The sun was high in the sky as I parked in the Student Union garage and began my trek to the House That Boone Built. The usual sign of human life, tailgaters already in full swing since 5 a.m., couldn't be seen. The energy normally reserved for spring football and the excitement it brings just wasn't the same.
Battling injury and depleted squads, OSU head football coach Mike Gundy opted out of the annual Orange-White Scrimmage, instead settling for the Orange Blitz, an open practice to the public. The throng of people 15,000 strong was reduced to a meager estimation of 2,000, leaving a sense of emptiness in Boone Pickens Stadium.
Regardless, I was willing to give this new idea a try. What's the worst that could happen? My question was answered shortly after I sat down. The news of Daxx Garman and his twisted knee quickly spread. An ACL tear was the non-confirmed report, while Gundy later said Garman "turned his knee" in practice, with more information to follow on Monday. Downtrodden at not getting to see what many Poke fans have been looking forward to, I settled in for an afternoon of football.
The Blitz started off with warm-ups and drills. Defensive Coordinator Glenn Spencer shuffled his guys in and out, mixing and matching to try to find what will click for a defense that is lacking in many positions. On the other end of the field, quarterbacks emerged and lazily threw the ball to each other. So far, there was little-to-no action.
Gundy gave commentary when he could, explaining to the crowd what he and his staff have been working on and what players to watch. Guest speakers came in the form of former Cowboys, from Super Bowl champion Russell Okung and the "Sooner Killer" himself, Josh Fields.
"I look at these guys and I wonder," Fields quipped, "how much better would they play if they were getting paid as much as we were."
The not-so-subtle shot at Sports Illustrated got the biggest reaction from the crowd, most of whom were trying not to bake in boredom under the Oklahoma sun. But, as if an answer to the fans' prayers, 7-on-7 drills commenced.
Junior J.W. Walsh and early-enrollee Mason Rudolph split most of the possessions, both in top form and establishing the two sides that will compete for the starting job. Walsh, a Cowboy veteran and natural leader, yelled encouragement to the frosh from the sidelines and frequently grouped his fellow skill positioners for a quick assessment and pep talk.
It wasn't the most flashy of events to watch, but at least it was something. Finally, the two sides of the ball broke off onto each sideline as Gundy announced they would have a quick scrimmage with 48 scripted plays. The action was exactly what was needed, as fans finally got a real look at what next season's squad can do.
The standout on the defensive side emerged when Walsh attempted to throw down field halfway through one of his possessions. Ashton Lampkin plucked the ball from the air and was in the end-zone with a pick-six before most of the crowd could comprehend what just happened. Other than that, it became painfully obvious that Spencer has plenty of holes to fill to get his defense back to its high-octane form.
The most intriguing part of the day, and likewise received the most attention paid, was the offense and its new weapons. Tyreek Hill is as good as advertised. Shifty and speedy with excellent footwork and outstanding field vision, Hill made his statement to the Orange faithful and Gundy. He wants, and deserves, the starting spot in the backfield.
As for the quarterbacks, it's clear that it's a two-man race between Walsh and Rudolph. Walsh commanded his offense with ease and, despite the one interception, looked crisp and primed to take the helm of the offense. The dual threat QB and Hill make a great pair, and could easily confuse defenses into not knowing who is running the ball or which way it is going.
Rudolph looked impressive as well. He has a throwing form that is pure and seamless, and can zip the ball through the air so well it looked as if Brandon Weeden was back in uniform. Not the greatest of runners but still quick on his feet, Rudolph has the vision and comprehension to easily navigate the offense this fall.
All in all, the Orange Blitz was no spring game, but it still gave fans a chance to see what the Cowboys will look like next season. There is plenty of talent, but even more questions for a squad that is going through change and rebuilding. But come next fall, the potential is there for the Pokes to make another run at the Big 12 title.