For the first time this spring Oklahoma State fans will get an extended glimpse at the 2013 Cowboy football team on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. The Pokes are widely considered a Big 12 title contender this coming season despite significant turnover in the coaching staff and in player personnel. Here are five things to watch at Boone Pickens Stadium:
1. Mike Yurcich's adjustments
Considering the unorthodox format of spring scrimmages, it might be tough to get a feel for how the new puppet master will pull the strings of the Cowboys' offense. However, it should provide the best look yet at some of the new wrinkles he'll work into the unit he took over from Todd Monken. The system is in place so don't expect the Cowboys to come out in the triple option or a West Coast offense, it will be similar to when Monken took the reins from Dana Holgorsen. While things will run similarly, it will be entertaining to see how Yurcich puts his own personal touch on it.
2. Glenn Spencer's adjustments
Yurcich's won't be the only new coordinator to watch but Spencer is a lot more familiar to OSU fans, having been on the Cowboys' staff since 2008. While he is more familiar than Yurcich, his defense will likely show more changes than fans will see from the offense. Spencer is a fan of a more aggressive style of play than his predecessor Bill Young and Spencer has a talented but unproven unit to build upon.
3. OSU quarterbacks
The quarterback battle ended early this spring with Mike Gundy announcing that the job belonged to Clint Chelf. But that doesn't mean this position is devoid of intrigue. Yes, Chelf performed well late last season but Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh shouldn't be taken for granted. Last spring Lunt won the job outright as a true freshman and was really only unseated because of injuries, not poor play. How the three perform on Saturday will give a more in-depth look at just how settled this position battle really is. But having three Big 12 caliber quarterbacks is a good problem to have. There also might be a glimpse into how Gundy and Co. plan to work Walsh into the offense in situational roles.
4. Replacing Randle
Joseph Randle's early departure for the NFL Draft is a pretty big blow for the offense, but with his decision to leave, OSU does have the luxury of plugging in uber-experienced Jeremy Smith. Smith, who is entering his fifth season, has been a major factor the past two seasons but underwhelmed a bit in 2012 with 371 yards on 5.3 per carry with eight TDs. All three statistical categories were down from 2011 where he totaled 646, 7.1 and nine. He also struggled mightily in the receiving game, which is an important role for backs in OSU's modified air-raid attack. Perhaps the biggest concern is his durability. He did manage at least one carry in every game last season but he spent most of the season around 70-80 percent healthy and only exceeded eight carries once, when he carried 12 times for 59 yards against Lafayette in September. His bruising style isn't a natural transition from the Dantrell Savage-Kendall Hunter-Joseph Randle lightning bug stretch the past several seasons but he is a more-than-capable No. 1 option in a pass-first offense. Reserve Desmond Roland is more in keeping with OSU's style of backs with his speed and make-you-miss ability in the open field. He looked very solid in limited action last season with 301 yards and four touchdowns on 6.5 yards a pop. He has a chance to impress on Saturday.
5. Re-vamped secondary
Spencer's more aggressive defense will likely be most obvious in the play of the secondary, which won't be as likely to provide those notorious 10-yard cushions to receivers. A spring game is a no-pressure scenario to try things out so fans might be in for more of an SEC-style, up-close-and-personal type of play from the DBs. This group lost some depth, namely Brodrick Brown and Devin Hedgepeth, but there is plenty of experience, particularly at safety. The big name is still Daytawion Lowe at the safety spot where he will be joined by converted linebacker – and fan favorite – Lyndell Johnson, who's 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame provides evidence of the shift to a more aggressive approach. Playing behind them will be a quartet of proven commodities in Zack Craig, Shamiel Gary, Deion Imade and Larry Stephens. At the corner spots, OSU is hoping Justin Gilbert bounces back from a rough junior campaign. He is inconsistent but there is no questioning his size (6-foot, 200 pounds) and track star speed. On the other side sophomore Kevin Peterson will replace the departed Brown. Peterson showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman in 2012 and a lot will be expected from the former Oklahoma high school player of the year. Depth is a concern at the corner spot at the moment with only Ashton Lampkin and Miketavious Jones having proven much of anything on the field.