in the program, and Dylan Galloway has proven to be worthy of playing time. But corner, where OSU loses production of Lenzy Pipkins, Ramon Richards and Ashton Lampkin, Baker’s ability to transition into a big role will be crucial. Otherwise, OSU could be relying on starting-level production from players who have been on campus for just a year in Madre Harper, Rodarius Williams or A.J. Green. And simple #math tells me at at least one of those three will likely slide into a starting role.

2. Are walk-ons going to be backups at quarterback, running back?

Walk-on quarterback Taylor Cornelius won the backup job last season, and he’s right in the thick of another competition to earn that same spot in camp. It’s a Cornelius-Keondre Wudtee battle, and to this point not one has separated himself.

“With Taylor Cornelius and Keondre Wudtee, I’m waiting for one of those guys to say ‘I’m the guy,’” Gundy said on Saturday.

At backup running back behind Justice Hill, there are two highly-touted freshmen in Chuba Hubbard and J.D. King, a redshirt freshman in LD Brown, and a walk-on redshirt freshman in Ja’Ron Wilson. And right now, gun to head, I’d project Wilson to be the game one backup. But with the pads just going on at the end of last week, it’s still way too early to project.

“I like what Ja’Ron (Wilson) is doing. LD (Brown) is getting better. (Jeff) Carr is still there,” Gundy said. “I like the progress that Ja’Ron has made. I like the improvement that LD has made. LD has been a pretty good runner, and at times he’s been successful. He needs to take care of the ball and prove to us he can take care of the ball. We’re not there yet, but I like what we’re working with.”

If OSU does tab an official backup, it wouldn’t surprise me if it’s Wilson. But I also wouldn’t be shocked at all to see the first depth chart to read like …

  • RB1: Justice Hill
  • RB2: Chuba Hubbard -or- J.D. King -or- LD Brown -or- Ja’Ron Wilson

Unlike the backup quarterback competition, which I think should be settled by mid-August, I won’t be surprised to see the running back competition carry on deep into fall camp and into the first few games of the season. It might be running-back-by committee behind Hill for a mostly unproven bunch of talented young tailbacks. OSU is in a good spot health-wise, but you can’t exactly cram development into a four-week crash course.

3. Will OSU go cornerback-by-committee?

This question might partially be answered depending on how question number one plays out, but like the back running back position, I think it’s entirely possible that the cornerback competition spills over into the first few games.

Rodarius Williams is a fast, physical freak. A.J. Green is the Big Fundamental. And Adrian Baker is the experienced veteran. But at this point I’m not sure any have exactly locked down a starting job. And Madre Harper is somewhere in that mix, too.

This isn’t something you want to hear about a team with college football playoff aspirations, but I think it’s true: OSU may go cornerback-by-committee and test out which players perform best in-game in a trial-by-fire experiment.

4. Can the offensive line protect Mason Rudolph?

In 2016, OSU gave up an average of 2.46 sacks per game. In 2015, that number was worse. And 2014 we mustn’t speak of. (We’re all sorry, Daxx.) So will that be fixed? I’m optimistic. But there’s some skepticism, too.

OSU brings back Marcus Keyes, Brad Lundblade, Zach Crabtree and Larry Williams, but also happens to be installing a new left tackle as well as a new coach. For a group that has churned out more position coaches than any other group in Stillwater, I think there’s a concern that won’t be quelled until the unit thrives in both pass-protection and run-blocking. It’s not a knock on Josh Henson, who I think is going to rock as a position coach and recruiter. But it takes time to build a cohesive unit.

OSU was seventh in rushing yards per game in-conference last season, despite a rebirth of the running game behind Justice Hill, and tied for last in sacks allowed. So with replacing a left tackle, a solid blocking tight end in Zac Veatch, and a pass-protecting running back in Chris Carson, I think protecting Mason Rudolph is still a major concern going into the season that must be addressed in camp.

Parting thought

At media day this past weekend in Stillwater, LSU transfer receiver Tyron Johnson dropped a nugget that could be a game-changer for the season: He’ll be involved in the return game.

“Yes, I will be involved in both kick and punt returns this year,” Johnson told PFB. “Some people just do special teams because they have to do it, but that’s something I have a passion for. It’s like my second love.”

Johnson, a former five-star prospect out of high school, was the top-rated receiver in his class and a dynamic return man. In addition to racking up thousands of receiving yards and dozens of touchdowns through the air, he was a one-man wrecking crew in both the punt and kick return game. So putting Johnson in the return game could give OSU a dynamic playmaker it hasn’t had since Josh Stewart with his elusiveness and speed.

I mean, look!

The concern with putting a playmaker of Johnson’s caliber in the return game is that he could risk injury and therefore risk missing time at receiver, but this might be the one season OSU could afford to do so given the amount of depth at receiver. I’m hopeful Johnson earns the starting gig in the return game, because I think he might be exactly the player OSU needs to spice up its special teams explosiveness.

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