Sooner spring practice report: March 25

NORMAN, Okla. — OU got back out on the field for spring practice Monday afternoon, and Sooners Illustrated met up with the offense afterwards for the latest.

  • Tight end Taylor McNamara is healthy off his shoulder surgery. How healthy? "We haven't had any setbacks, shoulder's feeling 100 percent, so it looks good," McNamara said.
  • That, plus gaining some weight has allowed him to make strides so far this spring. "He's put on a bunch of weight," said co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel. "He's really solid, good. He's moving well with it. I think he feels a lot more comfortable with what we're doing offensively. He's just also better fundamentally, giving himself a real chance to compete out there every day."
  • Offensive guard Adam Shead is another guy who was banged up at the end of last season. Dealing with knee, ankle and back problems, he seems to have recovered just fine from the time off: "I feel good. I feel better than what I have in a long time. I feel the best that I have in a long time."
  • There were reports that center Gabe Ikard has not been participating in anything. Those are false. He has, however, been limited in his spring training: "Yeah, able to participate in individuals. That's what the trainers are letting me do. Kind of minimize contact, let the hand heal properly, avoid having to go under the knife. Right now, it's mostly mental stuff for me—working on my footwork, working on my first two steps, you know, where I need to place my helmet, stuff like that. I'm still working going through individual then going to the weight room and the rest of practice getting better there. Doing a lot. Definitely not at an off time or anything like that for me. I don't like missing practice with my teammates, but I'm doing what I can do right now to get healthy but still getting better in the process."
  • When he returns full go in the fall, Ikard has one position on his mind: "Center. That's the position that I want to play. It's the position that I'm best suited for in this offense and for our team. I've been helping out Ty (Darlington) a lot. He's been doing really well. Just kind of talking to him, helping him with little things, subtle little nuances of the position. That's my main focus right now is just helping guys in the film room, working on my skills in the individual drills and in the weight room."
  • As many anticipated he would, running back Alex Ross has looked good by all accounts this spring. He's impressing with sheer talent and has draw high praise from Heupel: "Done some positive things. Has made a couple explosive plays with the ball in his hands in some of the run game, which is what you'd expect. Great speed, physical runner, you know, so I think he's got a much better grasp of what we're doing offensively, too. We're giving him a chance to execute it and perform at a high level."
  • Said fellow running back Brennan Clay: "He's big and physical and he's a one cut type of guy. And he's about 215, 220 himself already. That's a good thing for himself. He's fast. He gets vertical quick, and that's good."
  • The rest of the running backs seem to be licking their chops knowing OU is going to more of a running offense with mobile quarterbacks. But Heupel cautions that philosophy will only go so far: "Ultimately our guys are going to have to win ball games for us throwing the football. Will they extend and make plays with their feet? Yeah. Certainly all those guys have that capability. So, you know continuing to go through spring ball and ultimately into two-a-days whoever the guy is, finding out what he's comfortable with, what he can execute and performing at a high level kinda determines who and what we're gonna be."
  • Clay has carried his momentum over from last year after breaking out: "It was a big weight off my shoulder because I knew I could play in college. That wasn't a problem at all. The problem was just being healthy, and finally I got a chance to be 90 to 100 percent every game and I felt good. So, that's my biggest focal point right now is staying healthy and still putting on weight, becoming stronger and faster. So, I'm excited and it's just been a blessing."
  • Many players that redshirted a season ago have impressed according to Heupel, with Ross, Trevor Knight and Derrick Woods getting the most praise: "I think they're really excited about it. You know, you put a lot of hard work. All the extra weight room stuff they do all fall on top of all the football stuff and then the offseason training in January and February, yeah they're excited about getting out there and putting the pads on."
  • In the absence of Kenny Stills and Justin Brown, two major wide receiver targets from a year ago, several have stepped up, and co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell has been pleased with that development: "I mean, Jaz [Reynolds] has been pretty consistent. He's flashed. I mean, Derrick Woods has had some very good practices, been a playmaker, been a guy that can make something happen and showing some of the flashes we saw in him as a freshman. You know, [Lacoltan] Bester has had a really good spring. And just when we brought him here, he's a really competitive guy and he's starting to turn that into making plays now, and what a good blocker on the perimeter he is because he plays so hard. So, those guys are definitely guys, you know, [Jalen] Saunders and [Sterling] Shepard have kinda just taken off where they finished the season and they're really playing at a high level."
  • In saying that, Norvell suggested Reynolds will play a key role: "We're just counting on him to do it day in and day out, and if he has a spring like he had two springs ago, he should really set himself up for a good senior year."
