STILLWATER — Week 1 of the Cowboys’ fall camp is in the books with the conclusion of Oklahoma State’s Media Day.
More than 30 players were made available for interviews Saturday, and OSU coach Mike Gundy capped the festivities off with a nearly 40-minute news conference. Here is what he said.
“We’ve had a couple padded practices, which has been good. Everything is going well at this time. Guys, they’re handling the weather, working hard. We haven’t had any issues one way or the other that are worth talking about. We’re just moving forward with where we’re at. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve got a good group as I mentioned earlier. I’m excited. I like what I see with the coaching, the interaction with the players, guys’ effort, responsibility, the loyalty to each other and their team. I’m excited about where we’re at, but we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”
On if he has a sense of how good this team can be
“You know, it’s interesting, we weren’t very good the first four, five or six games [last season] when you put it on the national platform. We were beat up. We couldn’t practice very hard. We struggled to get through practice. We were playing freshmen that shouldn’t have been on the field. They had to be out there by default, so we had to adjust game plans offensively. Defense carried us. Once we got healthy and we started to practice the way that we’re accustomed to practice and we had some continuity, quarterback could get a feel for what’s going on outside on the perimeter, I felt pretty good because nobody could move the ball on us. For the first time in my career, when we went into a game, I felt like we had a defense that could just stop people, and if we could just manage to score about 15 to 20 points, we could win.
“It’s so early right now in watching our defense, but I’m comfortable with our pass rush. We’re young at linebacker. We can run. We can hit. We don’t know a lot because we haven’t had many quality reps. We’re replacing some safeties and corners, but the corners have had a considerable amount of quality reps, so I feel pretty comfortable on the back end. I feel comfortable with the coaches. I like the transition with where we’re at with Coach (Derek) Mason and Joe Bob (Clements) moving to linebackers.
“Then offensively, we are who we are. Now we have more depth than we have at wide out — that helps us. Obviously, quarterback was here. Replacing Jaylen Warren will be a task, but we got guys that are out there running around and competing. We’re in a pretty good position up front right now at the offensive line. We’re able to roll the first two groups in and be pretty consistent. Third group is getting quality reps, but they’re young.
“I feel good about our special teams. Our kickers, punters and snappers are veterans, they’ve been around. I feel good about where we’re at.
“Predictions-wise, I don’t know, we stay healthy, the team learns to care about each other, we could be pretty good.”
On the team being physical in fall camp
“We’ve been very physical the past two practices. We lost a number of practices for three to five guys that need the physical aspect of the game, so we’re gonna play a little catchup and see where we’re at in about 10 practices and then make a decision about whether we need to push forward with it or back off.”
On if there are spots on the offensive line open for competition
“I think there’s seven guys that have enough experience and we feel like they can play that we could play at a really high level and play fast if we choose to that we’re comfortable with. I think we have three other guys that are coming along, they’re learning the system, they’re trying to adapt to who we are and what we do. They have the skill there. I’ve said this for years, we need three guards, three tackles and two centers to make it through a season and hope that we don’t have to go any further than that when you deal with maturity and experience and toughness. I think we have that right now. So, one of the challenges, in my opinion, in coaching and doing the best job possible as a head coach is how physical can you be but also try to keep everybody healthy because we need them out there in the first game. And that’s where we’re at right now.
“We have a number of guys. [Offensive line coach Charlie Dickey] is working some through at different positions, but we’ve got guys that rotate in with the ones and the twos that played a pretty significant number of snaps this year in quality games, which is better than where we were at last year.”
On Caleb Etienne
“Caleb still has a ways to go, but he’s a completely different player right now. He’s, I’m not for sure, 40 pounds lighter maybe. He might be 50 pounds lighter, I’m not sure. But he’s in condition now. He’s been with us long enough that he understands who we are and how we practice. Once he got his body under control, now he can think and play fast. He’s getting better every day. He looks much, much better. He was a long ways off last year. He was a victim of the COVID. Really the last time he played up until he plays this year will be in high school. They didn’t do much in junior college. When he showed up, he just had a long ways to go, but he’s doing much better at this time.”
