Cowboys hope to be healthy for opener

Monday, August 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) _ A position that figured to be a strength for Oklahoma State's football team has become something of a concern as the Cowboys begin game-week preparations for their season opener.

Tailbacks Tatum Bell and Vernand Morency have been bothered during fall workouts by ankle sprains. Another tailback, Seymore Shaw, showed up for two-a-days with a stress fracture in his foot and only began practicing last week.

In addition, fullback Michael Denard has missed practice time due to a back problem.

``We're a little banged and bruised, but still in position to get it done on Saturday,'' coach Les Miles said Monday.

The Cowboys (4-7 last season) open play Saturday night in Shreveport, La., against Louisiana Tech.

Bell has added about 15 pounds of muscle and has improved his quickness since last year, when he ran for 776 yards. Morency, a newcomer, has shown flashes of outstanding play so far. Miles has said he believes Shaw, a sophomore, potentially can become a great back.

But they've all been hurt.

``The concern is that they haven't had a lot of practice, so our preparation has been slowed based on their absence,'' Miles said.

``We expect that Morency, Bell and Shaw will all be healthy for the game. Michael Dennard is practicing again and we expect him to be healthy for the game. But to what extent, only the week will tell.''

The Cowboys are banking on the running game being improved from a year ago, when they averaged just 93.6 yards per game on the ground. That placed them next-to-last in the Big 12, ahead of only pass-happy Texas Tech.

Morency is an intriguing part of the mix. He is a 22-year-old freshman, having returned to football after playing four years of minor league baseball.

Miles said he expected Morency to take a while to adjust, but instead has been pleasantly surprised.

``A good back has a vision that apparently doesn't go away, and it was not apparent to me that there was any rust on his picking holes and how he ran the football, how physical he was, how deceptive, how elusive he was.'' Miles spent part of his weekend watching other college football games, and said he found a common theme _ teams that played crisply did well.

Ohio State, he noted, played well from the start and ran effectively in its victory over Texas Tech. Iowa State hurt itself with early mistakes, yet nearly pulled off an upset against Florida State.

``From special teams, offense, defense, the teams that are playing error-free football have a real advantage,'' he said.