Offensive Line Must Adjust and Skill Players for Pokes Ready to Help.
STILLWATER -- You always hate it as a radio host and a sports reporter when your audience appears to know more than you do. But when you live with one foot inside a program as part of the broadcast team and one foot out with your daily job, there are different aspects you have to put up with.
I did receive a call on Wednesday that radio stations in Oklahoma City are reporting that Oklahoma State redshirt freshman offensive guard Cole Birmingham and redshirt sophomore offensive tackle Hunter Anthony, both injured in the first half of the Cowboys win over Tulsa, are slated for season ending surgery.
I didn't know there were so many radio reporters in the Oklahoma City market with medical degrees. Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy did say on Monday that Birmingham's injury was more serious than the injury to starting quarterback Spencer Sanders. Nothing was said on Anthony, who played through the end of the half, but did not come back out for the second half. I saw Anthony get his leg caught in a pile of players near the Oklahoma State sideline on the last series of the first half. He played the next play and then limped as he jogged to the locker room at halftime.
It would make sense that the Cowboys would likely go with the line-up on the offensive front that played all the snaps in the second half as former walk-on, redshirt freshman Jake Springfield (6-5, 300) played left tackle; West Virginia transfer and two-year starter for the Mountaineers Josh Sills (6-6, 325) at left guard; redshirt senior Ry Schneider (6-3, 320) at center; redshirt sophomore Hunter Woodard (6-5, 295) at right guard; and senior and All-Big 12 performer Teven Jenkins (6-6, 320) at right tackle.
The one easy adjustment could be inserting center Tyrese Williams, who had a good preseason, at center. The 6-2, 300-pound Williams is strong and could allow Schneider to move to guard, where he has started games for the Cowboys.
After that, there are much younger players in line to jump in with redshirt freshmen like Taylor Miterko (6-5, 295), Joe Michalski (6-4, 295), Preston Wilson (6-5, 295), and true freshman Eli Russ (6-4, 316) probably at the top of the list along with previously mentioned center Tyrese Williams.
You do what you have to do and in this 2020 season, it has been offensive line issues that have caused more schedule disruption and performance issues with teams. It is proven that the big guys on the line are more apt to have side effects from COVID-19 and they also appear to need more time to recapture playing shape after having the virus. They are also more prone to get it as offensive line is the biggest position group on a team and they really can't socially distance as they are five players on the field that have to work as one. Their position really screams for more meeting time that most positions. They are also prone to hang around each other more away from the football complex. Offensive line is as much a way of life as it is a football position.
Those players are much more critical to a team's success than anyone gives them credit for.
"I'm going to get the best players, coach them up, and get them ready to play," Oklahoma State offensive line coach Charlie Dickey said earlier in the week.
That is the attitude of the players themselves. The care factor is high on the offensive line. It is tough to play and there is not anywhere near the public gratification and attention for offensive linemen. There will be people like me next Saturday that will check and see who is warming up with the first offense on the offensive line. However, most in the stands and in the media will look first and maybe only at whether Spencer Sanders or Shane Illingworth is playing quarterback.
The older players on offense will be huge in helping the unit as a group and also in fostering confidence with the younger offensive linemen.
"Just let them know that we are there for those guys and for them not to hang their head if they make a mistake," said running back LD Brown. "We understand that they are young and may not have been ready, but we know they will be and we are here for them. Play your butts off and play fast."
"You always want to get off to a fast start," said slot receiver and fifth-year senior Dillon Stoner. "From that standpoint we just need to stick to the game plan, play clean football, encourage all those guys, and then hopefully, we get off to a fast start."
There are no choices until Birmingham and Anthony are ready to jump back in the mess.