STILLWATER, Oklahoma — Oklahoma State's decision not to hold a traditional spring game has been met with some criticism.
Coach Mike Gundy feels he knows best. Of the 70 players who traveled to the Cotton Bowl, 37 will not be with the team this spring for various reasons. Because of the low number of available players for the spring, Gundy doesn't think the fans would get their money's worth out of a "watered down" spring game. Oklahoma State instead will hold an "Orange Blitz," a 90-minute practice on April 5 that will be open to the public.
"At some point, I have to make a decision on what I think is best for our team first, and then our fans and the people that follow us second," Gundy said Monday before the first spring practice. "When you take all the things into consideration, with where we're at — we're thin at some positions — we thought it would be best for us to have another practice. I know that's best for our football team, because we need the practice."
Not only are the numbers low, but the majority of the holdovers lack experience. Oklahoma State will return just six starters on offense and four on defense.
"We're a young football team, and there's not a lot of maturity," Gundy said. "We think it's best for our team and I think it's best for the fans, in my opinion, and that's why we established at an early stage what we wanted to do."
There are more issues. Last year's starting center, Jake Jenkins, and another offensive lineman, Travis Cross, had eligibility remaining but chose to join the workforce. Safety Lyndell Johnson chose not to return for personal reasons.
Several players are dealing with injuries. Running back Desmond Roland (shoulder) and offensive lineman Brandon Garrett (leg) will miss the spring entirely and safety Larry Stephens (leg) and linebacker Demarcus Sherod (leg) will see limited action.
One thing to watch will be the quarterback race. J.W. Walsh, who started five games last season as a sophomore, is the front runner. He passed for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns and ran for 294 yards and three scores last season.
"J.W. has always had great leadership," Gundy said. "We want him to have a great feel for what we want to accomplish on offense from a read standpoint, footwork, fundamentals — things that he can control."
But Gundy promised nothing to Walsh, saying: "Certainly, J.W.'s the one that brings some experience to the table, but those other quarterbacks will get a chance."
The other quarterbacks are junior Daxx Garman and freshmen Mason Rudolph, Jake Hubernak and Richard Lagow. Rudolph, a pro-style passer from Rock Hill, South Carolina who already is on campus, has received the most hype. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich is looking forward to coaching Rudolph.
"I can't wait," Yurcich said. "You recruit a guy for so long, and then, finally, you get to coach him. What Mason has to understand is he's a true freshman. Really, he should be in high school right now. He has to take the time and steadily improve. He can't ask too much of himself early on, just stay within himself."
The winner of the quarterback race will have a dynamic weapon to pass to in Tyreek Hill. The junior college transfer enrolled at Oklahoma State in January, joined the track team and already has won the Big 12 indoor title in the 200 meters and finished second in the 60 meters. Hill will not be involved in contact drills in the spring because of his track commitment. Gundy said the coaching staff will be busy finding ways to get Hill the ball this upcoming season.
"I watched him run on the internet, and he's fast, that's for sure," Gundy said. "I'm pleased with the way he's adjusted to college and being here," he said. "I like his attitude. I like his demeanor. I'm glad he's on our team."