  • Individually, he likes the progress of Trey Metoyer, who was expected to come in as a freshman and impact immediately last year though he struggled more than people thought he would: "He's done a good job. He's flashed. You know, the biggest thing we're pushing with Trey is just consistency. And he's gotta be consistent play in and play out to be the kind of player that [we're looking for]. You know, when you're a starter—when you're a backup you can come in and flash—when you're a starter, the team is depending on you to be exact on every play, to play at a high level all the time or you just can't be a starter. And we got a lot of guys that are kinda in that range right now where they show flashes but they haven't shown the consistency to be able to line up in that first unit. And that's what spring practice is all about. You know, it's very competitive every day, and you gotta show up and compete and execute every day, and the guys that do that in the spring usually are in those spots for the fall."
  • He's also pleased with the progress of Dannon Cavil, an early enrollee: "Dannon has done a really nice job. He's shown a lot of vertical speed and size and playmaking ability, and he's a very bright kid. He's learning very quickly, so we're excited about him."
  • Durron Neal has made a leap from his freshman season to sophomore year of spring ball and mainly in one area: "Just consistency, just playing more consistent. And he's still trying to finish down the field and become a bigger play threat, which is the hardest thing for young players to do. But just that consistency and now with the quarterback competition, he's getting a chance to prove that he's one of those guys that should get his hands on the ball more. And that only comes from doing it every day, and if he continues to practice the way he has and push himself, I mean, he should be that kind of guy."
  • Neal also spoke to his improvement: "It has progressed a lot. You know, I got a lot bigger and me knowing the playbook a lot now has helped me with reads and just from last year, just learning, sitting back. When I got in the game, I got chances, you know, experience as a true freshman. Now, you know, just taking that confidence to this season and just showing my talent."
  • In other news, the offensive line still seems to be meshing well with new coach Bill Bedenbaugh. Call it settling in at this point: "Yeah, he's teaching us about like schemes actually," Shead said. "I love Coach Bedenbaugh. He's a great coach, and you can really see it just in these few weeks or couple weeks that have passed since we've been back. He's great. Like I learned so much more, you know, technique wise and just looking at the game a different way."
  • Said guard Bronson Irwin: "Yeah, yeah, I mean, he's definitely a good guy. He demands a lot from us, but I wouldn't have it any other way. That's the type of coach you want. You want a coach that's gonna push you to be the best you can be."
  • And Ikard: "No. I mean, we didn't know what to expect, but right away he gave us some words of encouragement that we knew the kind of guy he was, the kind of coach he was going to be. He's hard on us, but that makes us better. We're working really well right now, really improving in our skill set as linemen. So far he's making a big improvement with us."
  • As for the differences, Irwin said it's just little tweaks that are different from former position coaches James Patton and Bruce Kittle: "With every coach, it's not all necessarily different. It's just small, little things that each coach teaches differently. I mean, you have your zone schemes, but sometimes a coach will do things just a little bit different when you're here three, four, five years. It's different, it's a change, but it's a good change… I think, for the most part, the fundamentals are the same, but there's some little tweaks in certain steps and footworks that he's coached a little differently than we've had in the past. Different steps for different fronts and alignments and stuff. It's a little bit different. Nothing majorly different, just small tweaks."
  • No matter the differences, there's one thing he instills every day in his players, and Ikard outlined that: "Coach Bedenbaugh's main thing is toughness, so, you know, we've had some guys that have battled through stuff throughout the season and shown some mental and physical toughness. We're pretty good on that part, but we've just got to keep getting better. It's one of those things where the more reps we get together as a line—with me being out it doesn't help—but it's one of those things where as they keep getting better and better through these practices, they'll come together even more. That's important because we need depth on the line. You always need depth, especially the way the last couple of seasons has gone. A guy goes down a game or two, you know, a play or two or whatever it is, somebody's got to fill in. Guys are playing tough, working hard, so we're building toward a deeper line."
  • As suggested before, the quarterback battle is going to play out for a long time. No one has developed any kind of edge. Even ask the receivers, like Neal, and they'll tell you each seems the same when throwing the ball: "I wouldn't say that. I mean, I feel like, all of them I feel like since the summer and last year and just doing seven-on-seven you just get a connection with all of them. You know, it just feels good when any one of them throw us the ball, so we all got a chemistry with all three quarterbacks. Like I said, all of them are doing really good. This is going to be a hard decision."

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