On the offensive line practicing with high energy in the heat
“We’ll [energy] is really what I watch now. Obviously, I don’t coach. I’m watching those things, and that’s very important with where we’re at. It was interesting, some of the skill [players] was dragging, and the big guys were doing good today. I will stay that Coach (Rob) Glass mentioned in our staff meeting a week ago that he felt like we were in really good physical condition. He doesn’t say that much. It’s hard to get that out of him. So, that made me feel good. He gauges most of that on the big guys cause the skill kids are gonna come along. They’re the most athletic, so once they get adjusted, they’ll be fine. But so far, we’re holding up up front with our big guys.”
On if there is a way to quantify how valuable it is having a fourth-year starting quarterback
“There’s no substitute for experience and reps. He’s really good at what we do. He can run any play in our system — all of our really fast plays that we have, which we have a lot now; I think we have 47 of them –and he can run them without even being coached at this point, in my opinion. He’s come a long ways.
“We have a really simple offense, except for the quarterback. For the quarterback, it takes time. Once they get it, they all of a sudden get better, and it only happens from making mistakes and reps. And unfortunately, a lot of times it happens when they make mistakes in games.
“I played five, six, seven games as a true freshman. About halfway through my true sophomore year, we played Colorado out here, and it was the first time I felt comfortable. And I think I was in game eight to 10, I don’t know what it was. All the other stuff was a blur to me. He’s had a lot of experience now. The game has changed completely. It’s much more difficult to play quarterback now than when I played — much more difficult. That experience is really important.
“And he’s tough. He’s been beat up. He’s been hit on, so he gets it and he’s OK.”
On coaching Gunnar, his son
“It’s extremely difficult for both of us. But what I do is I just stay away. I’m not down there, I’m not around the quarterbacks. Tim (Rattay) does a great job. It’s best for me to stay away from them and let him coach them and let them function throughout the day. Let him make freshman quarterback mistakes and then let him grow and develop without me down there being involved in it. I don’t know if I’m right because it’s the first time I’ve done it. I just stay away and let it all take place and don’t really get involved in it. I think that’s the best way to handle it.
“He doesn’t live at home. He comes there and gets food and leaves. But we don’t talk much football at home. Now, the young one [Gage Gundy], he wears me out on it, but Gunnar and I don’t talk much football. Now, if I’m passing him around the facility — just the same thing with Spencer (Sanders). Second practice, I was down there on the field a little bit and I was talking with Spencer about some stuff, and I talked to (Garret) Rangel about some things. And if I see something that I think is wrong, then I’ll mention it, just like I would most of the other guys, and we’ll talk about it. It’s almost in passing. We don’t really stop and talk about it much.
“Gunnar doesn’t talk much. Gunnar is very quiet and to himself. He doesn’t really talk much about anything. He studies football, goes to school. He’s got his friends that he hangs out with, and that’s it. He’s an easy one to raise. I’ve got three sons and each one of them is completely different. He doesn’t really talk much. He lives in his own world. If he needs something, wants to talk about football, he find me and talk about it, but it’s pretty rare.
On Gunnar’s development
“Yeah, it didn’t come naturally. And you know, it’s what we want. I mean, Kristen and I want our kids to work hard and be productive and do the very best they can with the tools that they’ve been given. And we try to guide him in that direction. And hopefully they have a work ethic that allows them to be successful in life, whatever it is they do. So fortunately, we’ve instilled that in him. He is a hard worker, who does it on his own. And so for that reason, that makes me comfortable and makes me feel good about his upbringing. Forget player-coach (relationship), just his upbringing and where he’s at with his work ethic. You know, he came out of high school as a 4.85 guy and, you know, he’s 4.6 flat now, which is pretty good. So that was all his work. And they all do, you know, they worked. You know, Spencer (Sanders) went from 4.75 to 4.55. You know, I just looked the other day at (Garret) Rangel’s numbers, I think his first bench was 190 and I noticed that he was at, I think, 215 or 220 the other day, and his numbers went from he was a 4.94 I think he ran a 4.82 or something. So, when they work hard they’re going to progress. With coach (Rob) Glass, they are gonna get better.”
