MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Sports

April 16, 2012

Oklahoma State RBs developing nicely with less reps

— STILLWATER – The last time Oklahoma State had a stable of running backs this deep, Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was strapping on his chinstrap instead of the headset.

With so much attention being paid to the quarterbacks, the running back trio of Joseph Randle, Jeremy Smith and Herschel Sims have flown under the radar a little bit.

“We’ve developed a lot – more so with our younger guys,” Oklahoma State running backs coach Jemal Singleton said. “Joseph Randle and Jeremy Smith, they played a lot of football in their younger years, so you’d expect them to grow, but probably not as great as a Herschel Sims. Herschel had a little bit further to go, so his growth has been more dramatic. He’s picking things up and doing that. I’ve been happy with how our younger guys are progressing and happy with how our older guys continue to get better every day.”

It hasn’t been easy for the trio of workhorses. With depth comes fewer reps in practice, but Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Todd Monken hopes those fewer reps will mean everybody is healthy by the end of spring practice.

“It’s hard for all of them,” Monken said. “They all want the opportunity to carry the ball, and it’s hard when there’s only one football to go around. We’re going to lean on them heavily during the season, and they know that. They’re a good group that gets along well. They understand that the team is more important. They’re willing to share, which is what we need them to do.”

Smith said sharing time in the backfield last year with Randle has helped prepare the Cowboys for this season.

“We don’t argue at all – we’re actually all pretty close,” Smith said. “We know that if we’re going to be as successful as we were last season, it’s going to take at least two backs if not three to carry the load. I think that we’re a lot older and more mature, so that’s really helped us.”

“They are great teammates,” Singleton said. “There is an opportunity where one guy is the starter and the other’s not, so there can be some animosity between the two, but there’s not. Any time one gets success, the other is happy for him. They compete to make each other better. There’s no vendetta between those two. There’s no rivalry between those two – they’re two brothers trying to get better and achieve some common goals.”

Smith said that with a starting quarterback still to be named, both he and Randle have take it upon themselves to be the offensive leaders of the team.

“Every year you’re going to have somebody leave,” Smith said. “It’s unfortunate that we lost (Justin) Blackmon and (Brandon) Weeden. Those guys were great leaders. But when players like that leave, it makes some others step up. We both have a lot of experience from last year, so naturally guys start looking to us for leadership.”

While Smith and Randle have already proven their skills, Singleton and Monken hope Sims turns the dynamic running back duo into a three-headed monster.

“We’re expecting some big things out of Herschel this year,” Monken said. “Again, a lot of the young guys are going to improve more because they haven’t played much. You’re going to see more out of them because they haven’t done much. But I think he’s improved and when he puts the pads he improved.

“The other two were already really good players,” Monken said. “Their ceiling isn’t as high as when Herschel was here before. Being a young player, he might have been at 50 percent of what he could be, and he’s going to continue to improve. I think all our guys are going to continue to improve.”

As the Cowboys go into the final week before the spring football finale, Singleton said he wants his backs to build upon the strong showing they had in a recent scrimmage.

“It’s still a practice in our eyes and it’s like practicing for a game because it’s that game setting, so my thought is that they’ve got to go out and compete and try to get better,” Singleton said. “And that’s part of it – get better every day. The spring game is just another opportunity for them to go out and compete. It’s not about putting a show on for the fans – you put a show on for the fans by competing, running hard, making big plays and doing those types of things. That’s the show part. They’ve just got to go out and compete and fight and make sure they finish the spring on a high note.”

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