OU Media Day: notebook

NORMAN, Okla. — Head coach Bob Stoops, coordinators and many players met with the media Saturday afternoon to preview the upcoming season, and Sooners Illustrated has a complete notebook of the main points inside.

--Indefinitely suspended wide receiver Kameel Jackson will not be reinstated, Stoops said. "No, Kameel won't be back. He won't be reinstated."

--Austin Woods is back in practice after fighting through all his chemo treatments to treat his cancer and will continue as the field goal snapper in 2012. "It's remarkable to watch him, so we're excited that Austin's been able to work through all this and continue to play," Stoops said.

--Running back Dominique Whaley, back off his broken ankle, appears to be healthy and good to go, although Stoops is still concerned about live action for the now-scholarship back. "He looks good, you know, even though we haven't had any contact. We've only been in helmets and shoes and Dom has looked good. So, hopefully that'll continue."

--Another Sooner with medical issues is offensive lineman Nila Kasitati, who just underwent a heart procedure. It it looks as if he'll be fine and back shortly. "I can't tell you exactly the terms of it. But this procedure is only supposed to--I think he's only going to be out maybe a week and then he'll be back. And again, give me a little break there. Maybe a day or two longer or shorter. But again, it isn't anything that should [linger]. This should correct the problem, and he should be fine going forward."

--It became final Saturday evening that wide receiver Justin Brown would join the Sooners, but prior to that Stoops singled out freshman wide receiver Sterling Shepard as one that could step up and be key in the return game. "Sterling [Shepard], I think, who also looks great out there, is an excellent return guy too. And all those guys have done it some, so we'll look at them all. It'll be the whole thing, too, with young guys is who can be reliable to hold onto it."

--Stoops said despite center Ben Habern not being able to go this year, he still feels that the offensive line, as well as the quarterback position with redshirt senior Landry Jones, are his team's strong points.

--Speaking of Jones, he's improved noticeably in the offseason, Stoops said. "I don't think there's any question. I mean, he looks quicker out there in the way of his feet. He's worked hard physically with his running and lifting and, you know, I think you always improve. All those guys, their footwork, their delivery, the speed on the ball, you know, his reads. All of those things usually with another year of experience, they improve."

--He cited the wide receivers as an area with some concern just because of the inexperience, though he believes they have shown promise. "You know, those guys have to step up. I'm encouraged in that the first couple of days here the young freshmen receivers look like a good and talented group and are really doing well. LaColtan Bester's doing well. Also, [he's] a little older guy."

--Veteran wide receiver Kenny Stills is expected to step up and be the Ryan Broyles this season. Well, he's already starting down that path. "It's only been two days, but Kenny's been very positive, very much a leader and that's been a really good sign."

--Tight ends Brannon Green and Taylor McNamara have continued to make progress, and Sam Grant has made strides since arriving this summer.

--Defensively, Stoops believes the front four could be a force with five seniors in defensive ends R.J. Washington and David King and defensive tackles Jamarkus McFarland, Stacy McGee and Casey Walker. "Defensively, you know, I'm excited and I really believe our front line's gonna be better maybe than what people think."

--Although there are natural leaders on this team, he said there's no one he could really see being a "Travis Lewis" on this defense. "No, I wouldn't say in the way that Travis has filled it. No, nobody can. I mean, Travis is a unique character, and we love him. And listen: Travis worked hard. So, it isn't. It's just that guys are different. But the guys up front, R.J. Washington I think has done a really good job. You know, guys in the secondary, Tony Jefferson and Aaron Colvin, guys that do well with that. Tom Wort does a good job. You know, they all kinda do it."

--As he alluded to, he likes the physicality they'll have in hopefully a revamped secondary this year under brother and returning defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. One thing that Mike will likely be able to fix is breakdowns in the secondary last year that Bob admits, hurt his pride some. "Oh, absolutely. But struggles offensively hurt my pride, too. I'm the head coach now, so it's either side botheres me. But in the end, you know, for a lot of years, we did have a strong defensive reputation and felt like a lot of years, that was what we hung our hat on. You know, and to not be that way in a few games is bothersome."

--Mike said his players have done a really good job over the summer. "Everything feels much more comfortable and as comfortable as it can be in a six-month transition from an old way of doing things to a newer, different way."

--The biggest focus of emphasis right now is looking for guys that will step up and be leaders. "That's really what we need to be an effective group. We need some guys to step up. They can and they well."

--Aaron Colvin has shifted from safety to corner. He, as well as defensive tackles Stacy McGee and Casey Walker, are three guys that Mike said have contributed to the defense looking different already.

--He expanded upon Colvin, who has the ability to shift between about five positions. "Well, he's very versatile. I mean, there's nothing he can't really do. He can play any of the five positions. He's probably the only guy--he's one of them that can play all five, literally play all five positions and play them at a very high level."

--Mike used a pair of words to describe his defense heading into this season: revenge and redemption. "We're tired of hearing about it. Now, it's time to do something about it and we'll work to that place as we go through this season."

