The Oklahoma State Cowboys begin spring practice on March 11 with many interesting position battles taking place.
By the time the spring game is played on April 20, the Cowboy coaching staff should have a much better understanding of who will be winning those battles at key positions.
Choosing the right players in those situations will be huge, especially if the Cowboys want to improve on their 8-5 record in 2013. Quarterback, running back and special teams will all be areas to watch.
Returning: Clint Chelf, J.W. Walsh and Wes Lunt
No other team in the country has a tougher choice at this position than Oklahoma State does. All three of the potential starters at quarterback threw for over 1,000 yards and won a conference game last season.
Considering the experience factor and how last season ended, the odds-on bet for who will start at this position is probably Chelf. Not only does he give the Cowboys the best combination of running and passing, but he also has the cool, calm demeanor you want your signal-caller to have.
However, don’t count out the two younger guys. Both Walsh and Lunt are extremely talented, albeit in different ways. The best scenario for next season would be for Lunt to redshirt a year while Chelf starts as a senior, with Walsh coming in as a change-of-pace, Wildcat-esque quarterback in spurts.
Departed: Joseph Randle
Returning: Jeremy Smith, Desmond Roland
Incoming: Corion Webster, Rennie Childs
Losing Joseph Randle would hurt any team. Luckily for the Cowboys, both Smith and Roland are more than capable backs.
Smith will likely be the starter here, with Roland falling into Smith’s former role as the backup. Although a different back than Randle was, Smith is a starting-quality back, and the transition to him as the starter should be pretty smooth.
Corion Webster, an incoming freshman out of Atlanta, Texas, is a dark horse in this discussion. He has the size and skill set to make an impact immediately.
Departed: Isaiah Anderson
Returning: Josh Stewart, Tracy Moore, Charlie Moore, Austin Hays, Blake Jackson and more
Incoming: Marcell Ateman, Ra’Shaad Samples
The Cowboys have ridiculous depth in this position group right now, and that likely will not change for a few seasons.
Josh Stewart is the stud of this group, as he led the team in most receiving categories last season. Do not expect that to change in 2013. Tracy Moore is also a nice player to have back; he is getting a second senior season after receiving a medical redshirt for last season.
Ateman and Samples are both talented incoming freshmen, but they will both have a really tough time getting off the bench next season. The Cowboys will have talented receivers at every age, from sixth-year seniors to true freshmen.
Departed: Jonathan Rush, Evan Epstein, Lane Taylor
Returning: Daniel Koenig, Parker Graham, Jake Jenkins
Incoming: Zachary Crabtree, Brandon Garrett, Jack Kurzu, Jesse Robinson, Jaxon Salinas
Of all the position groups on this team, the offensive line is the one that Cowboy fans have to worry about the least from year-to-year. Cowboy offensive line coach Joe Wickline is one of the best in the business, and he always seems to reload his offensive line perfectly.
Offensive linemen are almost always redshirted for their first year in this program, so it is very unlikely that we will see any of the incoming guys on the field in 2013. However, there are many waiting in the wings for their time to shine, so this line should be just as good next season as it is every year.
Departed: Nigel Nicholas, Cooper Bassett, Ryan Robinson
Returning: Calvin Barnett, James Castleman, Tyler Johnson, Anthony Rogers, Davidell Collins
Incoming: Vili Leveni, Naim Mustafaa, Sam Wren, Ofa Hautau, Ben Hughes, Vincent Taylor
The Cowboys’ defensive line was much improved in 2012, and there is no reason to believe that upward trend will not continue. Losing Nicholas, Bassett and Robinson is big, but the Cowboys have plenty of other talented players ready to step up.
The most likely incoming players to see time are Naim Mustafaa and Sam Wren, but it will be tough for them to beat out players like Barnett and Castleman. Those two appear to have a stranglehold on the starting defensive tackle spots. But the defensive end positions may be up for grabs.
Departed: Alex Elkins
Returning: Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey, DeMarcus Sherod, Lyndell Johnson, Ryan Simmons, Joe Mitchell, Nico Ornelas, Kris Catlin
Incoming: Dawson Bassett
The Cowboy linebacker corps has been the team’s strongest defensive position group for the past few years. That will not change in 2013.
Returning seniors Lewis and Lavey will almost assuredly retain their starting positions, but it will be interesting to see who replaces Elkins as the middle linebacker. It is a big hole to fill, but Sherod, Simmons and Johnson all look like capable candidates to fill it.
Departed: Brodrick Brown
Returning: Justin Gilbert, Daytawion Lowe, Shamiel Gary, Kevin Peterson, Ashton Lampkin, Zack Craig, Miketavius Jones, Larry Stephens
Incoming: Jerel Morrow, Darius Curry, Tre Flowers, Taylor Lewis, Deric Robertson, Jordan Sterns
The Cowboy coaching staff clearly wanted to bring in more players in recruiting to provide some much-needed depth in the secondary. They will have that next season, especially considering that they return three of their four starters in this position group.
Gilbert staying in school for his senior season was nice, if a bit unexpected. He is one of the best athletes on this entire team, and it will be very interesting to see how he continues to develop. Kevin Peterson won a lot of time last season as a true freshman, and it seems likely that he will take over Brown’s role as the starting corner opposite Gilbert.
Lowe and Gary return as starting safeties. In fact, it is likely that very little will change as far as the depth chart goes in the secondary. The one incoming player to watch is Morrow, who is a great athlete and played both ways in high school.
Departed: Quinn Sharp
Returning: Michael Reichenstein, Bobby Stonebraker
Incoming: Ben Grogan
The most irreplaceable player on this team was Quinn Sharp, but now the Cowboys have to attempt to replace him. Reichenstein and Stonebraker will likely attempt to replace him as starting punter and kicker, respectively.
Ben Grogan comes in as a kicker and could potentially challenge for the starting spot.