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Cox's Corner: Spring Practice Primer

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Spring practice is about to start. What are the three biggest questions for the Pokes heading into 2016?

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Well, the drought is almost over. College football has returned or at least some form of it.

Spring practice starts in one week, so let's look at three questions that Mike Gundy and his staff will need to answer.

No. 1: How do you improve the running game?

This could be the biggest question for the entire 2016 season, but it all starts next week.

The Cowboys were horrible on the ground in 2015, rushing for only 1,649 yards on an average of 3.58 yards per carry. That was down from 1,776 yard on 3.51 average in 2014.

Mike Gundy and Greg Adkins are trying to rebuild an offensive line that was pretty much left in shambles recruiting-wise after the end of 2013.

Pass protection improved marginally in 2015, with Oklahoma State ranking 93rd nationally allowing 32.0 sacks, up from 113th in 2014 when the line allowed 40.0 sacks.

Gundy and staff have made the o-line a priority in recruiting. This past signing class included seven offensive lineman, including the two best in the state, Tramonda Moore and Tyler Brown. It appears Moore will miss spring practice and join the team in the summer.

The Cowboys do add older players like Larry Williams and Shane Richards that should compete for playing time immediately. The Pokes also return players like Deonte Noel, Brandon Pertile, Leamefe Galea'i and Conrad Harker who didn't get much burn last year but should be a year bigger and stronger and also ready to compete.

The offensive line rotation should and will be an open competition.

Of course, the buzz on campus will be the prodigal son's return with Barry J. Sanders transferring in after he graduates from Stanford this summer.

This spring will be the time for incoming freshmen Justice Hill and La'Darren Brown to get to work. Like the offensive line, the running back group under performed last season and should be an open competition as well.

The Cowboys do return all the running backs that carried the ball last year. The rotation will be interesting to watch and that shake up should start next week.

If Mike Gundy can get the run game up to an even mediocre level, the gains could be huge for the Cowboys.

Give Rudolph and his receivers some more room in the secondary? Give the defense a break every once in a while? Give OSU the ability to control games?

Imagine if all of those close games didn't have to come down to the wire last year?

No. 2: How do you replace the two pillars on defense?

There will be a couple of holes on the defensive side of the ball but none bigger than 6-foot-4, 270 pounds. While his former teammates are sweating it out during spring practice, Emmanuel Ogbah will be looking forward to April 28, hoping his name is called in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Let's not forget Ogbah's "partner-in-crime", as he puts it. With Jimmy Bean exhausting his collegiate eligibility, the Cowboys will have to replace their two cornerstones on the defensive line.

Even though Bean missed five games due to a torn ACL, the two combined for 18.5 sacks, 28.0 tackles for loss and 102 total tackles.

How do you replace that? By committee.

Jordan Brailford showed some promise and Jarrell Owens and Trey Carter will be given a chance to compete as well for the defensive end position.

It will be interesting to see where they decide to play Vili Leveni, the defensive tackle who was slated to be at least a rotation player but was lost for all of 2015 due to injury and should be eligible for a medical hardship waiver. The Cowboys currently have Leveni listed as a defensive end on their roster. Could there be some shuffling up front? At 6-foot-3, 290 pounds, he has the size to play on the end as well.

The good news for defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer and defensive line coach Joe Bob Clements is that they return everyone in the interior. Vincent Taylor really came on last spring and is still young.  Motekiai Maile has another year of experience and should continue to improve and Darrion Daniels played early and well as a true freshman last year. He has the potential to be really good.

No. 3: Will Mason Rudolph truly be given the reins of this team?

Prior to 2015, Mike Gundy announced that Mason Rudolph had earned the starting job at QB . It came as no surprise. Rudolph had earned the spot, leaving J.W. Walsh with goal-line duties which he was extremely effective at for the Cowboys.

But early in 2015 it became apparent that OSU just could not run the ball. Mike Gundy and Mike Yurcich were forced to go to a Walsh heavy game plan to try and get something on the ground. This was again very effective but down the stretch became a very predictable band-aid to try and cover a gaping wound.

Once Oklahoma State faced the best defenses in the league, the smoke and mirror game was no longer effective (see Baylor).

Mason Rudolph has two years of eligibility left. That seems crazy. He has accomplished a lot. I've been saying all along that I would love to see this be Rudolph's team this year. Now that General Walsh-ington has ridden off into that purple sunset, will he get the chance? Maybe not.

It appears true freshman Keondre Wudtee may be slotted to fill a similar role to the one Walsh did in 2015.

If the running game has not improved to the point where that is not necessary, than I wouldn't blame Gundy and staff for throwing Wudtee out there if they think he can be successful.

But if that is the case, expect the Cowboys to take a step back next season. Let's not forget that OSU has road games at Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma. If the answer to question No. 1 is no, then No. 2 and 3 may not matter all that much.