Commentary

Robinson comfortable running Cowboys' attack

Updated: March 18, 2008, 6:33 PM ET
By Tim Griffin | ESPN.com

STILLWATER, Okla. -- As far as YouTube moments go, Oklahoma State quarterback Zac Robinson's brush with cyberspace last season is small potatoes compared to his coach's.

But it doesn't mean that Robinson's pulverization on the field last field by Texas A&M nose tackle Henry Smith was one of his prime moments -- much like coach Mike Gundy's celebrated rant at an Oklahoma City newspaper columnist has similarly lived in public infamy the last few months.

[+] EnlargeZac Robinson
Rick Scuteri/US PresswireZac Robinson carried the Cowboys to 486.3 yards per game in 2007.

Even though Robinson is sheepish about his botched play against the Aggies, it hasn't affected his outlook on football. He was back in the lineup the following week against Nebraska, doing the same things he'd always done despite suffering a concussion on the play.

"There were no effects at all, I felt totally fine," Robinson said. "Heck, I even threw a chop block the next week. It didn't change how I play football. I wasn't going to let it do that, and it didn't."

In his second season as a starter, Robinson would have every reason to approach spring practice with a different attitude this season. After a spirited battle with Bobby Reid for playing time earlier in his career, Robinson has claimed the starting quarterback job after Reid transferred to Texas Southern after the 2007 season.

Gundy said he can't tell any change in Robinson's demeanor this spring, despite his hammerlock on the starting position.

"He's never acted any differently. If you hadn't known him, you couldn't tell. He's the same every day," Gundy said. "But there is validity in the fact it might be different … He doesn't have to look over his shoulder after every play or pass. I think that helps him."

And while Robinson appears reasonably certain as the Cowboys' starter for their Aug. 30 opener against Washington State in Seattle, his work this spring is helping him polish his understanding of the Cowboys' potent offense rather than catching his coach's attention with big plays.

"I've always felt comfortable running the offense ever since I've been here, it was just a matter of getting game experience," Robinson said. "Once I got that -- a couple of starts -- I felt comfortable in what we are doing."

Robinson produced solid numbers after he beat Reid out for the starting job after three games last season. He finished with 2,824 passing yards and 23 touchdowns and also added 847 rushing yards.

His coach might not have noticed a change this spring, but Robinson's mentality without Reid around certainly is different.

"I felt until he left that I had to prove myself every day in practice," Robinson said. "Now that I've kind of proven myself, I can work on things I didn't do as well last season and focus on being more of a vocal leader. It's a lot different for me this year."

Gundy's program has become a consistent bowl performer in recent seasons, earning trips to postseason play five times in the past six seasons. Robinson's continued development should help continue to spark a team that returns 13 starters and two specialists from last season's 7-6 team that won the Insight Bowl.

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But whether the Cowboys will be able to contend for their elusive first Big 12 South Division title this season will depend on more than Robinson's continued progression.

The Cowboys lost offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, who left to take the head coaching job at Southern Mississippi. Fedora was the architect of a high-powered attack that averaged 486 yards in 2007 -- 243 rushing yards and 243 passing yards per game.

Gundy is taking a more active role after Fedora's departure. Former Tennessee assistant coach Trooper Taylor joined OSU's staff as co-offensive coordinator, although Gundy promises no major revisions in Fedora's basic offensive philosophy.

"I didn't think it was worth bringing somebody in here and teaching 50 players a new system," Gundy said. "Instead, we brought a new coach in and had him learn what we do, because we like what we've done and we've had success doing it."

The biggest offensive questions will be to find replacements for playmakers like running back Dantrell Savage and wide receiver Adarius Bowman. Savage's 115.6 rushing yards per game ranked 17th nationally, and Bowman had 67 receptions for 1,006 receiving yards.

"We're going to miss those guys because they were both big-time talents," Robinson said. "But I think we've got players who will be able to fill in for them."

Gundy's biggest concern is boosting defensive production after ranking 101st nationally in total defense and 112th in pass defense last season.

But a strong performance in the Insight Bowl victory over Indiana -- a game that Gundy said was his team's best defensive performance against a quality opponent all season -- helped spark confidence among this season's group.

"Everybody is more comfortable with the defense," said linebacker Andre Sexton. "It's getting better because we don't have to think much with the defense any more. You just play and react. That's what we're looking for."

Six junior college players were added to the defense, five of whom are participating in spring practice. Their development will be a pivotal determining factor of whether the Cowboys will be able to improve on last season. Tackles Chris Donaldson and Swanson Miller, end Jeremiah Price and defensive backs Maurice Gray and Lucien Antoine all are battling for playing time.

And the early results have been good. The defense dominated in the first scrimmage last week, failing to allow OSU's offense to move inside the 30-yard line and producing the only touchdown on Markelle Martin's 60-yard interception return.

"The bowl game gave us momentum heading into the offseason," Sexton said. "It just left a good taste in our mouths and made everybody work that much harder. We aren't satisfied with last season and know we can do a lot better. But finishing like we did gave us a lot of motivation during the spring."

Much like Robinson. Even if he doesn't have to prove it on every play.

Tim Griffin is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Tim at espntimgriff@yahoo.com.