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The Rundown: What Mike Gundy Said Ahead of OSU’s First Spring Practice

On spring expectations, Derek Mason and more.



[Devin Wilber/PFB]

STILLWATER — It certainly doesn’t feel like spring outside, but Oklahoma State held its first spring practice Tuesday.

Before the Cowboys started their spring schedule, OSU coach Mike Gundy met with reporters inside the Sherman E. Smith Training Center. Here is what he had to say.

Opening statement

“OK, so it’s finally here for us. We’re back at it a week later. Most cases, we practice before [spring] break, but we had an additional week. So, we chose to spend that time in offseason, in the weight room, in conditioning. Worked out really well for us. I feel like our team is in the best condition that we’ve ever been in at this time of the year. We’ve had a great offseason, so we’re excited about getting started. Looking forward to the next 15 practices.”

On if pushing things back gave new defensive coordinator Derek Mason more time to get comfortable

“Sure, it did. The conditioning for the players, an extra week in the weight room, another week of the early morning runs, the grind we put them through, was more important. Coach has been here enough. With him adapting to our system, it was pretty easy for him to adjust. There’s a lot of similarities with what we were doing that he was doing or has done at some point in his career. So that adjustment, comradery in the defensive staff room, has been really good up to this time.I’m excited about watching our defense continue to grow with what we’ve developed over the last two to three years.”

On if he is worried about quarterback depth with Shane Illingworth gone

“Well, I’m always worried about quarterback depth. Been fortunate in the past that we’ve gotten to our second-team quarterback, and even to our third-team quarterback, and they have played pretty well. In my opinion, playing quarterback at this level is more difficult now that it has been in my 30-something years in college football for two reasons. One, because defensive linemen at this level are starting to change games like defensive linemen have been in the NFL for 20 years. Such better athletes than we’ve ever seen rushing the quarterback. And two, the systems on defense are much more complicated than it used to be even six, seven years ago. 

“So, I worry about that. I think it’s gonna be an issue that we all have across college football because with open transfer, that’s the one position where it seems to be leading the charge that if that player is not the quarterback, then we’re seeing them take the tendency to just go somewhere else and want to be the guy. So, I think this is gonna be common. I don’t know that it’ll be easy to keep more than two to three quarterbacks on scholarship at once, just based on the availability of the open market.”

On what the team will get out of this spring ball

“Well, we’re gonna practice physical. We just won’t be as physical with our threes as we have been. We’ve had that luxury since 2020. That’s what COVID taught me, right or wrong, is to make sure that everybody got equal number of reps for the most part. We carried that through. We have it set up this way this spring, but we don’t have the numbers on the offensive line. We’ll have to be delicate with our twos to keep them healthy and get them some reps with the threes at the skill positions. We do have those numbers on the defense. We’re really deep on that side of the ball, which is what I would prefer in most cases because we play two units. But we’re gonna practice physical. We’re gonna play hard.”

On what he is excited about in watching Derek Mason this spring

“Oh, I think it’s intriguing to watch the different style and approach of coaches. Where I’m at now in my career, just to sit back and enjoy it. They’re all different. Glenn Spencer had his style. Coach (Jim) Knowles had his style. Coach Mason, I think I have a pretty good feel for him and his style. So I’m just excited to watch them work as a unit. One advantage that he has, and the other coaches on defense have, is we lost some guys that are good football players, but we have a number of guys back that played a significant number of snaps in key games. So for the most part, we just need to guide the ship in the right direction. Don’t confuse them and let them go play. I think Coach Mason is a very humble person who has been through a lot in his career. He understands that, and I think he’ll work well with the players.”

On what challenges Mason will face with having to replace some key contributors

It’s not really as many new faces, based on what I said. The guys that are gonna be out there played significant snaps last year. We’re running Oklahoma State’s defense just like we’ve always run Oklahoma State’s offense. We haven’t changed that in 12 years. He’s gonna put his twist on it that makes it comfortable to call plays on game day. Then he’ll adjust with our staff. I see them working very well together. It’s gonna be very similar to what we’ve had. It’s easier to teach one person to speak a different language than it is to teach all those guys that have been here. That’s why we’re moving in that direction.”

