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The Rundown: Gundy Talks Special Teams, NIL

A few Cowboys have the flu, so Gundy called off Monday’s practice.

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[Devin Wilber/PFB]

STILLWATER — The Cowboys called off their scheduled Monday practice after a mild outbreak of the flu started up in the locker room.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said his team will reschedule this practice for the last week of spring camp, making sure to get in their 15 practices. Despite not having practice, Gundy still met with reporters Monday in Boone Pickens Stadium. Here is a rundown of what he had to say.

Opening Statement

“We had to cancel practice for today, we had a little Type A flu on several players and we didn’t want to take a chance on spreading it. We’ll know a lot more about how many we have and what we have tomorrow. We have five or six players that had it so it wasn’t worth taking a chance on going out there and practicing and 20 of them coming down with it. So, unfortunately, we had to cancel. We’ll make this practice up the last week of spring prior to the spring game. So, that’s why I brought you guys over here, and to answer any questions that you guys might have.”

On if a COVID outbreak was a concern before the team knew what was going on

“No. None of it was COVID-looking or feeling. It’s just Type-A flu. But it can be very contagious and we can get it under control in 36 hours in most cases with these guys. But if we go over here and end up with 15 more then it’s probably not a smart move.”

On if he feels better prepared to handle an outbreak, even if it’s not COVID

“Forever flu was flu, right? When you got the flu you went home and when your fever went down you went back to school. That’s kind of what we’re doing right now is making sure that these guys get over those symptoms that keep them from potentially spreading it, because we’re not getting ready to play a game Saturday. If we were getting ready to play a game Saturday, unfortunately we’d have to send them all home and we’d have to practice and do the best we can. But now, we have the luxury of not going over there.”

On if Oklahoma State football is still going COVID testing

“I think COVID testing from the Big 12 has faded out. I haven’t kept up with it. Our medical people do. But I think it faded out about a month ago.”

On if the players that have the flu are feeling OK

“Yes, they’re fine. Typical flu stuff. Not bad, not real high fever. Because of COVID, they’re more aware of it than they used to be. If it wasn’t for COVID, they’d probably be practicing today and not find out until tomorrow. Because that’s just the way they are. Now, if anybody starts to feel sick they go get checked right away, which I guess is a good thing.”

On if any coaches have the flu

“Not that I know of. We might have some people hung over from the weekend, but I don’t think anybody has it.”

On if there is a position group that stands out two weeks in

“I think we have a lot of team speed. I think we’re really fast on defense again like we have been in the last two or three years. I feel that we’re further ahead defensively understanding our scheme than we have in the past just based on we’re in what would be Year 5 of it now. The rest of it is what I would call pretty routine spring ball.”

On how Korie Black and Jabbar Muhammad have progressed at cornerback

“They’re doing fine. Those guys got a lot of work last year in practice and toward the latter part of the season they got some quality game reps, both of them in the bowl game, quality game reps. The competition between the wideouts and those guys has been good, and I would expect them to play good next fall.”

On Mason Cobb

“He should give us some quality work in the first game. He’s close to 225 (pounds) now and he runs well. He’s a physical player, seems to have some natural ability and some natural savvy to be in the right place at the right time. I notice him running around at practice. He’s been here long enough now where he understands the maturity it takes to practice at a high level to get ready to play in a game.”

On what stood out most about Cobb during the recruiting process

“Well, he was very competitive, took care of his business all the time. He comes from a family that supported him in every shape and every form from when they were little, when he was little all the way up. And people that were around him at the school talked about his competitive nature, and that’s why we got locked on him pretty quick.”

On Cobb taking advantage of being behind veteran linebackers

“It’s been a blessing for those guys that they didn’t have to play too early in their career. It keeps them healthy. So, he’s had the luxury of developing in our system for a couple years. Sometimes we don’t have that luxury anymore with players that go out early in their career and that’s when they are at risk to be injured, because their bodies just aren’t ready to play at this level. As we all know there’s a considerable difference between a 22- and 23-year-old male than there is an 18-, 19-year-old male. Particularly ones that are training at Division I football programs like this. So, it was an advantage for him to be under those guys for a couple years. I mentioned this to the staff a number of times and I’ll say to you guys that, most times when a young man’s going into his third year is when you start to see him take some steps and show some maturity and be physical enough to play at this level. That’s where he’s at. He’s been here a couple years now and he’s started to mature.”

