The Rundown: Gundy Talks Position Battles, Depth Entering Fall Camp

STILLWATER — For the 17th consecutive year, Mike Gundy has started the Cowboys’ fall camp.

Oklahoma State started practice Friday, and the Pokes’ coach met with reporters ahead of the team taking field for the first time this season. Here are his quotes from that availability.

On how much has been altered because of COVID

“We haven’t altered anything other than being very cautious with the virus. We’re over 80% vaccinated. Players that aren’t vaccinated are in a masked policy, and the others move about freely.

“If you’re vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask in our facility. If you’re not, you do have to wear a mask. We’ve implemented that and the players, so far, have done a good job with that as I’ve seen today. That’s really all we can do separate from normal protocol like we would do last year. Obviously, there’ll be testing in place. Players that aren’t vaccinated will be tested twice a week, which has already started.

“It’s personal preference, you know how that is. Everybody has an opinion on what they want to do. We try to educate everybody in the facility and then let them make their own choice.”

On if there are some position battles from the spring that will continue in fall camp

“I think the wide receiver position is, to a certain extent, wide open on our rotation because we usually play like six guys. Because we have young players that were out there in the spring and finding their way through, it’ll be interesting to watch that position. We have a veteran group of running backs, as we know, that are going to roll through. So I wouldn’t necessarily just call it battles, but just seeing how guys progress, that would allow one player to get more reps maybe than the other in the first game.”

On if Rodarius Williams’ old corner spot is assumed Christian Holmes’ or if it is a battle

“No, there’s young guys. We’ve got some veteran players, but we would prefer to play two deep on the defensive side of the ball. We haven’t had that luxury. Most of our corners have played 65 plays and the other guy played 15. We would prefer that be maybe 50-30. That would be a legitimate position we could say that there be a little bit of a battle going on, yes.”

On his comfort level entering camp with so many experienced players

“I’m more comfortable with where we’re at with the offensive line. I shared that with you last year on the first day that I was extremely concerned. And then we had the unfortunate incident in the first game that concerned me even more, but across the board, I would agree with that, yes. I’m comfortable with where we’re at. I’m comfortable with this team and their work ethic. We have more depth that has a little bit of experience across the board than we’ve had in a few years.”

On if the good spring camp can propel this fall camp

“I felt better coming out of spring than I did any spring we’ve ever had just from so many players being in camp, which we know that was because of super seniors and early high school graduates, which that’s going to be a trend moving forward. We’re expecting to have as many as 12 high school players in this next recruiting class that graduate early and come into camp. So that allowed us to get reps, the same number of reps with our threes and young players as we have traditionally got with the ones and twos. So we banked a considerable number of reps that make me feel a lot better.

“Our system stayed the same. They were consistent over the summer. When the players worked on their own, they worked on the same system. We go into fall camp now, they’re working on the same system. So, once we get started over the next three or four days, we should see the young players, the threes and young guys that are getting in there, that have really good practices because they know what to do. And I think that’s going to help us in the long run.”

On if there is an incoming player who wasn’t enrolled in the spring that he is looking forward to seeing this fall

“All of them because you want to know what you did in recruiting. In most cases, we don’t know for 18 months. I would say that Austin Jarrard is a guy that’s important to see what he can do early in the camp. He’s more mature, could impact us at that position at the Cowboy back, just on his maturity and experience. I’m really going to watch and see where he’s at about a week from now, once he gets out there and figures it out and gets used to our tempo and the different things that are important in our offense, and then see where he’s at.”

On if the players who sat the spring out with injuries are ready to go

“We’ll acclimate them slowly, but they’re all ready to go. Guys that we sat out for a certain reason, we try to bring them along over the next seven to 10 days. The reason being, most of those guys are veterans. We have a good feel for who they are and what they’re going to do, so we don’t need to just throw them out there. We’ll just bring them in a little slower, but they’re released and ready to go.”

On Alex Hale returning from injury

“Alex is released and ready to go. He’s very mature and understands between him and [special teams analyst] M.K. [Taylor], he understands his ability and how to bring himself along. Those guys, in a sense, rehabilitate themselves. They take care of their bodies. They know when to kick, when not to kick, and he’s very reliable. So, he’ll work his way through over the next couple of weeks to where he gets to a point where he’s back full speed. But I know that he’s kicked over the last six weeks and felt really good.”

On where Spencer Sanders needs to improve to take a leap in 2021

“I think he made a lot of improvement in the spring. His awareness and understanding our offense, where to distribute the ball is very important. Guys that play quarterback in this system, we’ve had tremendous success with different types of players, and they have to understand our offense and know what their strengths are and know how to distribute the ball with the guys who can score points, and then have to take care of the football. That’s really important.

“Quarterbacks in our offense, sometimes they’re going to throw interceptions because we’re very aggressive. Taking care of the football in the pocket, making sure we don’t turn it over, that’s important for Spencer. You can go back over his last year and a half, and that’s where he got into trouble. If he takes care of the ball in the pocket, he’s automatically a better player.”

