The Rundown: Gundy Gives Updates from Fall Camp, Talks Cale Gundy’s Resignation

STILLWATER — The Cowboys’ Sept. 1 season-opener against Central Michigan is drawing ever closer.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy met with reporters before the team’s Saturday practice. Here is everything he said.

Opening Statement

“We’re in practice eight or nine, I’m not sure where we’re at. Doing very well. The only issue we’ve had injury-wise was that [Blaine Green] had a wrist. We’ll know more about it later as we move along. He’s not practicing with us. Other than that, we’re doing really well from that standpoint. Little fatigue starts to set in the last three or four practices, and it’ll be that way over the next three or four until we get to a point where school starts and they get on a schedule that’s not as demanding physically as this one is where they’re here 12 hours a day. But, coaching is going well. The defensive side with Coach (Derek) Mason, I’m very pleased with. Obviously, offensively we’re in the same role that we have been. Guys are competing, improving. We’ve got a long ways to go, but I like where we’re at at this point.”

On if it’s common to hit fatigue at this point in camp

“Yeah, once they get into practice three, four, five, they train all summer, but the heat wears on them. Now they’re carrying pads, the physical contact, getting up at 6 in the morning, staying here until 7:30 at night, just the long wear and tear. We do as much as we can to prepare them for that, but it’s not the same. They’re just going through a normal protocol for lack of a better term for what it would be for preparation for this season.”

On how he gets a feel for players’ ability to break tackles when they aren’t tackling to the ground in camp

“We’re not going to the ground. We will. We’ll go to the ground three times before the first week of the game. They’re learning. They still get a chance to make guys miss in space; the defensive guys will try to thud them and rip the ball out. We’re getting a little bit of a simulation to the game, but certainly not like what we want. I don’t think that it’s possible for us to practice that way, we’re just trying to get as much as we can to this point to see where they’re at and to prepare them for the physical contact that they’ll get in the first game.”

On the balance of being physical in practice while keeping players safe

“Well, I’ve done this a long time now, so that’s one thing that I’ve got a pretty good feel for. I watch most practices from up top. I look for different things that give me an indication for where we’re at physically from a fatigue standpoint, if they need time off, if we need to push them harder. That’s something you just learn over a period of time — for me, I can only speak for myself. I can watch the group, and I get a pretty good feel for where we’re at. But as I’ve said before, that’s the most challenging part of coaching, in my opinion, is to put them in a position where they can play fast and they’re in good condition and be physical but not do so much that it sets them back. So, hopefully between myself and Coach (Rob) Glass, and the science with all the technology we have in their shoulder pads and such where we can track their bodies, hopefully it’s working for our team now.”

On not getting as much national attention

“We’re in a little bit of a hidden area here. We’re tucked away in north-central Oklahoma. We’re in a town with a population of about 50,000 people. We can stay hidden a little bit, which I think is good for us. As we know, none of that matters. All that matters is our preparation and the teams we put on the field, the way our guys play. Preseason polls, rankings, so on and so forth, that’s all fun for the fans and for the media and for Vegas, obviously, but none of that really matters. I just enjoy what I do, and I’m fortunate to be here doing it for a long time.”

On Thomas Harper

“The experience and the reps he’s getting obviously make a big difference. We need his leadership in the backend. We have a couple, three guys, that rolled out at those positions that he plays and has played. You know, he’s very competitive, very tough. He’s become a part of our culture following right after what his brother did. You know, his brother stayed here and just persevered and just kept pushing and pushing and now he’s, you know, playing little pro ball, and little Harper’s doing the same thing. You know, they’re just really good kids that have a lot of discipline and structure instilled in them. And he continues to get better with the reps he’s getting, which now is considerably more than he’s gotten before.”

On if Thomas Harper can have a similar impact like what Devin Harper had

“I would say there’s a good chance of that. There’s just no substitute for experience. There’s just no substitute at any position for quality reps in practices, and then in games. That gives those guys a chance to grow and mature because we know when you get quality reps in good situations, you make mistakes. So that allows you to see your mistakes, correct them, put a plan in place to fix it, and then go out and make it better next time. That’s the only way we learn how to play. 