On if he has changed his opinion on special teams over the years

“We put more time in special teams over the last three or four years than we did in my first 15 years I would say. I’ve learned quite a bit about special teams. That part of the game gave me something to do, to help study and compare notes with our special teams guys and put a plan together. It’s an interesting part of the game from a standpoint of when you mentioned being aggressive or not being aggressive, it’s almost like, it’s very similar to what it was like on offense. You have to be aggressive enough to give yourself a chance, but, you know, the first time you go after a punt and you rough the punter, give them the ball back, then you give them a chance to win and basically what I would call an unforced error. So, it’s very similar to game planning on offense for me in that there’s a considerable amount of information and concepts and schemes in special teams. I was unaware of that until I started paying attention to it, but it is intriguing and it is a fun aspect of the game.”

On if he was less aggressive on special teams when his offense was scoring 50+ points a game

“100%. If you’re good enough to where you just want to get the ball back, then you’re going to be very vanilla on special teams. If you feel like you need to try to steal a touchdown like what coach (Bill) Snyder used to do at Kansas State, was going to try to beat you in penalty yards and then steal a touchdown in special teams. Obviously I think you would want to be a little more in depth in your concepts, which obviously you have a lot more time to practice.”

On if the rise of defenses makes him think to be more aggressive on special teams

“We were more aggressive the last couple of years on special teams than we have been in the past. A couple years ago, we tried to block a lot of punts. We didn’t feel like we really had our threat to return one, so we said we might as well try to block one. Our return game has gotten better over the last couple of years, so we haven’t tried to block as many punts and just tried to set up returns. Fortunately, we’ve been pretty good on covering punts and kicks because, well 1) we use the Australian punt and it hangs in the air forever, so we don’t get a lot of returns against us, which is what I like. And then on our kickoffs, we’ve gotten good hang time, and we haven’t really had to defend a lot of kickoff returns because most of the time we’re inside the 30-yard line, six of our 10 guys who are covering, the other guy is a safety. I thought somebody would say you didn’t even know we play with 11, but six of the 10 guys that are in a real coverage mode, they’re inside the 30 most of the time. So, we were pretty fortunate in that area.”

On the specialists helping each other during practice

“Well they coach themselves for the most part. I don’t know how many special teams coaches, which would be a punting coach or a kicking coach that understands the concepts and the techniques and the fundamentals, that is a full-time staff member that coaches those guys. Most of these specialists have their own coaches and they send video and they coach them on video and then when they’re working together, they live in their own world anyway, and I’ve said this for years, those guys are really dedicated. They go and practice and work on all the drill work on their own to improve their game and what you said is true, they’re coaching each other. And so, that’s why it’s important that when we do recruit specialists, that they’re disciplined enough and mature enough to be able to essentially get their work done without coaches being there watching them.”

On M.K. Taylor joining the staff as a special teams analyst

“Well now I think he was my fourth one. I moved special teams to [graduate assistants] — Robbie Disher was my first one. I don’t know what year that was, a long time ago. So, I took the full-time coach out of the special teams role years ago. May have been like 2011 or something and then had graduate assistants. And then a few years ago, I moved an analyst into that role that can work off the field and then distribute it to the four full-time coaches on our staff and they run each of the core units.”

On if he came up with that idea on his own

“I think, you guys can check this, I think I was the first coach to hire an analyst at any position. Somebody needs to check that, but when I hired Bill Clay, I think that I was the first coach that hired an analyst in the country. And I followed up a few years later with a special teams analyst. Maybe somebody was ahead of me, I don’t know, but I didn’t know about it.”

On benefit of having analysts on staff

“Well those guys can do — so it would be like somebody doing all the legwork that you did when I see you over there at the high school games and doing that and taking pictures and writing notes and getting stories and talking to the players, and then go back and write your story or whatever. You wouldn’t have to do any of that. All you have to do is write your story. Essentially that’s what an analyst does, is they present a package each week to the offensive staff, the defensive staff and the special team staff, and then they present one to me and they do all the leg work except the final ‘put it together’ and go coach it.”

On if Nick Saban has thanked him yet for setting that trend

“I need to ask him. I’m going there Friday. I need to ask him that when I’m there, because if I was the first, he obviously took it and ran with it.”

On why he is going to Alabama

“I’m speaking at their clinic. … Everybody wants PowerPoints and all that. Most of the time my PowerPoints are on a napkin scribbled in pen. I need to look at the paperwork they sent me. I bet they are wanting me to talk about no-huddle offense, would be my guess.”

On Trace Ford

“He’s ready to go. I was told last week that he was cleared through his doctors, so he can do individual work and go full speed, but we’re not going to put him in any live drills. And then he had something last week, they were checking his tonsils or something, I mean, just nothing big, so he wasn’t out there, but he’s released and ready to go. His knees are back up and running and he’s ready to roll.”

