Washington leads talented Oklahoma State receiving corps

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph was relieved to be asked a question about the running backs.

The Heisman Trophy candidate has grown weary of questions about how he is going to distribute the ball to all his talented receivers. James Washington is a preseason Associated Press first-team All-American, and the rest of the crew is pretty good, too.

Jalen McCleskey is on the Biletnikoff watch list, and he, not Washington, led the team in receptions last season. Chris Lacy, who caught 31 passes last season, also is listed as a starter. Marcell Ateman is back after missing last season with a foot injury. Tyron Johnson, who started his college career at LSU and sat out last season, established himself as one of Rudolph's favorite targets during the spring. Dillon Stoner, a redshirt freshman, is on the two-deep roster.

''Not since I've been here, we haven't been this deep,'' offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who is in his fifth year at the school, said Friday. ''It's a good problem to have because of the quality that you get in practice.''

The number of legitimately good players means the receivers have to check their egos. They will get their first chances to shine this season when the 10th-ranked Cowboys host Tulsa next Thursday.

''You have to be unselfish,'' Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. ''There's a lot of guys.''

Yurcich and Gundy said the receivers bought into the team concept and have been willing to help each other. He said the group is more interested in improving, getting into position to play professionally and helping the team win.

''If we had a young man who was chasing statistics, we'd have some issues, because you're not going to have those statistics.'' Gundy said. ''There's not enough footballs to go around.''

Yurcich said the players have been able to stay fresher during practices because the balance has forced the coaches to distribute repetitions more evenly than usual.

''They are pushing each other,'' Yurcich said. ''Everybody wants to be at their best, and no one wants to come off the field.''

Washington hauled in 71 passes for 1,380 yards and 10 touchdowns last season while McCleskey caught 73 passes for 812 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

Ateman caught 45 passes for 766 yards and five touchdowns in 2015.

''He's more hungry,'' Washington said earlier this month. ''Each and every day, he talks about how he can't wait to get back on the field. He's ridiculous right now. Each and every day, all he talks about is the first game. For someone who is as big of a playmaker as him, I can understand that. He's really come a long ways since then.''

Yurcich said the experience Johnson gained in the Southeastern Conference early in his career will be helpful. He had nine catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns as a freshman in 2015. Yurcich said he's quick and touch to handle in tight spaces.

''He's got that awareness,'' Yurcich said. ''I think the learning curve's different. It's not like he's a true freshman. Although new to our system, he was able to catch on a little more quickly.''

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Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

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More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25 .

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