On what he thinks Mason’s style is

“I guess style meaning personality. Everybody here is different. Jim is Jim. Jim is a mad scientist. He’s Dexter in the laboratory. He goes in, shuts his door and comes out with a plan. That’s what he does. Derek is out more. He’s with the group more. I haven’t seen him during the season, so obviously I can’t speak to that. But he spends a lot of time in that staff room with the other six or eight or 10 of them in there with all the student assistants and full-time guys, moreso than Jim at this point, is what I would notice would be the difference.”

On the continuity on offense with Spencer Sanders, Kasey Dunn and Tim Rattay all being back

“Well, Spencer had a great year last year. We would all like to say we can keep a discard, and he would like to discard the championship game and keep the others, but we didn’t protect him very well. I’ve said this all along, and I’ll say it again, you watch high school games and college games and NFL games, I see quarterbacks that are ranked really high and if you don’t protect them, they won’t play very well. There’s times where he didn’t play as well as he wanted to, but we did not protect him very well, and we didn’t rush the football. When that happens, it’s difficult for a quarterback. Spencer had a great year last year. He’s mature. He gets it. He’s humble. He competes. We need to get him out of some of the reps this spring. He doesn’t like that, but we need to get his work and let him go over there and let the other guys get some quality work because he’s had a lot of work. I think he speaks the language very well. I know they’re comfortable with Rattay, and obviously Dunn’s system is not gonna change. We’re gonna do what we do. So we’re gonna be in good shape as we move forward.”

On the offensive line

“We’ll be fine up front. We don’t have a lot of depth right now because we’ve got a couple guys that would be, well one guy that would be in the two-deep, that left in the portal. We have a few leave, but one would be in the two-deep. Then we had two or three guys that had minor scopes, so they won’t be in spring ball. That’s why we’re down a few guys, there’s like three of them. Once those guys come back, couple months and get going and they train on their own in June, they’ll be fine because they are experienced. Those guys have had a lot of reps in the last 18 months. More than we’ve ever had here. They’ve had enough work to where they should feel good and understand our system and be able to play at a high level.”

On if commitment and support from the OSU administration is still on track

“Yes, it’s been tremendous. I have so much confidence in the direction that we’re moving right now. And it’s not just selfishly for football. I think that we have new blood, I think we have youth, I think we have innovative people that don’t take no for an answer and are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful in a lot of areas. So, I have a tremendous amount of confidence in Dr. Shrum and Chad Weiberg. Essentially that’s what it comes down to, they call the shots. I have weekly conversations, multiple weekly conversations with both of them on different things, even as much as facilities, new facilities here for us and football and other sports, different ways to raise money. So, I’m very excited about our administration. I think we have a great working relationship.”

On if there is anything specific the administration has done to help since the Fiesta Bowl

“Well, between Dr. Shrum and Chad Weiberg, they’ve completely revamped our people that work in that football building financially. I mean, they’ve taken care of football and taken football to a level that with the exception of Oklahoma and Texas — which I don’t know if we’ll be in their category budget-wise in my lifetime, but a year or two from now they won’t be in our league, so I don’t have to worry about that — but for the most part, they’ve taken the staff and everybody in that building to a level financially that will be the top in this league, which is a huge commitment because that keeps continuity and structure. There’s almost 100 people that work in our building in all different areas, and the large majority of them have been with us or with me a long time and that helps me. So in my opinion and when they make that commitment, they’re showing that football is important and it gives us a chance to play at a high level.”