On having several Stillwater High School players on his team
“So from Day 1, I wanted to have a partnership with Stillwater High School coaches and their players. They’re right here. And we should have an academic partnership as a university with the high school, in my opinion. I don’t control the academic side of it, but from a football standpoint, the Stillwater High School coaches are welcome over in our facility and at our practices, watching our video, in our meetings anytime they want to come. That’s been for since I’ve been here. And just a natural progression with when I have boys that are playing in high school, they come to watch practice, they bring their buddies. So they’ll come trailing into practice. You see Gage (Gundy) come in now, he’s got four or five buddies with him. They come into practice and they watch and they see things, that’s productive. That’s good. It’s good that they’re in that environment. They’re learning, they’re watching, they want to be there. To me that’s productive and so we’ve got a pretty good pipeline going with walk-ons now that are on our team. We might have as many as five now that have decided to come here and be a walk-on and compete, which I think is a positive thing for Oklahoma State, the high school and the community.”
On Trace Ford
“It’s a challenge mentally, right? You know, you get injured and then you get injured again and it can be a — I guess traumatic is probably a little extreme — but it can be a difficult experience when you take something away from somebody that they really love to do. That’s tough on young people. It’s tough on adults. And it happened to him and then he was all revved up and ready to go and then it happened again. And so, I was really worried about him coming back. He’s got a good upbringing. He’s got good support. But still, it’s not easy. And he’s healthy now. He feels good. So we’re bringing him along slow. We’ll give a little more next week. And then the third week we’ll put him in there and some contact and get him some action and then we’ll get him in the game week. And I believe when we play the game, and we turn him loose, I think he’ll play.
“We had a number of people that have worked with him. Not only his doctors but people checking on him, his position coaches, Richetti Jones and director of player (development). When I would see him around, I would stop and ask him, ‘How you doing? How’s everything going?’ Some of the procedures and medical work that he had done was in Tulsa. He was going back and forth. And I’d ask him how it’s going and how they feel about him. And so just touching base with him. He’s quiet, too. He doesn’t talk much. It’s hard to get him to really talk a lot. But I think he said — well, I know he’s in a much better place now than he was at this time last year.”
On whether he knew Trace Ford was going to road games on his own
“I didn’t know that. That’s good. That’s good information, I didn’t know that. I guess I probably should have said I did know that, but he might have used NIL money for gas. I know he’s been cutting grass for money.”
On whether the offense could carry the defense this season
“They’re in a much better position now than we were last year. Let’s put it that way. I don’t foresee that happening. I don’t think that needs to happen. I think they’ll really play well together. And I said this when I met with you guys a few days ago. It’s a little unrealistic for us to expect them to start where they left off last year, because last year they were legitimately in the top five in the country, in my opinion. And when you lead the nation in sacks and have multiple games in conference play where you have over six or seven sacks, it’s pretty awesome. So, I think they’re going to play really well. I really do, defensively. And offensively, we’re further ahead now from a health standpoint, certainly, and then I’m going to go back to what I said earlier, the replacement issue is Jaylen Warren, because he was a really good player for us. If you go back, and you guys watch it, but I have the luxury of stopping it and looking and then starting and stopping, and he made a lot of yards when there really wasn’t yards there sometimes. That’s where the replacement is.”
On whether Dominic Richardson can be an every down back
“His skill set, yes. He’s thick enough and physical enough to do that. Now, I’ve also said this now for a number of years that it takes more than one at this level because those guys take a lot of hits. And now he is physical. He’s mature. He’s been around a while which is going to help him. He’s a different runner, a different type of runner. You know, he’s more of a slasher, he’s gonna drop his pads and try to run through somebody and then take off and go. But, we need him to be durable. I don’t worry about his attitude. I don’t worry about his toughness. We just need him to be durable and to give us, if he needs, to give us 18 carries a game. And then the other guys are going to have to help. We’re gonna have to play three backs. We just haven’t had the luxury. You guys would know what better than I would, but I don’t know when’s the last year we had a back that played all year long. I can’t remember that we didn’t have to play a second-team and a third-team back during the season.”
