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Oklahoma State Football

Gundy Pumped About Special Teams and Return of Hale and Hutton

August 26, 2021

STILLWATER – Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy seemed to be a good mood as he greeted the media for what has become a unique start of the season tradition. Gundy has made it a habit of hosting his first game week news conference on the Thursday the week before the opener. Don’t ask, I don’t know why except the coach has told me he likes that first Monday of game week clear to focus on what ever needs focusing on. Often there is some added focus on special teams, but that likely won’t be the case for the Sept. 4 opener with Missouri State.

"Well, we’re at it finally, somewhat of a game-week routine,” Gundy said taking the podium in the press box at Boone Pickens Stadium. (We’ll have) a little heavier practices over the next two or three days, but for the most part, we’re in that fold at this time and we’re doing good.”

That includes special teams. I know that it is not the first thing that Pokes Report writes about leading into the season, but special teams are critical. Gundy has been enthused throughout fall camp every time he has been asked about it.

“With our depth we have a lot of athletic six-foot to six-foot-two athletes that can run and get down and cover, so I feel we should be good on special teams,” Gundy said. “We have our kicker back, we have Tom (Hutton) back as the punter, and we have our deep snapper back and he is probably going to play in the NFL.”

Today’s (Thursday) practice is a heavy special teams workday. The Cowboys are in a modified game week with practice routine. They are heavier than normal on a Thursday because there is no game this Saturday, but Gundy made it clear today was full of special teams work.

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics
Alex Hale is back and shows all the signs of being 100 percent.

You always start on special teams with the guy that puts up the points and that is Alex Hale. There is no question about the Australian’s talent. The only question is with his knee. Hale was in the midst of a potential All-American season. He was 13-of-14 on field goals and was a perfect three-for-three beyond 40-yards. He was 18-of-18 on extra points. Then in warm-ups, make that pre warm-ups at Oklahoma, his plant leg slid on the turf and Hale tore his ACL.

I’ve seen him kick several times including in the scrimmage last Sunday inside Boone Pickens Stadium and I agree with Gundy.

"His workload has been what it would have been on normal year at this point,” the head coach said of Hale. “As I mentioned, those guys all have their own workloads, their own plans. Essentially, they get themselves ready. He's been involved in everything that I've seen him be involved in prior years. So, I would say he's doing good."

Kickoffs have always been a point of conjecture for Gundy and for Oklahoma State fans. While most teams find a kicker that can kick it out of the back of the end zone or at least deep enough to discourage a returner from taking it out. The Cowboys have not found that guy. Last season two went out-of-bounds, a real issue for Gundy and any head coach. There were only 23 touchbacks out of 55 kickoffs. The head coach wants 80 percent touchbacks, at least.

Thursday was a day to find out who was going to handle it and how well they might be able to handle it.

"He's (M.K. Taylor-special teams analyst) been working both guys (Brady Pohl and Tanner Brown), and I'm going to guess it's going to depend on how Alex (Hale) feels with his recovery,” Gundy answered. “But both guys have had been working that. I'll know today because we're doing full-speed kickoff today.”

They did practice full speed kickoff and it was Kansas City area sophomore Brady Pohl handling the kickoffs and he put his either deep or out of the end zone. Transfer Tanner Brown, who punted primarily at UNLV and is a California native kicked with the second unit.  

“Whoever he puts out there today is going to be the guy because I told him I wanted the ones out there in every position,” Gundy said. “I want to know who's out there, so that'll be whoever it is today."

Pohl is the answer for now.

Bruce Waterfield/OSU Athletics
Tom Hutton (29) is stronger than he has ever been.

Gundy is really enthused about the punting and chances for improvement. Tom Hutton showed last Sunday night in the scrimmage he has improved his distance. He was booming punts, but his instruction are to work the ball around 43-45-yards and with direction as to minimize returns by giving the coverafe unit the best opportunity to force a fair catch or pin in the returner. Last season Oklahoma State’s net punt average was 38.6-yards and opponents averaged 1.5-yards a return. This season Gundy thinks they can bump up the net punt average to 41.5-yards.

Punt returns were a positive last season as Dillon Stoner was fourth in the Big 12 averaging 6.1-yards a return. Kickoff returns have not been great for awhile, but there is promise this season as the electric Brennan Presley will pull double duty on returns as well as playing in the slot on offense.

"You know it’s interesting. That’s what he did in high school. When I first recognized him on summer a 7-on-7, I was watching one of my kids play. He was playing wideout and defensive back for Bixby, and they play eight or 10 games a day, and he never came off the field then,” Gundy said of Presley, who has his younger brother Braylin still at Bixby and committed to Oklahoma State. There could be a day where both Presleys are back on kickoffs

Gundy compared Presley to a Superball. That’s an interesting comparison but a fair one. The first key is catching the punts and not allowing any hidden yardage lost there.

“He’s kind of like a little rubber ball, you know those balls that we had … well you’re too young, but when I was a kid (we had them), he just kind of bounces off things,” described Gundy. “I’m glad he’s on our football team, but he loves to play. He likes to compete. He wants to be on the field.”

Along those lines, Gundy said Presley wants the challenge of seeing if the cover unit can get him. They don’t tackle the returners in practice, but Presley requested flags to see if the defenders can get him.

I can tell you on Thursday afternoon in the kicking practice Presley was getting a lot of distance out of his returns. The just released depth chart shows that LD Brown, Dominic Richardson and Jaylen Warren are backing Presley up on kickoffs. On punt returns freshman John Paul Richardson is the back-up. 

The Cowboys were out there in shorts, shoulder pads, and helmets on Thursday for a short but energized practice inside Boone Pickens Stadium. They will be back on Friday to get ready for Missouri State and prepare for a Saturday dress rehearsal.

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