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The Rundown: Mike Gundy Talks Spring Game Standouts, NFL Draft

On Middleton, QBs and more.



[Photo via @CowboyFB/Twitter]

The Cowboys’ spring is done.

Oklahoma State held its spring game Saturday, where black beat orange 27-19. Mike Gundy met with reporters after the festivities. Here is what he had to say.

On Zach Middleton

“Zach, I’m guessing, carried the ball more than anybody today. We were down a couple backs, so his team had to get a little more reps at the running back position than others. But I thought he handled himself really well. He’s a young guy, but he’s been in the program a year. He’s gotten out of the newness of it. He really had a good spring. He showed today some physicality, taking quite a few hits. He’s probably close to 220 pounds. We’re excited about him as he develops.”

On how encouraging it is that he has a deep stable of backs and a young guy like Middleton

“You try to keep them going. We all are aware of open transfers. You could go from having a deep position, anybody in the country could, to having a position where you don’t have a lot of depth based on players’ availability to move around.”

On young receivers

“Those guys had more reps this spring than most starters have had over the last 15 years because we had a few veteran receivers that missed some spring ball, had a little injury here, an injury there. Those young guys had the same amount of reps as what a varsity player would’ve had for us in the past. You could see the results today. They could feel their way around the game a little bit, and it wasn’t so new to them.

“I think if you watched all the positions, really the only positions that we have that didn’t get what I would consider a full load of work would be quarterbacks because there’s only one of them on the field. Every other position we have, including the wideouts that you mentioned, they got as many reps this year as a James Washington would’ve got in spring ball during his three springs.”

On how Jaden Bray looks physically ready

“One this that we have with those guys, this class that came in, they’re all long and tall and are gonna be pretty big. The Green twins are 215 already, probably gonna play at 225. Bray is probably gonna play at 205, 210. There’s some length and some body to them that is gonna allow them to play a little bit different football than a guy like Brennan Presley. Brennan is fabulous at what he does, but these type of guys will bring a little bit different side to it with their size.”

On Spencer Sanders’ connection with Tay Martin

“As I mentioned during spring practice, [Martin is] finally in shape. He has not been in shape until the first of March because of all the different things we had to go through with the virus and restrictions. He’s finally in shape now. You’re seeing, his play is showing up more because he’s not so concerned with his fatigue as he is just getting lined up and playing fast. We need him to continue to work hard. We need him to stay healthy and stay in good physical condition. He should help us move the football.”

On Martin’s transition from one receiver spot to the other

“He’s doing fine. It’s not the easiest transition in our system, but he has picked up on it and doing fairly well.”

On the defense

“I was excited about our tackling. That’s one of the areas that I concern myself with. You try to protect the players as much as possible, but there’s a point where you still have to tackle, where you gotta go play. I thought we tackled pretty well today for not having as many reps at tackling as we would’ve want to. Until the end, we stayed on top of the offense. We didn’t give up deep balls. In the end we gave one up, but prior to that, I thought we defended well, and I thought we tackled well.”

On if it’s hard to evaluate units when they’re split up as they were in the spring game

“The mixing and matching is most difficult for, like in the second half where when you take some of the skill guys out and give them a break, then it’s a little more difficult. The quarterback’s timing is a little off. Then it’s a little difficult on safety and corners transitioning in their communication. We were able to get so many reps this spring, that’s why we were able to function and play. I don’t know how many plays we had, if you combine orange and black, I bet we had 150 plays today, pretty close. That’s a full game.”

On if it’s beneficial for younger offensive linemen to play alongside starters

“Unfortunately what we went through last year. We started the season with a group of five and by the time we were in the sixth or seventh game, we never got back until that group of five until maybe the eighth game. It’s good for them to work together and getting used to communicating. Linemen have a way of communicating in their own language, so it’s good work for them to be next to somebody that they’re not next to on a normal day.”

On what he liked from Spencer Sanders and Shane Illingworth

“I thought both of them were good. We opened it up a little more there in the end and allowed them to fling it a little bit. There were times we wanted to work on the running game. We feel like we have guys that can throw it down the field. We have guys that can run and catch it. Based on how people play us, sometimes we get to throw it, sometimes we have to run it, depending on how they play us. I don’t think we threw an interception today. We might have had two fumbles, one by each team. So overall, when you look at, I’m guessing, about a 150-play scrimmage that had a fumble on each side, no interceptions, overall I thought the quarterbacks played pretty well.”

On there not being many penalties

“The thing that’s encouraging is you didn’t have a number of holding calls and pass interference calls. And I asked those guys, they’re real officials, they asked how to call it, and I said, ‘Call it like you do on Saturdays. We need to know where we’re at.’ Quarterbacks didn’t have any issue with the 40-second clock. As you mentioned, very minimal penalties.”