On particular things he is watching for when the running backs practice
“Nothing more, other than just being able to function and what we asked them to do. And then when you have inexperienced players at a particular position, the coordinator in that position coach have to come together and come up with a good plan that when these guys are in, this is what they do best. Don’t ask them to do something that they’re not capable of doing at this point in their career. Whatever it’s for. Based on physicality, youth, could be route running, catching. So it’s a little more difficult on a coordinator, like it wasn’t on (Kasey) Dunn last year the first three or four games when we were trying to run our offense with zero experience on the perimeter, which is way off from what we do. We rely on those guys in a lot of ways and he didn’t have that. So between him and (John Wozniak), when [Dominic Richardson] is out, he’s catching his breath, we need to have plays we go to that the other guys have a chance for success. Don’t ask them to do what they can’t get accomplished.”
On whether replacing Jaylen Warren on offense is like replacing Malcolm Rodriguez on defense
“Probably more difficult. I thought Malcolm was the best defensive player in the country as a stand up guy. The guy a Baylor and the guy at Georgia that just pushed the offensive line back in the quarterback’s lap, I mean those guys are really valuable. But for a stand up guy, on the second level, I thought he was the best player in the country. And so it’s extremely difficult to replace him. We’re not going to replace him this year. That’s not going to happen. We’re gonna run guys out there, but these guys aren’t in that position in their careers right now to replace him. That doesn’t mean we can’t take up slack in other areas, but you know, you were at all games. He’s fantastic. And those guys in Detroit, they’re head over heels over him as we speak.
“Everybody’s got to do their job, and we can all — all of us can only do so much. So the young guys (Mason) Cobb and (Xavier) Benson and Nick (Martin), those guys have to play the very best they can in their world. They can’t do more than they can do. But I’m just saying for me to sit here and say that we have somebody that’s going to step in and do what he did last year, they should just cut the cameras off. They’re not ready right now, but they’re going to be good. They’re going to play good. They’re going to play hard. They’re going to play in our system.”
On Kendal Daniels
“He’s making really good strides. He falls in the same category. He’s a really good prospect and he doesn’t have experience. He’s gonna gain experience and he’s gonna get better. He’s gonna make mistakes and he’s gonna get better. His attitude is fantastic. His body is what I’m guessing NFL would dream of for a safety, but he’s experienced. But he’s been tough, he’s got some natural skills that we can’t coach and he’s got a body. We just need to get him out there and let him play. We have to be patient with him. We have to be patient with our linebackers. Coaching is understanding who you have out there, who you’re coaching and understand that they’re gonna make mistakes, we have to correct them. And they’re gonna make more mistakes, and we have to correct them again. And then we got to keep playing them.”
On why John Paul Richardson was lightly recruited
“When we saw him — you know his dad’s Bucky right? So, I had a conversation with Bucky a year before we offered him. And, you know, he mentioned to me, you know, as a dad, because he and Gunnar were pretty much the same age, because I would ask him about him, and he would give me some of the — I said ‘Just tell me about him,’ and he said, ‘You’re gonna get a tough kid who can play a lot of positions, who’s had success and the ball is always around him. And he makes plays.’ And you know, in high school, they played him at quarterback, he played wide receiver. And so we kind of followed him and there wasn’t a lot on tape numbers wise to make people jump on him and want to offer him. And I think there was some not doubt, but there was some curiosity to actually how fast he was. And so we offered him, I think we offered him, and I was on the road recruiting when we did, so it had to be in the fall. Because we can’t be out in the spring. And we thought he was fast enough. And we offered him and then it wasn’t much longer that he committed to us, and then he went to a camp somewhere, these camps they go to, and he ran 4.51. And then other people started to slowly offer him after that. Fortunately, we had built a relationship with him and Bucky and we were able to get him. But to answer your question, this is a long answer for, I don’t think people were really sure of the speed.”
