Backfield Battleship

NORMAN, Okla. — To say the Sooners are loaded at running back would be an understatement.

There's Brennan Clay, Jonathon Miller, Roy Finch, and Brandon Williams.

No, that's not just a list of the backs, but a list of guys who could legitimately see playing time as the No. 1 or 2 guy this year.

All four are seriously in the mix.

"You know, we've got horses in the stable," said left guard Gabe Ikard. "That's all I know. We've got kids that can run, kids with power, kids with shift. You got every different breed. They might not all be in one, but they all are exceptionally talented, and they just can really play.

"So, they've got a good mix back there, which is even better because you can keep them fresh, which is kind of scary to think about if you're rolling four fresh running backs out in a game, but they've been working really hard. And that's why, I mean, the run game, we need to improve it from last year, so they're obviously a big part of that."

And the battle is reciprocal of that.

"All the running backs have a lot to prove," Finch said. "And, you know, there's no set running back, first team running back right now. We're all just going out there and just trying to compete and just play hard."

Gundy praised each of them in his own way.

For Clay, it's his smarts.

"Brennan's, you know, he's savvy," Gundy said. "He's a player, and Brennan made some great improvements over the spring and summer. He's put on some weight. He's put on about seven, eight really good pounds, which is very well needed. And he's kind of headed in the direction of being one of those guys that you would count on and, you know, be able to be out there on first down, second down, third down, short yardage or whatever you need."

For Miller, it's his productivity and physicality.

"Jonathan's made good strides," Gundy said. "You know, Jonathan had a really good spring, a couple times in that group where he wasn't as productive, but he is eliminating the mistakes he made in the spring and moving on in the fall, playing physical, catching the ball better. Jonathan's a very strong guy."

For Finch, it's his explosiveness on the perimeter.

"Roy's a guy in space," Gundy said. "He's really good in space. That's why we're trying to use him in different situations and get him balls out on the edge. He's not that guy in between the tackles. He weighs 170 pounds. He can't live in college football weighing 170 pounds going in between the tackles."

For Williams, it's his quick progress.

"Brandon is continuing to make strides," Gundy said. "Brandon had some really good runs out there today, and again, he's a little bit behind just in the whole complete system and offense, you know, the pass protections and stuff. But he's learning. He's getting there. I think he is way ahead of schedule, being a freshman and learning our whole system."

Oh, and there's two more that could fight for playing time as well.

Jermie Calhoun and Dominique Whaley are right there in the heat of the competition.

So, the Sooners have a sort of running back by committee thing going on.

"Man, a committee of running backs? There's no way it could hurt," Miller said. "You know what I mean? You look at Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams, Reggie [Bush] and LenDale [White], you know what I'm saying? Like there's no way [it could hurt]. I mean, we got so many guys back there that can get in the game, and they can score at Will Pretty much, man.

"I'm excited about it because when one guy gets tired and the defense is tired, they got to deal with another running back that's just as good as the other guy, man. So, I'm proud. We all work hard throughout the summer together as a unit. We're all great running backs, man, and I'm excited to see what each other can do."

But Gundy said it also has its drawbacks, too.

"When you've got more of a committee, you're taking reps away from maybe two or three guys," Gundy said earlier in the week. "And that's my decision to start to narrow that down. And we've been here practicing for about five days now, and here in a few days we're going to start kind of figuring out who those guys are going to be and start to narrow it down a little bit and getting those guys ready to play."

In fact, he said he's starting to get an idea.

"I've got six of them, but there's about two or three guys that are slowly starting to be the guys that are being the more consistent players," Gundy said. "And that's what we're looking for."

He wouldn't specify who those three are, but this much is certain: the backfield competition keeps heating up with all the versatile options the Sooners have as every day passes in fall camp.

"I mean, like I said, we have a lot of young guys who, you know, can play and a lot of guys who can compete for that first job," Finch said. "And, you know, we have a lot of guys who can bring things, different things to the field, and I feel like this group is very special. And, you know, we can do a lot of great things this year."

Perhaps one of those will be blowing up some defenses this year on the ground.

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