Sooners Eye Improvement in Run Game

NORMAN, Okla. — A major focus of emphasis late in this past recruiting season was on revamping the running back position after losing three bodies to transfer last year, and a major focus this spring is on improving the success of that very group.

The Sooners ranked just fifth in the Big 12 last year with 4.5 yards per rushing attempt.

That placed them 37th in the nation in that category.

They finished just 50th in the country, sixth in the conference, with their 162.9 rushing yards per game.

Missouri, Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, Kansas State and Iowa State, in that order, all produced more on the ground per game than did the Sooners.

That's why it's such a major focal point.

And returning running backs Brennan Clay and Roy Finch, along with Danzel Williams--Jermie Calhoun, Jonathon Miller and lastly Brandon Williams all elected to go elsewhere--are out to change that, starting with their leadership this spring.

"Obviously Roy and Brennan are both guys that have been around here for two years," said running backs coach Cale Gundy. "You know, to my I kinda consider that after you've been here for two years, you get over the hump. You need to be accountable. You know, if you've seen them in person, they look really, really good. They've put on some good weight. You know, they know everything that's going on.

Dominique Whaley, who led the team with 627 rushing yards and nine scores and finally received his scholarship recently after a brilliant season before breaking his ankle, also returns although he is not practicing with the team because he's still recovering from that injury.

So, their attempt at improved efficiency in the run game will be aided by some veteran experience.

In fact, JUCO transfer Damien Williams will join the team for the fall, providing some more leadership, along with incoming freshmen Alex Ross and David Smith.

But for now, it's these guys carrying out the task of bettering their production on the ground.

A task Clay is excited about.

"Oh, of course, just to lead the youngsters, man," said Clay, who managed 274 yards and a touchdown in 2011. "I'm an upperclassman now. It's gone by so fast, and I still can't believe it. But I'm excited to ball out this year. You know, I still have two more years left and I'm gonna make this year count."

Improvement and better numbers amongst the group will take better vision in the backfield, more consistency in making the right cuts and improvising when the running lanes aren't there.

But it will also take better work from the big boys up front in some spots.

"It's just finding creases, making better creases, you know, finishing blocks, getting points better," said centers/guards coach James Patton. "You know, all these technical things up front we can control. We gotta control them to do a better job, backs will keep running, breaking tackles, pressing things. And so without getting into a whole lot of detail, that's the most fundamental thing, just getting better fundamentally and targeting people better and blocking."

Experience on the line, as well as in the backfield, will be a big key.

The entire offensive line, minus left tackle Donald Stephenson, returns.

That includes Lane Johnson, who has shifted from right to left tackle, left guard Gabe Ikard, center Ben Habern and right guard Tyler Evans.

Youngsters Derek Farniok and Dylan Dismuke have stepped up their games, and Daryl Williams will be back healthy.

The potential on the offensive line, then, is there to make it happen.

Something else that might benefit the running game next year is a stronger utilization of fullback Trey Millard.

If spring ball is any indication so far, he'll be getting more carries.

"I mean, if that's what the package calls for then yeah [I'm excited]," Millard said. "It's gonna go obviously game plan wise for who we're playing and what looks we want and things like that, but yeah, if that's what it calls for, then I'll go. I don't mind carrying it."

Quarterback Landry Jones verified it's likely Millard getting more touches will be the case.

"Oh, we'll see how it turns out, how we're going to using him as far as just like giving him the ball out of the backfield and just kinda moving him around to different places," Jones said. "But he's going to be a bigger part of our offense for sure, I think. He should be, but he's doing a great job for us obviously, a tough kid, gonna play real hard for you. He's doing a good job."

Fans will welcome that enhancement to the offensive package, considering he's shown promise at times throughout his first two seasons, including rushing for 169 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year.

And they'll welcome any kind of improvement in building upon 2,118 rushing yards last year.

"It could be better even," Patton said. "We still got a long way to go on that. You look at the top teams in the league rushing for over five yards a carry, that's pretty good. So, that's where we got to get to."

It's certainly a focus of emphasis.

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