Prior to the 2015 season, Mike Gundy announced a new offensive position called the "Cowboy Back". It was a pretty simple concept. Take all the existing tight ends and fullbacks on the roster and roll them into one hybrid position group.
Versatility is key.
Tight end Blake Jarwin had come on the previous year as an effective route runner with decent hands. Zac Veatch was moving back to a position more suited for his size after filling in at guard on the depleted 2014 O-line. Jeremy Seaton was the only fullback returning with any snaps under his belt.
Of course, each had his strengths. Seaton was brought in as more of a lead blocker, fulfilling his traditional fullback role and in red zone situations with J.W. Walsh. Seaton caught seven passes for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
Jarwin, at 6-foot-4, was used in more of a traditional tight end role, catching 17 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. Veatch added five for 72 yards. Jordan Frazier also caught one pass for seven yards.
Oklahoma State was the No. 2 passing offense in the Big 12 behind only Texas Tech. If you combined the receiving numbers for all the Cowboy Backs (30 catches for 367 yards and four touchdowns) they would rank fourth (for OSU) behind Marcell Ateman in receptions and yards.
As far as Big 12 teams go, only Texas Tech and Kansas State failed to complete a pass to a tight end in 2015. Oklahoma State led the league in receptions and yards by a tight end with Oklahoma second and the only team close, thanks mostly to Mark Andrews who caught 19 passes for 318 yards and seven touchdowns.
The lower number of touchdowns (four) by the Cowboy Backs was partially due to backup QB, J.W. Walsh's ball dominance in the red zone. Offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich will likely look to lean more on the Cowboy Backs in short yardage and red zone situations in 2016.
The Cowboy Backs serve another purpose. It is no secret that Oklahoma State has struggled in the trenches over the last two years. Having that extra one or two blockers to protect Mason Rudolph was key.
During their ten game win streak to start the season, the Cowboys allowed 21 sacks. The last win of the season came in the form of a dramatic come-from-behind thriller in Ames. Unfortunately, both Blake Jarwin and Jeremy Seaton sustained injuries in that game and did not play again until the Sugar Bowl.
What happened the very next week? Baylor's defense beat Mason Rudolph up. He was sacked six times and sustained the foot injury that would essentially hold him out of Bedlam.
I know what you're going to say. You're right. It's obvious that Oklahoma State had not faced that type of pass rush prior to the Baylor game. But it's also obvious that Rudolph could have used either one of those guys helping in protection.
What to expect for 2016?
Although it appears Gundy is committed to using the Cowboy Back going forward, Oklahoma State did not pick up any recruits for the position in the 2016 class.
Scan across the roster and you'll see another issue. Well, a good issue to have.
The receiving corps is stacked (again) even after the loss of key contributors David Glidden and Brandon Sheperd. So, you're not utilizing all of your playmakers. And the more playmakers on the field, the more the defense has to work, right? The coaching staff may have found a way to address both issues.
Wide receivers Keenen Brown and Cole Neph have been moved to Cowboy Back as reported by Robert Allen of GoPokes.com.
Neph, who was listed as 6-foot-3, 205 pounds on the 2015 roster, checked in at 230 for spring ball. Brown, who was also listed as 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, has jumped to 242 pounds per OSU's official roster for 2016. These two should have more immediate impact than any incoming freshman the Cowboys would have signed.
Brown, the four-star recruit from Houston, TX, held offers from the likes of LSU, Oregon, Ole Miss, Michigan State and OU. After redshirting his freshman year, Brown seemed poised to crack the deep wide-out rotation before an injury sidelined him. If he can be an effective blocker, this could be a chance for him to see the field without fighting the likes of Washington, Ateman and Seales for reps. Plus, he should be the most dynamic playmaker in the Cowboy Back group.
But let's not forget that Blake Jarwin is coming off an All-Big 12 selection and Zac Veatch is more experienced. Jeremy Seaton is gone but Cowboy Backs coach Jason McEndoo and offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich should have plenty to work with as they try to increase the Cowboy Backs' fingerprint on the offense. Here's a look at the depth chart as it may shake out.
- Blake Jarwin - R-Senior
- Keenen Brown - R-Sophomore
- Zac Veatch - R-Senior
- Jordan Frazier - R-Sophomore
- Cole Neph - R-Sophomore
- Britton Abbott - R-Freshman
The Cowboys are still looking for answers in the running game and there will be no J.W. Walsh to scramble for first downs and short TD's. The Cowboys are also losing their most consistent receiver in super-slot David Glidden.
These factors lead to increased opportunities for the Cowboy Back group, especially in the red zone. Expect their TD numbers to go up. Mason Rudolph could use their help as he takes the reigns of the offense in 2016.