Oklahoma State's season opener is just 11 days away against defending national champion Florida State in Dallas. Today we're looking at five Cowboys to keep an eye on early in the 2014 season:
1. Running Back – Tyreek Hill (5-10, 185, Jr. – Garden City C.C.)
This should come as no surprise but Tyreek Hill definitely fits the whole “player to watch” bill. This newcomer from Garden City Community College transfer is already the fastest Cowboy but many have speculated he might be the fastest player in all of college football when he steps on the field Aug. 30.
And Hill was selected as the preseason Big 12 newcomer of the year for more than just his sprinter speed.
Hill was rated a five-star recruit by Scout.com and had scholarship offers from Alabama, Florida State, Oklahoma, Texas, USC and Nebraska, among others. He's elusive, an open-field nightmare and a more-than-capable receiving threat, guaranteeing opposing defenses will have to keep an eye on him at all times.
In all honesty, if Hill is as good as advertised and Desmond Roland keeps up his strong play from last season, this one-two punch in the Pokes' backfield could propel this team well beyond its preseason expectations.
Hill also projects to take over for Justin Gilbert and Josh Stewart in the returner roles, showing that the coaching staff wants the ball in this playmaker's hands as much as possible.
2. Linebacker – Ryan Simmons (6-0, 235, Jr.)
Simmons should be a familiar name after starting every game at linebacker for the Pokes last season and finishing fourth on the team with 67 tackles, nine tackles for loss, and also added a sack and an interception. He's a proven commodity; however, he's the only proven player in the linebacking corps.
What fans need to watch with Simmons is his ability to use everything he learned from Shaun Lewis, Caleb Lavey and Joe Mitchell the past three years and take over as the leader of the unit.
He's capable of handling the task and his play in the spring prompted coaches to refer to him as the “main leader” of the entire defense. He'll have it be with a slew of youngsters flanking him but he has All-Big 12 talent.
3. Linebacker – Josh Furman (6-2, 202, Sr. – Michigan)
When safety Josh Furman graduated from Michigan early and chose to transfer to Oklahoma State in April, it gave Cowboy fans a sigh of relief after losing starting safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary, as well as valuable backups Zack Craig and Lyndell Johnson.
However, Furman has bulked up and will play linebacker instead, assisting the aforementioned Ryan Simmons in the experience department.
Furman is an exceptional athlete and should be able to take command of the Cowboys' hybrid “star” linebacker position that was vacated by Shaun Lewis, which is a combo of safety and linebacker that roams in the heart of the action. Furman started three games for the Wolverines and played in 32 contests. He had 11 tackles and a pass breakup in his final season in Ann Arbor.
Furman has a lot to prove after never really breaking out at Michigan but the linebacking corps is extremely young so Furman could be counted on to play as a result. Whether or not he takes advantage of the opportunity is a different matter.
4. Wide Receiver – Marcell Ateman (6-4, 210, So.)
Most people have pegged Jhajuan Seales as the next big thing for the Cowboys at wide receiver, and he's certainly earned the excitement after a very solid campaign in 2013.
However, Marcell Ateman could make a serious push for this title in his own right. Ateman showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman last season, pairing elite athleticism with imposing size that makes him a frustrating matchup for almost any secondary.
He hauled in 22 catches for 276 yards in a brutally deep receiving corps fresh out of high school a year ago, so there is no doubting Ateman's physical gifts but there is reason to doubt something equally important – his work ethic.
Coach Mike Gundy was quoted this spring saying “…Ateman, when he decides to play hard, he's a big, physical body. Mentally, he has to come around and understand the importance of practicing hard every day.”
That's not exactly a ringing endorsement but Ateman is still 19 years old so if he can mature and take that mental step he, by all accounts, can be as good as he wants to be. Ateman has shown the potential already for turning the corner saying himself that he expects OSU to contend for the nation's best receiving corps.
5. Offensive Tackle – Devin Davis (6-5, 312, So.)
The offensive line is entering a new era in Stillwater. Gone to Texas is Mike Gundy's longest-tenured assistant Joe Wickline and turnover is always hard, but making things sting more is that Wickline might also be the country's best o-line coach.
Add into the equation that OSU must replace three starters and this is the first time in a long time that offensive line has been a serious question mark heading into a season.
This is where Devin Davis enters the equation.
Davis was slated to be the Pokes' starting left tackle last season but was lost for the year with an injury he suffered in fall camp. Davis is arguably the most talented lineman on the roster and, should he make a successful return from injury, he would go a long way toward raising the expectations on the front line.
Senior Brandon Garrett is still listed ahead of Davis on the depth chart and all-conference caliber Daniel Koenig is manning things at right tackle. If Davis breaks through, Koenig would be able to shift back to his more natural position at guard and push Garrett back to right tackle, which is his better side. It would set off a domino effect that would put four players back on the line with starting experience, including guard Chris Grishby, and would change a lot of perceptions about the season this line can have.
Getting that much experience on the field would obviously be nice but getting Davis on the field period is a worthwhile goal for the coaching staff. The 6-foot-5, 312-pounder from Nacogdoches, Texas, could have an NFL future ahead of him; he's that gifted.