OSU football: Cowboys' newcomers inserting themselves into position battles
STILLWATER — Dee Anderson’s addition to the Oklahoma State roster came with little fanfare.
No big social media announcements or custom videos.
The 6-foot-6, 229-pound receiver just showed up.
A graduate transfer from LSU, Anderson is making a bigger splash on the field, however.
He’s already worked his way into a competition for a starting job at the outside receiver position opposite star wideout Tylan Wallace.
Anderson and junior Braydon Johnson — who emerged late in his sophomore season — are battling for the job, and bring very different skill sets.
With so many returning starters and experienced players, position battles are scarce for the Pokes, who had their third practice of the preseason on Friday. But let’s take a look at three of them, starting with the Anderson/Johnson duel.
Anderson redshirted at LSU last season after being suspended for what coach Ed Orgeron called a “conditioning issue,” though no further information was ever provided. As a junior in 2018, Anderson has 274 receiving yards and a touchdown on 20 catches.
“Dee is definitely gonna make an impact this year,” offensive coordinator and receivers coach Kasey Dunn said. “Dee has been unbelievable in working himself into the fabric of what we do here at Oklahoma State.”
Anderson offers unique size and physicality, while Johnson is smaller at 6-0, 195, but is one of the fastest players on the team. Over the last two seasons, he has shown improved hands and route-running, culminating with his 124-yard, two-TD performance in the Texas Bowl last December.
The battle for the starting job will be important, but with the differing talents of each player, both could find their way to significant roles this season.
Rodarius Williams has one cornerback spot locked down for the fourth straight year, but the other side is vacant after A.J. Green graduated. A two-year starter at safety, Jarrick Bernard-Converse finds himself in a new position and a battle for the job.
He transitioned to cornerback in spring but only got three practices there before the coronavirus pandemic shut it down. Now, Christian Holmes, a graduate transfer from Missouri has arrived to push Bernard-Converse for the job.
Bernard-Converse has played the last two seasons in the safety position that regularly covers the opponent’s best inside receiver, so he has the coverage skills to move to cornerback.
But Holmes comes with more experience, having played in 25 games the last two years.
Bernard-Converse’s move outside also creates an intriguing competition for his old job, which should be hashed out between junior Tanner McCalister and sophomore Thomas Harper.
The most important position battles on the offensive side of the ball are across the line, but those competitions involve a lot of moving parts. So let’s look at a competition Cowboy fans hope isn’t so critical.
Four-star recruit Shane Illingworth got a head start on the battle when he arrived in January. Junior-college transfer Ethan Bullock joined the mix in the summer. And walk-ons Shaun Taylor and Peyton Thompson got important backup reps last season, though the opportunities to make headway will thin out quickly in preseason camp.
Illingworth and Bullock stand to be at the front of the line for the job backing up Spencer Sanders, who missed the final three games of last season with a thumb injury.
Illingworth has the tools to be an eventual star. But Bullock was brought in for a reason, particularly after what the Cowboys saw happen a year ago when Sanders went down and Dru Brown became the starter.
If Bullock shows the skills to be a Brown-like insurance policy, he could get the No. 2 job, considering Illingworth has a redshirt year to work with.
But the Cowboys saw what happened to the offense without Sanders last year, and if Illingworth is a notably better option as a backup, he could get the nod, regardless of the fact that he’s a true freshman.