Spring Practice Primer: Oklahoma State Cowboys

Jeremy Smith should finally get his chance to be the starting running back for the Cowboys. (USATSI)
Jeremy Smith should finally get his chance to be the starting running back for the Cowboys. (USATSI)

College football never ends, and during the next few weeks teams will be getting ready for the 2013 season in their spring practice sessions. Here's a look at the Oklahoma State Cowboys and what they'll be working on this spring.

Spring practice began: March 11

Spring game: April 20

2012 record: 8-5 (5-4 Big 12)

Returning starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)

Following a season in which Oklahoma State finished fourth in the Big 12, coach Mike Gundy conducted a number of sweeping changes within the coaching staff. Both the offensive and defensive coordinators are new in Stillwater. As a result, the spring will prove to be instrumental in terms of installing the playbook before the fall. For the most part, Oklahoma State's more experienced players return, helping make the transition smoother. However, as with all coaching changes, a learning curve is to be expected. Last year the Cowboy offense was among the best in the country, but the defense struggled at times, ranking 80th in total defense (421.7 yards per game) and 64th in scoring defense (28.2 points per game).

The Least You Should Know About Oklahoma State This Spring

-- After a legacy of brilliant offensive minds, Gundy went with a lesser-known hire at offensive coordinator. Not many college football enthusiasts had ever heard of Mike Yurcich before he became the Cowboys offensive coordinator in February. Replacing Todd Monken, who is now the head coach at Southern Mississippi, Yurcich was most recently the offensive coordinator at Division II's Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa. Although the hire is a risky one, Yurcich's teams have been incredibly productive. Last year Shippensburg ranked first in total offense (529.9 yards per game) and second in scoring defense (46.8 points per game) among Division II programs. Much like his predecessors before him, Yurcich's philosophy is pass-heavy, benefits quarterbacks and should fit in with the rest of the Big 12. At Oklahoma State, Yurcich will have a trio of talented quarterbacks, with which to work: senior Clint Chelf, who enters the spring as the starter, and sophomores Wes Lunt and J.W. Walsh. In case you want to learn more about Yurcich and his offensive schemes, here's a video where he diagrams a play with Star Wars LEGO figures.

-- Despite Yurcich's inexperience at a major level, the Cowboys offense always seems to do well. Defensively, however, Oklahoma State needs to see marked improvement if it wants to compete for the Big 12 championship in 2013. Linebackers coach Glenn Spencer was promoted to defensive coordinator, replacing Bill Young, who was reportedly fired due to his age. Spencer -- who has been with the Cowboys since 2009 -- has a familiarity with the Oklahoma State roster that will help ease the transition. There will be some new faces to inject competition in Stillwater, and the early word out of spring practice is that junior college transfer defensive end Sam Wren will have an opportunity to earn playing time immediately. However, the one unit that has to return to form is the secondary. Following a stellar 2011, in which Oklahoma State generated 24 interceptions -- second-best in the nation -- the defensive backs weren't as opportunistic, forcing only 11 picks in 2012. Senior cornerback Justin Gilbert is one of the most experienced members in the secondary, and joins safeties Daytawion Lowe and Shamiel Gary as returning starters. In fact, the Cowboys return eight of their top 11 tacklers from last season, so there is plenty of talent returning in Stillwater for an improvement on defense to become a very real possibility.

-- The passing game will get all the attention, but watch out for running back Jeremy Smith. After playing behind Joseph Randle for two seasons, Smith was more of an afterthought for the Cowboys. In 2012 Smith ran for 371 yards and eight touchdowns. Although Smith had a drop in carries from 2011 to last season, he does have talent, as evidenced by his 7.1 yards per carry average on 91 carries two years ago. At 5-foot-10 and 208 pounds, Smith is strong enough to run inside the tackles, but also shows enough burst to break longer runs off the edge. Although he may not be as talented as Randle, Smith does have a knack for finding the end zone and has 25 rushing touchdowns on 232 attempts in his career, good for one score per 9.3 carries. If he stays healthy in the spring, that number should only increase when he becomes the headliner in the Oklahoma State rushing attack.

Follow Lorenzo Reyes @LReyesCBS

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