On the progression of the linebackers

“They’re doing good. We’re gonna start to pick up the pace contact-wise a little bit over the next five or six practices, seven practices, because then we start to back off before the first game. I don’t see any of those four or five guys that are rotating through there shying away from contact, but the next four to six practices will be important for them, because they’re tired now, they’re fatigued, they’re beat up a little bit. So we’ll see if they can push through it, because ultimately, that’s what we have to do in a game.”

On Nathan Latu

“Nathan has turned the corner a little bit in our culture. And he’s a transfer that’s been in the program long enough that he understands the demands of being successful at this level, in all areas: on the field, off the field, socially, school-wise. There’s just a great demand on those guys to make sure everything’s in order so they can perform and keep their mind straight and keep it clean. And he’s turned the corner in my opinion. And I’ve told him that. I see him doing things now that he wasn’t doing at this time last year. And so, we call it maturity and growth and I think he’s finally moving in that direction.”

On the safeties

“They fall in the same category as the linebackers, really. Defensively, the corners have had more work than those guys, the young corners, but other than the D-line, those other positions haven’t had a lot of work. So, we’re trying to give that to him. We’re trying to simulate as much as we can in practice to a game. But it’s impossible. You go out there, you play, there’s 58,000 or (60,000) however many people come to the games and you’re in a situation where your heart is beating fast and things are moving really quick. It’s a different scenario than in practice. But they’re pushing hard now, they’re learning, they’re attentive, they’re taking coaching and they’re trying to play physical, which is a good start.”

On how he simulates that in-game scenario and pressure in practice

“Well we play loud music, because it’s loud in games, right? Distract them mentally, make sure they focus and then play 11-on-11. Fifty-ish snaps or so a day we get 11-on-11, which is like playing real football. That’s the only way we can simulate it. So we go through practice and individual periods where we teach fundamentals and techniques and then we go to our [7-on-7] and our inside drills, where we take a smaller group and simulate a game. And then we throw it all together with 11-on-11 where we play a game. That’s the only way to simulate it. I’m pretty sure of that.”

On the depth at cornerback

“Oh, those guys are young. They’re a year behind where Jabbar (Muhammad) and Korie (Black) are. They fall into the category of good young prospects that, you know, are further away just from understanding. But we try to give them — well, we don’t try, we give them full-speed reps in 11-on-11 to simulate, as I said earlier, the best we can. But we don’t really have an idea where they’re at until we get in a game and they have to rotate in. Same thing we did with Jabbar (Muhammad) and Korie (Black) last year. We rotated them in early in the season and we get a feel for where they were in games. And as the season went on, those guys played more particularly even more in the Fiesta Bowl and played pretty good at that point.”

On whether special teams play last year helps Korie Black on defense this year

“No doubt. We bring a lot of guys along on special teams, because it’s an 11-on-11, real game situation, and you have a responsibility. Special teams is a one-on-one battle. You either have to defeat your guy and make a tackle or you have to block your guy to keep him from making a tackle. So those are great experiences for those young players. Just like what you saw with — somebody sent me the clip of Malcolm Rodriguez. You see what he did. He’s getting experience right now and it’s the same thing for this level.”

On whether there will be more rotation in the defensive backfield this season

“I don’t know if we have the luxury of saying that right now. We’ll have to start making those decisions probably about the 25th. We’ll have to start making decisions on what we’re doing rep-wise in practice so that carries over to who’s playing in the games. We’re not really to that point yet, because of what we were just talking about. We have so many young players in those areas. We wanna give them all we can now and then we have to make a decision on who we think gives us the best chance to succeed in a rotation in a real game, and give them the majority of the reps as we bring the other guys along. Now, that can change some through the middle of the season, but we have to do the best we can to predict that here in probably 10 days or so.”