On Joe Bob Clements moving to linebackers coach

“So, when we moved Joe Bob (Clements) to linebackers, that allowed us to transition right into defense in the offseason and now with a coach at every position that already knows our system. So, when Coach (Jim) Knowles left, which you guys know, he was a walk-around coordinator, we had a graduate assistant that coached linebackers the years that he was here. So, he left and went with Coach Knowles. So I transitioned Joe Bob into that position, so the linebackers had a coach that knew our system, and they spoke the language. And then I’ll let Coach (Derek) Mason walk around, that’s what he’s gonna do now. And I thought that was a smart move on our part so there wasn’t any adjustment for the linebackers to have to transition a new coach that didn’t know our system.”

On linebackers

“We’ve got good young players at that position that don’t have any experience. That’s what it comes down to. So we’ve gone through this, I think the comparison would be where we were at wide receiver this year. We played a number of young guys in games one through six that really shouldn’t have been on the field, but they had to by default. So these guys are going to have to grow up quick. This spring will be very important for them. But, I will say this, they’re big enough, they’re fast enough, and we’ll find out this spring if they’re tough enough. If they can fit those three criteria, we’ll teach them how to play, I’m not worried about the rest.”

On junior college transfer linebacker Xavier Benson

“Well, specifically at linebacker we get some maturity there and you know we would like to play four linebackers. Malcolm (Rodriguez) was so good last year we couldn’t take him off field and and (Devin) Harper played tremendous, so it was hard to get him off the field. But if you remember the year before, Devin didn’t get on the field very much. And that’s a great example of you know, you never know how a young man’s gonna play until he gets out there and plays. So we should have played Devin more during his career in my opinion. I’m not blaming anybody, you can blame me if you want, it doesn’t make a difference, but it’s a good example of until you get a young man out there and you watch him play you really never know. So with Xavier coming in if he can catch up and get going, he gives us experience, he’s 237 pounds, he can run, he’s physical. So you get some maturity, so a young guy has a chance to grow and develop, so you don’t have to throw him in the fire like we did last year with the wideouts.”

On what he is looking for out of the running backs this spring

“Yeah, it’ll be important. You know, we’d like to play with three guys and truthfully the key will be to keep them healthy this spring. They need live reps, they need to get in there, they need to get hit. We need to see if they can withstand punishment, if they can hold onto the ball, what their endurance level is. So that’s a very important position this spring.”

On what has to happen this spring to ensure success next season

“Well, the good news is we got 15 practices for the bowl game and all the young players, some of the names you guys have mentioned, they got a spring practice during the bowl (preparation). So we’re trying to accomplish the same goal right now, and I shared this with the coaches and asked them to share it with their players in the meetings this afternoon is, ‘We’re trying to get ready to play the first game right now.’ That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not wasting any time. The days of spring practice where you run plays and try different blitzes and things and see what happens, I think those days are gone. I think you try to get ready right now to try and win the first game. The difference being that we can be much more competitive because we don’t play until September and we can get reps with everybody on the team.”

On cornerbacks

“Yeah, you know [Korie Black] and [Jabbar Muhammad] got quite a bit of work last year. Both those guys played very well in the bowl game. So I see them transitioning into, ‘Now it’s my time.’ That’s what I would like to see from those two. And then we have young corners that have speed, the length and side-to-side to be good players. We just don’t know anything about them.”

On the young receivers in Year 2

“Well, those guys should be mature toward the end of spring ball. Same guys that got a lot of reps last year that were really young. And then you have (Brennan) Presley in there, Braydon Johnson is back. I don’t know if he’s going to practice today, but he should be back this week. Those guys should start to show signs of maturity now. Jaden Bray, he’s not young anymore. He played in 10 games. [John Paul Richardson] played in what eight to 10 games and made catches in the Big 12 (title game) for touchdowns. So the concern we had last year for those guys in games should go away this year.”

On Braydon Johnson’s expectations coming off injury

“Well he needs to play — you know, when he got injured, he was a good player. He’s experienced. He’s caught a lot of passes in bowl games, big games. I think he’s faster now. He looks better than he ever has. He ought to run under 4.4, and he’s made a lot of plays in his career. He should be a leader of that group. I liked his attitude in the offseason, he’s worked extremely hard and I think he’s ready to play.”

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