--Everyone wants to talk about what makes a good defense anymore. Bob said paying attention to yards per play. Mike had another, more macro outlook on evaluating it. "For us in this league, it's gonna be taking each game and doing what we have to do to win that particular game. And that's really all that's important to us is winning."

--Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel took the podium third and first addressed how the new receivers are looking. "From the signs of what has happened the first two days, them understanding conceptually what we're trying to run, not doing it perfectly. But after giving them an idea of where we want to get them, how they want to run versus different technique, getting them lined up, you can tell that they've paid attention, that they've studied. They've handled themselves the right way in June and July when we can't really do anything with them."

--Heupel said it's already been nice to have Jones back as a signal caller, echoing what Bob said about his progress. "He's continued to grow, continued to try and perfect his mechanics and what he's doing, his decision making with the football."

--Continuing the theme of newcomers, Heupel outlined some things he's liked so far. "Sterling Shepard, for a young guy only been here two days, he's not the biggest guy, but he plays strong. He understands leverage. He likes to lean on guys and use his body to create some separation...Durron Neal has done some really positive things on the outside. He's squeezed a couple defenders and caught the ball on his outside shoulder. He's competitive. He's tough."

--Fullback Trey Millard should have a bigger role this year, and Heupel addressed some of his expectations. "Trey's as good of a football player as I've been around. I'd say that with him standing outside the room, too. He's a unique player that, you know, last year he played three different positions. He played tight end, fullback, he played some tail back. You know, finding ways to continue to use him, I think, is important for us. He gives us the ability to add multiple formations, multiple personnel groupings without changing our personnel. That's been important to us when we've been good on offense, especially in our tempo packages."

--The Belldozer package will continue to be a mainstay in the offense. "How we tweak it, how it changes, how we grow from it, that's going back to my original statement that personnel dictates who and what we can be. And trying to find the right personnel, the right schemes within that personnel is something that we're going to work towards as we continue to go through camp."

--Heupel said the bigger thing won't be finding A Ryan Broyles this year, but rather three guys that can step up, be consistent and fill the void collectively for Broyles.

--Co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell was the fourth and final coach to take the podium, and quickly address the improvement of his receivers from over the summer. "Well, I think collectively everybody worked very hard this summer and it showed the first couple days of practice. Guys are in great condition. They're excited to be out there. We don't really get to see them until--really yesterday was the first day we got to see these guys on the field since we recruited them, so it was exciting getting them out there."

--Norvell talked about his lead receiver, Stills, and developing into that leadership role. "I think Kenny has grown and matured. I think he's got a long ways to go as a football player. But I think he's made a lot of strides, and I think that's been a challenge to him. We had a long talk at the end of spring practice, talked about a lot of things and just basically took the gloves off where he is as a football player."

--The main focus of that discussion was to be more consistent and take ownership of everything offensively.

--Since many are questioning the receivers, Norvell had a response for that. "The proof's in the pudding, but we have good athletes and we wouldn't have brought them here if we didn't think they were. And the kids are kinda what we expected."

--Several players came to the podium after the coaches, including Jones. He discussed how difficult it is not having his normal center to snap the ball to him. "I mean, yeah, It's just tough. Ben's one of my best friends. I've become really close with him throughout my career here, so when he told me about it, it's just one of those deals you feel so bad for the guy. He's struggled with so many injuries, but throughout that, he made that decision. It's one of those that's just like that. You have to make for yourself. You gotta look out for your body, for your future, and so I'm proud of Ben and I'll always support whatever he decides to do."

--Despite that, he likes the direction of the offense after just two days. "We're still working. We're still coming along as an offense right now. We know we got a lot of young receivers, but we're doing a good job and I think we're moving in the right direction. We'll see whenever gameday comes around who that guy is and who's gonna step up."

--Stills then talked about the receivers being labeled as the weak link on the team and his thoughts about that. "You know, I feel like a lot of people have talked about us being kind of a downside to the team. And I feel like we have a lot of strengths. You know, a lot of fast kids, a lot of smart kids, a lot of strong kids and I when think about the position as a whole, I feel like we're doing a great job. I don't feel like we've taken any steps back. We've lost some guys that could make plays for us, but we've brought in guys that can also do that. You know, Coach Stoops always talks about this place being full of playmakers and that's right."

--Free safety Tony Jefferson came to the podium and addressed why he likes the change to the deep position. "I mean, it is physical up front but it's even more physical being back there. You know, coming downhill for a run, you're coming straight on with the running back and that's just something I love. You just get more opportunities for interceptions and showcasing your abilities of what you can do on receivers."

--And strong safety Javon Harris said the games where they gave up huge yards a year ago are still burning in them. "I mean, honestly I come in here and watch the Baylor game almost every day. You know, whether we watch film on practice or not, Baylor, Texas Tech, the games that I know that I didn't play my best. And I just go in and try to capitalize. Like I said, I capitalize on every mistake. You know what I'm saying? The one thing that I heard was a quote. It was like, ‘There's guys playing checkers, and there's guy's playing chess.' And I feel like I'm playing chess. I'm gonna capitalize on every little mistake, every subtle move. And I think that's one thing I have to do in order to be a better player, in order for everybody else to."

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