On the backup quarterbacks

“It’s the same thing. They’re getting a lot of reps and I will tell you, those guys are coming along really good. I’m very pleased with where we’re at. I feel much better about that now than I did in spring ball.”

On the 50 snaps a day in practice

“Ones, twos and threes. As you know, our offense is gonna get about 80 reps a game, our defense, usually about 60 to 65, maybe to 70. Sometimes less. Last year we played pretty good, so it was less than that. When we go against each other, we have to do the math and figure out how many reps they’re getting against each other. Almost like a pitcher, you put a pitch count on him early in the season when you start in April and May, then you can do a little more as you go. We’re keeping a pitch count on these guys from a play standpoint so we don’t over-exert them. Then you have soft tissue injuries, hamstrings, groin muscles, hip flexors, things like that.”

On when they start to look at Central Michigan stuff

“We will have the luxury this year of practicing against each other more than we did in the past up to the first game, because there’s similarities on both sides of the ball. And in my opinion, there is no substitute for full speed. We will do some of it in about eight practices. We have about eight more practices where we’ll just go against each other, then we’ll start some of it. But we have the luxury of working against each other longer and deeper into camp, even when school starts, because of the similarities with the two teams.”

On being aware of Zeke Zaragoza’s story when he recruited him

“When he was going to walk on here they made me aware of his childhood with his illness and such. He’s a great story, great kid. He’s done something that somebody said he couldn’t do and his willingness to push through and find a way to get it done is pretty cool. It’s neat that we have young men like that on our team. They’re a good example of what life’s all about. He’s been through a lot to get to where he is.

“I think that’s awesome. We need as many young people as possible to get on a platform like him and prove that sometimes we can do things people say we can’t.”

On offensive line depth

“They’re good. I feel good about seven guys. We’ve got a number of guys working in but I think that we have three guards, three tackles and two centers, at least, that are practicing now and performing well enough as we progress along they’ll be ready for the first game. And then the other guys, it’s hard to tell where they’ll be two weeks from now. Sometimes guys’ lights come on really quick and then sometimes maybe it’s not for next week and then practices like 14, 15 through 25 they get considerably better and it changes a little. I feel OK with where we’re at.”

On o-line, d-line 1-on-1s

“We go against each other every day. That’s the only way they can learn. They’re in hand-to-hand combat and the only way the big guys can improve on both sides of the ball is going good against good. The half-speed — as I call summer-camp drill work — doesn’t do those guys any good. You’re just wasting time, in my opinion. Some people may benefit from it. I don’t think our program does. They go against each other a considerable amount of time in practices.”

On the kicker battler

“Good. We’re just letting those guys kick. They’re getting the same kicks every day. They’re doing well.”

On his reaction to Cale Gundy resigning at Oklahoma

“It gave me enough information for a good chapter in my book whenever I retire.”

On whether he’d hire him to the staff at OSU

“We hadn’t even talked about that. He’s got several other options right now that he’s looking at. I haven’t talked to him about that.”

On the Guardian helmet cap

“I think they’re very beneficial. I think they work, they protect, which is important for two reasons, one, to try to protect our athletes, two, it allows us to practice the best we can and still keep them safe. 

“We did some science on them, some research a year ago, that was enough for us to say they work and it’s worth the time. And I need to get our guys to give me some more data and information on the collisions and how it’s worked over the last year and a half or so, but I would almost be willing to bet that it’s very beneficial and they work. 

“I’m seeing them in high schools. I go watch Stillwater practice at nights and they’re wearing them. I can’t imagine that it’s not beneficial. The players get used to them. We never had them but I would think you would feel good mentally knowing you have that cushion on your head.”

On if there are guys on the offensive line he can move from guard to tackle and vice versa

“We have a few of those guys that rotate. Not a lot. Bodies are different, a little bit different body structure. We have some guys that can do that. I would hope that we don’t have to do that. We’ve had to do that in year’s past. That makes for a difficult move for those position guys. The world of guard and tackle is completely different. We have that luxury with a few guys but I hope that we don’t have to use it.”