Sooner spring practice report: April 2

NORMAN, Okla. — The offense met with the media Tuesday night for the final time before next week's Spring Game, and SI has all the discussion.

The offense met with the media Tuesday night for the final time before next week's Spring Game, and SI has all the discussion.

  • The biggest and boldest statement of the evening came from tight ends/special teams coach Jay Boulware, who compared OU's punt returner Jalen Saunders and kickoff returner Roy Finch to several former college greats he's coached against. His entire statement read as such: "Well, I mean, you could start and end right there. I mean, I tell those guys all the time, I mean, I haven't been around—and I've been around quite a bit—I mean, shoot when we were in this conference the last time, we had the No. 12 kick return team and I had a freshman All-American in a kid at Iowa State. And we broke a record against Oklahoma State, 319 kick return yards and none of these kids that I've been around at my last two stops are nearly as talented as these guys are as return men. I tell those kids all the time there's no reason why they shouldn't be the most feared return men in the country because they are that talented in my opinion. And normally special teams coordinators don't say that unless it's true, and it is true. I mean, those guys are literally dangerous in my opinion. I haven't seen anybody [like that]. The punt returner [Saunders] is just out[standing]. I haven't had a punt returner that good ever, you know, and the kick returner, [Finch], I think he should be like those guys that I played against when I was at Auburn, from LSU and Alabama. I mean, you could name them: Javier Arenas, [Patrick] Peterson, you know, Trindon Holliday. You name them. I mean, I think he's that good…I'm talking about both of them. You know, they both do both things. One a kick returner, and one's a punt returner, and so it's gonna be up to the other 10 members to do their jobs because if they do their jobs effectively and they get on guys, there's gonna be some excitement that happens out on the football field."
  • As far as the punting situation is concerned, JUCO transfer Jed Barnett appears to be really sharp: "You know what? I've been pleased so far, you know. I know Jed's [Barnett] a new guy coming in and I've been pleased with the progress that he's made so far. He's one of the few guys I've ever seen at punter that's a true two-stepper, and he does it a little bit different from most guys I've ever seen. So, that in itself is a really good characteristic to have because that means he's catch-to-kick time is really low—or I shouldn't say really low, it's below 1.3, which is what we look for. So, I've been pleased with the progress he's made so far. I've been pleased with the progress we've made in all phases of special teams so far. I believe we're getting closer to what I want it to look like, and I think they're understanding what we're asking them to do."
  • It sounds as if Boulware also likes the progress of all three of his current scholarship tight ends in Brannon Green, Taylor McNamara and Sam Grant: "Well, you know, we got two or three guys. That's what we got. And they're working hard. They're getting better every day. You know, we're just plugging away, just trying to find our niche both at every position, really all over the place, who are the best 11 out there. And in order to get on the field, you gotta be part of the best 11. So, that's the way it is every place I've been."
  • There has been no change in the quarterback battle between Blake Bell, Trevor Knight and Kendal Thompson: "No one guy. They were all really solid. So, if they can continue to play that way and continue to improve upon, they're giving themselves a chance to—whoever the guys is—play at a high level."
  • It should be noted Heupel is crossing his fingers that one to emerge over the final couple weeks of spring ball heading into the Spring Game, but that is not essential: "You hope somebody separates themselves. If you don't, then you go into training camp. You can only name a starter once somebody has earned that position, and none of those guys have earned it yet. It doesn't mean they're not playing well. Just nobody's earned that spot. So, all three of those guys continue to get better day by day, week by week. If they continue to do that the next six or seven practices, then they're giving themselves a chance to play at the type of level that we expect a guy to play at."
  • In terms of their offensive schemes as a whole, the Sooners have really utilized the pistol formation in recent years. Heupel justified tonight why that has been the case: "Hid a lot of what we were doing pass game wise and it gives you the ability to keep your tailback's shoulder downhill. It gives you some of that downhill run game. So, combination of those things is why we have moved towards that. A year ago we didn't have any—we didn't play with tight ends in line, so some of your run-pass stuff being back away from center gives you the ability to have a lane to throw the football because you have unblocked defensive ends if someone looks at your tape."
  • In their mini scrimmages, the Sooners have been running the football well. That has obviously been a focus of emphasis for new offensive line coach Bill Bedenbaugh, and it's already shaping up. Said offensive guard Bronson Irwin: "Yeah, I think we're moving the ball well in general. I mean, you know, it's always important to establish a run for any offensive line. You want to be physical. You want to have a physical presence. So, I'd say that we've done a pretty good job of doing that. We just gotta keep getting better."
  • With starting center Gabe Ikard recovering from a broken finger this spring, Ty Darlington has taken over full time duties with the ones at center. That has been a positive development for him and one that will most certainly help the team come fall: "It's been good. I think it's a good opportunity for me obviously to get reps with that one group against the first set of D-linemen that we got going against. It's helping me get better as a player. It's putting more responsibility on my shoulders, and it's given me an opportunity. I know I have to step up."
  • And Darlington gave some perspective as to the guys on the other side of the ball up front: "Yeah, I mean, we got some guys that are having to play roles they aren't used to playing with Chuka [Ndulue], Rashod [Favors] moving inside. But I think they're getting better. I mean, sometimes you don't even realize sometimes who you're going against out there. You're just sort of grinding, but I think that, I felt like those guys are getting better inside with Coach Montgomery and everything. So, they're doing a good job so far."
  • Wide receiver Trey Metoyer met with the media for the first time this spring as well this night and evaluated how his game has improved: "I've felt like I got a lot better in route running, you know, timing, speed, getting speed of the game, being faster. So, I mean, and because of speed everything else is going to come easy."
  • And with Kenny Stills and Justin Brown now out, he feels the urgency to step up and produce more this season: "Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, of course. And I know Coach Jay [Norvell] is, you know what I'm saying, waiting for me to do that, too. You know, but like I said, I'm just gonna go in and work and do what I do."

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