Oklahoma State Cowboys Spring Practice Preview: 3 Storylines To Watch

Oklahoma State begins spring practice on March 7 as one of the two preseason favorites to win the Big 12 Conference in 2017.

Oklahoma State’s title quest officially kicks off with the start of spring practice this month. But it technically began last December.

The Cowboys ended 2016 on a tear, winning eight of their final nine games, capped by an Alamo Bowl blowout of Colorado. Even better for the 2017 squad was the decision of quarterback Mason Rudolph and wideout James Washington to spend this year in Stillwater rather than in the NFL. Mike Gundy, as is often the case, harbors enough firepower to keep pace with anyone in the league. But will it be enough to cop a conference crown for the first time since 2011?

Okie State has gone 10-3 in three of the last four years under Gundy. However, the Cowboys are just 2-12 in their last 14 Bedlam games, making rival Oklahoma an obvious barrier to hardware. And beating OU, especially this fall, will require more than just the pop of a diverse and experienced offense.

Oklahoma State Cowboys Spring Practice Storylines

1. Protecting Rudolph’s Rear

There’s almost an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions, from running back Justice Hill to a receiving corps brimming with talented options. But who’ll protect Rudolph’s backside now that massive left tackle Victor Salako has graduated?

Salako was an underrated addition after his UAB program temporarily went belly-up, so he’ll be missed in 2017. One possibility would be to relocate senior right tackle Zach Crabtree, who was named Second Team All-Big 12 a year ago. However, new O-line coach Josh Henson might not want to mess with success. Plus, even if Crabtree makes the shift to the opposite side, there’ll still be an opening at his former position that will need to be addressed this spring.

2. Plugging Holes In Run Defense

The Cowboys experienced issues stopping the run in 2016, yielding 4.6 yards a carry. Reversing the trend became a whole lot tougher after all-star defensive tackle Vincent Taylor and interior partner Motekiai Maile moved on to pursue careers in the NFL.

Losing Taylor, who was a dominating gap-buster the past two seasons, was devastating for Oklahoma State. He was the rare difference-maker of this defense, wreaking havoc as a run stuffer and a pass rusher.

Life after Taylor and Maile means opportunities for senior DeQuinton Osborne and junior Darrion Daniels to move up a notch after serving as backups last season. Fingers are also crossed that Fua Leilua and Enoch Smith Jr. can provide instant depth in their first year out of junior college.

3. The State Of The Defense

Oklahoma State is going to win a lot of games on Rudolph & Co. alone. To capture the Big 12 and even compete for a playoff berth, though, mandates improvements from the defense.

Taking the next step from 10-win Alamo Bowl squad to champion falls on Glenn Spencer’s beleaguered D. The Cowboys allowed at least 30 points to eight different opponents in 2016, including in all three of their losses. They were beatable on the ground and through the air, a situation that won’t get easier with the losses of Taylor and FS Jordan Sterns.

Since only five defensive regulars are back, Spencer will lean on veteran S Tre Flowers and LB Chad Whitener, while actively developing budding young Cowboys, like DE Jarrell Owens and LB Calvin Bundage. The staff, knowing the offense is turnkey, can devote most of its offseason attention to the mediocre defense.

MORE: Big 12 Football Storylines, Predictions For 2017 Season