On where he expects Thomas Harper to play

“He plays several positions with what we do. Sometimes he could be lined up as a safety. Sometimes he could be lined up as a nickel back. We do different things with him because of his speed. Based on his maturity, which now he’s getting into the category of kind of a veteran player, he’s one of those guys that I was referring to earlier that is slowly but surely coming along and should start picking it up much faster and gives us a lot of flexibility because of his toughness and his speed.”

On Brennan Presley

“He’s come a long ways. He started to get considerably better at the end of the year based on reps, settled in, started to figured out. You saw him improve, particularly in the bowl game. He had a month to prepare. Now he’s been here in the summers, and he’s kind of a guy that we’re used to. Once you know what direction you go, you can go really fast. Guys that are thinking, which is a young player at any position, they don’t play as fast. I think he started to take that next step. We’ll know a lot more in a couple, three weeks, but I would guess that his reps have gotten to a point where his comfort levels is getting pretty high.”

On if Presley will be involved in the return game

“Sure, he’ll be returning punts.”

On Kasey Dunn entering his second season as offensive coordinator

“He’s starting to make strides, and I’ve said this forever, and you know I brought in a lot of first-time coordinators in my career, it takes them a little bit of time to get adjusted. It’s no different than a freshman player. He has to control the offensive staff room and do it in the right way, and then he also has to control the offense, the players. And as you do something more, we all get better at managing. So I think his manager ability at this point is better than it was at this time last year just based on experience.”

On what OSU’s 2021 offense can become

“It’s gonna score a lot of points. We’re gonna score points. We got the guys to score points. I mean we’re not gonna do anything different than we’ve ever done before, but we’re going to score points.”

On depth at running back

“The easiest way to put it is, we don’t want anybody carrying the ball 25 times a game. We need three or four guys to carry a 12 or 15 times a game. Gives us the best chance for, one, to keep them healthy, which allows us to practice at full speed. See, people don’t understand if you have one or two backs and one gets banged up a little bit and can’t practice, next week you’re trying to get him ready to play the game. Then he’s not getting much work in the first team, and the other guy is getting overworked because you still have to practice in order to get ready play on Saturday because the other 10 guys need somebody in there practicing full speed. So, you set your team back, offensively.

“The guys that we have, they share reps, they stay healthy, they can practice good the next week and it’s better for their body in the long run. We’ve got some guys playing here that can potentially make an NFL roster someday. So, it’s good for them, physically, their career, and it’s good for us, offensively, to keep players healthy.”

On what impact Caleb Etienne can make

“I have no idea. I wish I knew. I just know that he’s big, and he looks good coming off the bus. But it would be unfair for me to answer that question, unfortunately, for two weeks because he just hasn’t been here. Their involvement at the junior college level was limited, so it’ll take at least two weeks for me to watch and see where he’s at. He’s going to get a shot now. But to say where he’s at, I don’t have any idea.”

On if splitting reps is something he has to talk with the running backs about

“I would say 10 years ago, yes, but now players at this level that are athletic enough to maybe make a little money playing this game have representatives that have told them to a certain extent these are the steps you take to be a good player in college and maybe get to the next level and make a little money. They are smart enough to know that they have to protect their bodies to a certain extent. Most of them are very competitive, so they’re going to compete. And if they can compete at the highest level and reduce the amount of punishment their bodies take because running backs take more punishment than any other position, it only benefits them as well as it does us. I’m going to say over the last eight to 10 years that players understand and, to a certain extent, are OK with that process.”

On defensive line depth

“Well we got numbers, and we have to rotate those guys through. We all know that we play in a league where they have to chase little guys all over the field and try to get them on the ground. So, it’s important to roll guys through. That’s where depth is very important. So, you just can’t leave a guy out there very long because he’s tired and can make a mistake and get out of a gap, and then you have issues. The depth and the reliability that we could have based on experience, guys you could put in the game and know that you can trust them, is very important.”

On who he is watching behind Malcolm Rodriguez and Devin Harper at linebacker

“Just the young guys. What’s Dizzy [Na’Drian Dizadare] gonna do? Jeff [Roberson]? Just the young guys that are in there as they start to rotate in. There’ll be guys that will show up over the next two weeks that start to come into their own that we don’t have any idea about. Our young guys, that third unit, got lots of work in the spring. They’re much further on now than we’ve ever been starting fall camp, so they know what to do for the most part, so they know how to get there fast. That allows him to improve. Instead of a guy that’s sitting around trying to figure out what to do and he can’t get any better.”

On if players have asked him about conference realignment rumors or if it has been business as usual

“I haven’t heard one thing from the players. With conference realignment I think that I’ve made my point there. I don’t have any concern at all about Oklahoma State, none whatsoever. I think that anybody that’s talking about conference realignment is just using it for conversation. I’m glad it’s not gotten brought up because it’s been talked about for two weeks now, and none of us know.

“It’s just a good topic for conversation. Honestly, I just want to worry about football and the team and move forward just like you guys do because it’s over, nobody knows. When some news comes out, it’ll come out real quick. Anybody that’s talking about it right now other than maybe the brass, they’re just guessing. We haven’t had anybody in this building come to me and and ask a question about conference realignment.”

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