On Jaden Bray’s recruitment
“We had him in camp. Kasey (Dunn) and them had him in camp young. I don’t know, how old was he – a sophomore, maybe? – and loved him. He played his senior year, and they didn’t throw a lot of passes, I think. The year before that, they had Boo. I mean, not Boo, Cade Horton was the quarterback at Norman. We called him Boo. And so (Bray) got the ball quite a bit, and then when Cade went to college, I don’t think they threw a lot of passes the next year to him, so he just kind of stayed unnoticed. But he came to camp, I want to say as a sophomore, and when he showed up, I vaguely remember Dunn and them saying it was a no brainer. Now, I could be off on part of that because there’s been a lot of days since then. But I think I’m pretty close.”
On Bray’s progress with route running and technique
“We played him last year more than we should have. He wasn’t ready to play last year, but he helped us win a few games. He was just out there running around. Now, he understands technique, he understands body control, he understands eye placement. He has a decent feel for coverages and things, and so he should come along considerably faster this year than he did last year because he’s been out there. His heart’s beating out of his chest, he’s sweating, he’s tired, and he’s used to all of that now. So his route-running skills and his understanding of how the game’s played is considerably better than it was. Well, last year at this time, he was just out there. Now, he has a clue what’s going on.”
On whether Joe Bob Clements’ ability to help linebackers with pass rushing factored into the decision to make him their coach
“Not as much that as I did, I wanted to keep continuity on that side of the ball. Joe Bob is a very smart coach, and he played that position at some point in his career, and so I thought it would benefit our players, two things. One, to have a coach that’s been in the system coach them so they can speak the same language, and then two, personally for his career, I thought it was better for Joe Bob to get out of the defensive line and get back in the second level so he could learn what’s going on back there if he wants to move on in his career and potentially be a coordinator. I never told him that, but I just think that’s good for his career. When I asked him if he’d coach linebackers, he said, ‘Sure, I’ll do whatever you want me to do,’ and I said, ‘I’d like for you to coach linebackers.’ I think it’s good for those young guys, so the young guys we just talked about. Like if Malcolm (Rodriguez) and (Devin) Harper were there, then anybody could coach them to a certain extent. Just give them a play and let them go. These young guys need a lot, and to bring somebody from the outside in that doesn’t understand our language and our terminology and have him learning and them learning could set us back, so that’s why I made the transition, and personally, I thought it was good for him.”
On working with Big 12 executive Ed Stewart, who is leaving for USC
“It’s been fantastic. As a former player, he gets it. He’s a good communicator. He’s intelligent. He’s very levelheaded, easy to talk to, lets things slide down his back, doesn’t take things personally. He’s been great for this league. He’s been good for Oklahoma State, and I’ve enjoyed my relationship with him. I need to text him. I haven’t done that. I hated to see him leave our conference, but I’m guessing it was a great opportunity for him out there. With the new commissioner (Brett Yormark), as I said earlier, I don’t need to get into, I think he’s going to be fantastic. I think what could happen is, a lot of times when you change commissioners, it’s kind of like head coaches, maybe. Before it’s all said and done, he might have people he’s bringing in. Ed might know that. I don’t know. I’m just guessing. But I know Ed’s been fantastic for us, and I wish him nothing but the best.”
On what Stewart did for the conference
“He’s their communicator, so anytime there was issues, good or bad, things that needed to be changed from a compliance side to making sure pregame that their team stays on the 40 and our team stays on the 40. He kind of had all of it. He did everything. He had a lot to do with our meetings, set them up. He’s very organized, very well-spoken and he’s very intelligent when it comes to being well-rounded in what we do, so he communicated with us all the time. If it wasn’t one thing, he would text me, ‘Coach, what do you think about this? The Big 12 has to vote, give me your opinion on this.’ And we just had a good line of communication, and I just thought he was great for this league.”