On how Ford handled last year

“You know, Trace doesn’t talk much. He’s very seclusive and he watches a lot and listens, but he was around and supportive. I would see him a number of times. It would be interesting to ask him that question. I have not asked him that. My guess would be that it’s difficult for a player that had the success he had, or has had that one year, and then not get to play for a year. I think that’s difficult. His attitude and his body language in the last six months has been great, and I know that just the last couple weeks, a couple times a week when I bumped into him I asked him, ‘How are you doing? Are you ready to go?’ and (he said) ‘I feel great. I’m ready to go. Doctors have released me.’ So he’ll be full speed in August, and I would expect that he’ll be moving around pretty good. You know he’s up to I think he’s close to 240 (pounds) now, you know he played at 225 when he got hurt at Baylor a couple years ago.”

On if he missed significant time due to injury as an athlete

“It’s interesting you bring that up? I was just having a discussion about that about a week ago. I missed one month of summer baseball prior to my junior year in high school. And I was actually starting to grow. I went from 5-7 to 5-10, and my back for some reason I couldn’t move. I couldn’t hardly move, so I had to sit a whole month of summer baseball, which just killed me because I loved playing baseball. But that was the only time.”

On NIL affecting recruiting

“We’ve been confronted with NIL, namely players who were on our roster that aren’t on our roster anymore, moreso than the upcoming barrage of high school players that will be involved or asking, for lack of a better term, what NIL opportunities that schools have. I foresee that starting this spring in recruiting and then picking up considerable momentum in the fall. We’re close here to finalizing our model of what our athletic department and our administration and myself feel like is best. We could be within a month, and the companies that we have and working with them to try to weed through all this. The interesting thing about NIL is I don’t know that we all know what’s factual and what’s not because nobody’s ever come right out and said exactly what they received or didn’t receive in NIL. And there’s not been anything contractually signed by either party that I’m aware of. So I think once it gets finalized, whatever finalized is and how it starts to move forward, it’ll be interesting to see how much of it is fact and how much of it’s been fiction.”

On NIL

“They all are on their own with the NIL. Originally, that’s what NIL was intended for. There are parameters and rules in place that aren’t being governed by anybody right now. So, I’ll go back to what I said a month ago when I was asked this question — There’s a speed limit sign that says 55, but nobody drives 55 and there’s nobody getting a ticket. So, you really don’t have to drive 55. That’s actually what’s in place right now, in my opinion. What direction it’s going to go from now moving forward, who’s going to police it, what the mandates will be, I’m not sure. We’re just living day to day with this. So myself and Chad Weiberg and Dr. (Kayse) Shrum and some others are coming together to come up with what we’re creating and calling a model of consistency here NIL that would allow us to do the things that we feel like are important to enhance the student-athletes opportunities when they’re in school competing and get an education. But they’re not going to be tied contractually to anything we’re doing to keep them from doing a separate NIL deal. Time is just gonna tell us how this all pans out over the next, I’m guessing, six to nine months. We’re gonna find out a lot more as we move forward.”

On if it’s irritating he has to deal with NIL stuff

“I mean, not really anymore. We talked about this the other day, that there’s a lot of changes going on right now in college athletics, in all sports, particularly in football and I’m guessing basketball. So, we deal with it and try to do what’s best, sit down and make good, quality decisions, what’s best for the student athletes in a big picture. And then the athletic department in general, that’s what people are forgetting — they still got to balance a budget over here. It’s not like you can just have a free for all with that. So to answer your question, you deal with it or you get out of the business. That’s the honest truth. It’s not really irritating me right now because I have expressed to them what I think is best, and then I don’t have to deal with it much because it’s hired out to people that do this full time. So really, I don’t have to deal with it much.”

On Caleb Etienne

“He’s doing good. I mean, we’ve only had one week of practice, but he’s doing good. He’s 50 pounds lighter, so he feels a lot better. He’s moving around, starting to pick the system up.”

On depth at corner behind Korie Black and Jabbar Muhammad

“We have a number of good, young corners in this program. We have a number of really good, young defensive backs. We recruit a lot of corners and then move them from corner to nickle to safety. They can play multiple positions for us. So, I really feel good about the quality and the youth at those five [defensive back] positions for the next four or five years.”

On if he worries about team chemistry with NIL with the possibility of some players making much more than others

“I don’t know, but human nature, we all know, is a real thing. And people react differently to the way that they’re treated. If NIL was handled the way it was intended to be handled, NIL wouldn’t be a problem. It’s no different than, I would say, free enterprise, capitalist, supply and demand. LeBron James makes a whole lot of money because LeBron James is a really good basketball player. And there’s other guys that play in the NBA that don’t make a fraction of the money he makes because they’re not in as demand as he is. That’s really what NIL was for, based on what an athlete’s demand could be, not just maybe to perform at a high level but for some reason that that student-athlete, male or female, could enhance somebody else’s company or business by being the face of that organization. As we move forward with this, if I get involved with distributing NIL, then we can have a chemistry problem. Because it’s like raising kids. You have three kids at home and are supposed to raise them the same, treat them the same. And if one gets all this and the other one doesn’t, this one’s gonna be upset. And I think that could be an issue with NIL. So, we’re going to build a model of consistency here in this culture on this team. So, if you continue to work and do the things you’re supposed to do to be a part of this, then from an internal NIL, then you’re all going to be treated the same. But if somebody from, I guess Stan Clark won’t matter, if Eskimo Joe’s really likes Malcolm Rodriguez and he wants to give him a separate NIL for making appearances for him and do that separately on his own, then so be it.”