On Gunnar Gundy’s possessions

“I think he did fine. That’s a tough situation for him. His dad’s the coach, it’s not easy. Call it like you want, you can get the elephant out of the room, it’s not easy to be in his position. But I think he handled it well and handled himself well. You go through that when you’re young. You’re working with some wideouts that you don’t work with as much. He got some protections, guys ran some routes, made a few plays, got to run around. Learning process. Just like same thing with Peyton [Thompson], Peyton’s been here longer, and [Ethan] Bullock, Bullock’s been here. You can see how guys that have been in our system, particularly at that position, it’s just like with Shane, he’s way further along now than he was when we started the season last year, just being able to function with the speed of the game and bad guys chasing you and stuff.

“I was proud of him. I went and talked to Bullock and then I talked to Peyton and Gunnar both and said, ‘Hey, you guys did a great job.’ It’s not easy when you’re rotating through it with those guys and they’re rotating skill kids with you. But they did a great job in competing. Shane and Spencer, they took care of themselves.

“I wouldn’t give [Gunnar] too much credit early right now.”

On if it was nostalgic seeing a Gundy No. 12 playing quarterback

“That’ll be like nostalgic for the family. The difficult thing for quarterbacks here is, that’s pretty much all I watch on an offensive set because that’s just my life. I admit that. I don’t watch the big guys up front. I watch them on tape, but I don’t watch them during the games because that’s not my life. I watch everything Shane does. I watch everything Spencer does and Gunnar and Peyton and Bullock.

“I’m sure that part of it will be nostalgic to the family, but I’m just excited about watching all of them. Honestly, when he’s out there, I’m watching the same things I do when Shane’s out there. I’m wanting to know what he’s doing with his reads. I want the ball to be distributed. I don’t want him holding onto the football and get it in somebody’s hands that can make a play.”

On if there is a player or position group that he wishes had spring last year

“Well, that’s your quarterback position, for us. Different teams may feel differently, but for us, the number of reps that our quarterbacks get in our system where we program what happens in practice, we can set it all up, can set you back at that position. That’s why I was so encouraged by the development of that position on our team this spring based on we had the extra 25 guys, we’ve had enough linemen to practice not just ones and twos. Everybody gets on the field. We normally don’t have that luxury. So what happens is, if you’re Bullock, Gunnar or Peyton, and you don’t get in on 11-on-11 reps, you’re only getting individual work, it’s like being at summer camp. For that position to be able to get that work because we have enough linemen to practice, you just can’t make up for it. It’s a big advantage for our team.”

On the Cowboy backs

“Logan [Carter] has been awesome, and [Braden] Cassity, he just keeps coming on. Those guys are always going to be important to our offense. That is a position that, we have to be a little bit careful at health-wise because of immaturity beyond those two. Braden not as much, but Logan’s got a lot of reps, and Cassity’s got some. Beyond that we have up-and-coming guys that don’t have any experience. So, we have to be a little careful there because of that.”

On Danny Godlevske

“He has a terrific attitude, work ethic, mental approach, didn’t miss a snap, didn’t miss anything in practice. I pushed those guys really hard this spring. They got a lot of reps, and I did it for a reason because I’m trying to get it back to the way it was in ’07, ’08, ’09, ’10, ’11 around here, where we would grind and we were tough. I pushed them really hard. He made that transition, not only mentally, which is not easy, but he also did it physically. That group is starting to come together. We talk about [Josh] Sills. Sills is just now in shape. He’s like Tay Martin. He wasn’t in shape, and it’s difficult for a guy that’s 330 pounds to play the game when you’re not in shape. He’s in shape now. I’m excited about them coming together as a group, and I’m really excited they stayed healthy in the spring. It gives them a chance to get stronger, develop more and then stay healthy and play well in the fall.”

On the kickers

“It was awesome. A ton of field goals and great work for them. With Alex [Hale], who is doing great in his recovery right now, with him not being there, the other guys get put on center stage. You gotta go out there and kick in front of a crowd. OK, there’s no rush. They don’t look at the rush anyway. They don’t clue into the rush. But they’re out there, people watching them, being successful. I thought that was a real plus for us today, them having the opportunity to go out under pressure and kick some field goals. A couple of them were 50-yarders, not easy.”

On the NFL Draft

“I’ll just tune in with the boys and watch it on TV. They all kinda want to be different places. Should be a good day for us. … By the time the second days gone, we should have at least three, maybe four gone, hopefully. Then I really think we can have at least two more at the end of the draft. It should be a good day for us either way. If not, we’ll get a bunch of them in camp, and I think they’ll do well enough to make a roster.”

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