On if the receivers were progressing faster than typical true freshmen
“Well, the first thing is there’s no might, they weren’t ready. Are you asking me, did they progress faster during the season? Yes, because they had to. And so we all do it. Like when we’re forced into something that we’re not ready for, we naturally progress in that if we like to do it. The tough thing about this game is the physical aspect of it. A lot of times your body’s not ready for it, which I think just about every one of those guys at some point missed two or three games because they got injured. That’s why I’m not a big fan of playing freshmen unless we get into a desperation mode. What I like to do is what we did with James Washington, where he comes in and plays eight, 10, 12 plays a game, and then we bring him along, and toward the end of his freshman year, we started playing him more, but he had gone through August, September, October. We started to get into November, and he started playing 25, 30, 40 plays a game, but we brought him to that level. We just didn’t throw him out there and put him in a difficult situation. That’s really a progression that I’m more comfortable with.”
On the surprise of Collin Oliver’s good weight gain
“Yes, it is. I don’t need to talk about Coach Glass and what he does. Everybody knows what he does, but he (Oliver) doesn’t even look like the same person. It would be interesting, if they knew what we know now, how heavily recruited would he have been? He would have been a five-star, wouldn’t he? So we hit a home run on him, and he needs to continue on, and I’ve had some discussions with him. Collin is very mature, and he takes care of himself. He’s got great work ethic, and if I were talking to him like I would my own kids, I would say as long as you stay humble and real and understand where you came from and how you got to where you are and keep with your work ethic, you’re going to play this game a long time, and I think he’ll do that. For him to change his body like he did, in particular that he didn’t redshirt, because the guys that are in this incoming class that aren’t going to be in the two-deep, they lift and train differently with Coach Glass than the guys that are and playing, so he didn’t lift heavy during the season because he was playing. So August, September, October, November, December, he didn’t lift heavy, compared to if he would have been a guy that wasn’t on the field, his workload in the weight room would have been considerably different, and he would have had one more additional day a week, so he’s just getting started. It wouldn’t surprise me, what do we have him listed at now? What do we say he weighs at? (245) OK, so it would not surprise me at this time next year if he’s 260, because he hasn’t lifted heavy, but he’s a good one, no doubt.”
On what Brock Martin means to this defense
“Yeah, Brock will probably apply for another year. You know the story last year, you know he dislocated his elbow, and the doctors – I probably told you this story, but it’s worth telling again. I think it’s really good for young people to hear this story. The doctors, we walked off the field, and they said, well I heard it, so I knew something was wrong, and I said, ‘That’s not good, is it?’ and they said, ‘No, he dislocated his elbow, and it’s back in now,’ and I said, ‘Well, what does that mean?’ and they said, ‘Well, probably six weeks.’ So I’m adding up in my brain what six weeks is, game-wise, and then the next week, he tried to play, he wanted to play, and so the doctors wouldn’t let him, and then he came to me, and I said, ‘I mean, I’m not going to let you. I’m not a doctor, for one thing, and you can’t play.’ The next week, they signed him off, and I think it was either the next week or the next, I can’t remember, he played, and he should have been out six weeks, and he was only out like 10 days or 12 days or something. He put that brace on his elbow and played, but Brock loves competition, and he loves Oklahoma State and he loves to be in the games. He’s an ex-wrestler raised in small-town Oklahoma with salt-of-the-earth parents.
“He’s raised with mental toughness. He doesn’t know any different, and he would apply for another year, he really would. He loves playing. I hope he gets a shot to bang around and play in the league a little bit. I mean, I don’t know, it’s out of my hands, but his experience is invaluable to our guys because when they get hot, when they get tired, when things get tough, he can tell them, in his own words, ‘It’s going to be fine; let’s forget about this.’ I mean, he’s the guy that makes the plays at the end of the game a lot of times, right? Everybody else is tired, and he’s just mentally tougher than his opponent. He just never shuts down. That play he made in the Fiesta Bowl where he reached around and grabbed him and pulled him down from behind is an unbelievable play that he made toward the end of the game, so he’s a special Cowboy and always will be.”