With Washington's return, Oklahoma St. boasts deep WR group
STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) When quarterback Mason Rudolph and receiver James Washington decided to return to Oklahoma State for their senior years, they put the Cowboys in position to have a dynamic passing game.
Both are among the nation's elite, and Washington should give Oklahoma State one of the deepest and most talented wide receiver units in the country.
The Cowboys, who play their spring game Saturday, went 10-3 last year and wound up No. 11 in the final poll following a 38-8 win over Colorado in the Valero Alamo Bowl.
Forming a devastating duo with Rudolph, the speedy 6-foot, 205-pound Washington ranked fourth in the Big 12 last year with 71 receptions and was 10th nationally with 1,380 receiving yards, along with 10 touchdowns.
Junior Jalen McCleskey (73 receptions, 812 yards and seven touchdowns last year) and senior Chris Lacy (31 receptions, 489 yards and three TDs), are also back, while senior Marcell Ateman, who had 45 receptions for 766 yards in 2015, returns after missing all of last year with a foot injury.
Also in the mix is sophomore Dillon Stoner, who had five receptions for 27 yards last year and Tyron Johnson, a transfer who made nine catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman with LSU in 2015 before sitting out last year.
Rudolph, who completed 63.4 percent of his passes last year for 4,091 yards and 28 touchdowns, with just four interceptions, will have plenty of targets at his disposal once again.
''We have a lot of guys that can make plays,'' coach Mike Gundy said. ''We don't have enough footballs to go around. Fortunately for us, they're really good young men, they understand. I can really see guys like James Washington only playing like 40 plays a game and putting the other guys in, and keeping them fresh. There were times last year when James was fatigued late in games, and I don't see that happening this year. I see enough guys to just continue to rotate through and allow us the opportunity to play really fast.''
Gundy noted that Ateman, who was injured just before the start of last season and initially was expected back during the year but wound up missing all of it, is back on the field fully healthy and focused.
''He's doing really well, he's made a lot of plays,'' Gundy said. ''He'll split time with Lacy - one will be out there and the other one will be resting, and we'll flip them during the games. Both of them get 40 plays a game, which is not a lot for a skill player. It should keep them fresh.''
In addition to also the flexibility that having so many good options gives him, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich likes how the players all push each other to be better.
''The thing about the depth is it's good in case somebody goes down, but it's also very good because we keep guys fresh,'' Yurcich said. ''It's also good because you're becoming very competitive, but along with that is being a team guy. Everybody that's in a team sport understands that. It creates competition, and you push one another and still be a team guy. Those things are very important.''
McCleskey points out that the receivers understand that no one single player can be the focal point and they've all bought in to the team concept that when one of them succeeds, they all do.
''We know that our offense takes whatever the defense gives us and if they're giving us one thing, then we just want (those players) to make plays because at the end of the day, we just want to win games and make it as far as we can in the playoffs,'' said McCleskey. ''Nobody's ever like, `I want the ball, I want the ball.' We're all like, `If he's open, throw it to him.' We all feel like everybody can win against whatever DB is guarding them, so we're all supporting each other.''