On if he has seen chemistry issues on coaching staffs because of differences in salary

“I would say yes, sure. I would guess there would be more of those than actually are brought to people’s attention. I really haven’t had a bunch here. I would say that’s because I’m always real honest with them. When they come in, I don’t try to beat around the bush. I just tell them, ‘This is exactly the way it is, I’m sorry,’ or ‘This is the way it is, I hope you’re happy,’ whatever. But that’s human nature again. And I would say that if you’re not consistent in that area, you could have issues with chemistry just like you could potentially with NIL if it’s not handled right away.”

On if Ollie Gordon reminds him of anyone in terms of being such a physically developed true freshman

“No, not physically. He’s still a ways away now. He looks good, and he’s doing really well. But, there’s a lot to getting to a point where you can compete at this level consistently, particularly in games next year. I would say, safely, he’s going to be 230 by August, and he should run under 4.6. So, he’ll be a big body that’s physical and can move. For a high school player, because he’s supposed to still be in high school right now, he’s doing really well. But he’s still a ways away.”

On Collin Oliver

“He’s doing great. Collin, he’s developed and stronger and faster. He’s got a great attitude, brings a lot to our team from a work ethic. He hasn’t let success grab him and change the way that he approaches school and approaches football every day. He’s very humble and very appreciative of what he has. If he continues to work and stay like that, he’ll play this game for a long time.”

On Collin Clay

“Collin is released, just like Trace, but we’re not going to put him in full contact. He’s in individual drills and working and getting in shape and all that. But we’re not going to release him for contact until August. He’s 305 pounds. He’s stronger. He’s doing fine.”

On what he wants to see Collin Oliver improve on entering his sophomore season

“He was a really, really good pass rusher. We all know that. And as he develops and gets quality reps this spring and August, his run blocking defense will improve and get better. But I’ll just call it like it is, the guy has got tremendous work ethic, and he trains hard, and he’s humble, and he loves to play football. So all that’s going to be good for him. But as he gets experience, his run defense will improve.”

On Dominic Richardson

“He is doing well. He understands the type of back he is. He’s a power back, and he’s going to run through arm tackles and drop his pads and protect the football and grind. He’s gonna grind yards out. And he’s done well out here this spring. He’ll have his hands full in the first game. He’s got to get ready to go. He could very well carry it 18 to 20 times in the first game.”

On whether Richardson is ready to carry the ball 18 to 20 times a game

“I don’t think he has a choice. That’s what he’s been told. Now, other guys will help him, but you guys have all watched college football. I mean, Jaden Nixon just showed up, and Ollie is supposed to be going to the prom next week. CJ (Brown) is doing great, but he’s in high school. So, he better get ready.”

“If he carries it, I mentioned 18 to 20, then that’s going to give Jaden 10 carries. Jaden is still young. Dominic’s 212 pounds; Jaden is up around 188 right now. So, he’s not in a position to tow it 18 times right now. So, if he gets 10 carries a game, that’ll be good for him and then there’s going to be another six or eight for somebody else. Because we’ll rush it around 40 times a game.”

On if he likes opening the season with a Thursday night game

“I think it’s a smart move. It helps us in preparation, gives us a day off afterwards. We go four weeks in camp then we play a game. So you get fatigue pretty early in the season based on your August preparation. Then it’s a holiday weekend, so it allows us to have a game before people take off and go somewhere for the three-day weekend.”

Aden Kelley 

“He’s doing good. He’s young. He’s learning. He’s in the middle of it. He’s stronger. He’s developed his body. He went through a big transition. When you come from Thomas, at that level, he’s fortunate enough to just come off the ball and knock people down on the ground and run through and make a play. There’s a transition that he goes through competing against guys that are every bit as big as he is. But he’s doing just fine, and he’s on track for what we expected and where we expected him to be at this time.

“He loves it here. He reminds me a lot of James Castleman. He’ll end up leaving here like James Castleman. He’ll love OSU forever. He’ll probably go back out to Thomas and get a ranch, and he’ll ranch and farm and hog hunt and do what he’s done before he got here and be as happy as he could ever be. He’s a really good person. He’s a perfect fit for us. He loves to play football. He’s tough. He just needs to develop his body, which he will. But, his attitude that he brings to our culture is awesome.”

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