NORMAN, Okla. — Oklahoma's quest for the Sugar Bowl and their eighth national title has officially begun.
The Sooners conducted their first practice of the season on Wednesday evening with a two hour and 30 minute workout in helmets, jerseys and shorts at the Intramural Practice fields in Norman.
"It might be the best one (practice) we've had this year," joked Oklahoma Head Coach Bob Stoops. "I'm excited about it. Very pleased."
"For the most part our team is in incredible condition. I could not be more pleased," Stoops continued. "We have some guys who need to get in better shape, but that happens. They know we'll find out when they get out here and we're allowed to check them."
All eyes were certainly focused on the quarterbacks during OU's first practice as it is the one position that still seems to have more questions than answers heading into practice.
Senior Jason White enters practice as the Sooners' Top Gun and he certainly looked the part today. White threw the ball well, eluded the rush with ease and even ran the same option play that caused his knee injury a year ago. The senior from Tuttle, who only wore a brace on his right knee, performed well and also looked like he was having a great time on Wednesday.
"It's just fun to see Jason look really happy and excited to be away from you guys (media) and out there in the huddle," said Stoops. "He looked at home, relaxed and he threw a lot of nice balls. He's been running this offense for a long time, so it's very familiar to him. I thought he looked sharp."
So how did White's knee hold up?
"He got bumped around a few times and Brodney Pool about took his legs out from under him, but he side-stepped avoided it and ran out of the pocket," added Stoops. "He also escaped and made Dan Cody miss him, so that's pretty good. Not a lot of people do that to Dan."
Below is a position-by-position look of our observations from the Sooners' first workout of the 2003 season.
Aside from White, sophomore Paul Thompson is the No. 2 QB and looked a little nervous today with his passes. Thompson throws the medium range passes and out routes very well, but sometimes struggles with throwing short on some passes. Noah Allen scrambled around and made some nice plays, but overall he didn't do much to distinguish himself.
And last but not least, the Brent Rawls rumor mill was finally put to rest (for now) when the redshirt sophomore from Shreveport was finally spotted on the practice field wearing his signature baby blue No. 15 jersey. But Rawls debut was delayed when he became too winded to practice after running gassers to begin practice. Rawls spent half of the practice getting his wind back in the ‘cool zone', but made his presence felt on his first pass with a beautiful 60-yard flag route that was slightly overthrown to Travis Wilson, who had beaten Mark Bradley. The pass might not have been completed, but it was by far the prettiest heave of the day and showed who clearly has the best arm of the Sooner quarterbacks.
Two last notes... the Sooners have added a walk-on quarterback from Westmoore High School named Jonathan Jordan. Jordan will work on the scout team and will be used more of a running threat QB to prepare the defense for opponents with mobile quarterbacks. Grand Prairie, Texas quarterback Rhett Bomar was at practice today and hung out with the Sooner quarterbacks and Coach Chuck Long.
Kejuan Jones and Renaldo Works both split time with the first team for the majority of the practice. Jones developed cramps late in the workout and was replaced by Donta Hickson.
"He just cramped up a little bit," said Stoops on Jones.
"I think he thought we were getting ready to run their at the end and he'd get out of it. If he does it tomorrow I'll know he's faking it," Stoops joked.
True freshmen running back Tashard Choice was impressive in the pre-practice ‘gassers' leading the pack most of the time. Choice also had to spend some time in the ‘Cool Zone' but quickly bounced back and impressed us with his hard work ethic and running style throughout the workout. Sophomore fullback J.D Runnels was at practice today, but wasn't expected to do much do to the recent passing of his mother, whose funeral service will be held Friday morning at 10 a.m.
We believe that the tight end race will come down to a battle between James Moses and Lance Donley, but junior college transfer Willie Roberts is certainly a wild card to watch. The Sooner coaches were excited to get their first look at Roberts on Wednesday, but like Rawls, Roberts struggled early on with the heat and missed part of the workout. Roberts did eventually get some reps and caught a quick out pass for a three-yard gain. Roberts is slender for a tight end, but is every bit of 6-foot-7 and has a similar build to former Sooner Trent Smith.
There's not much to report on the first team offensive line other than the fact that it is easy to see why Bob Stoops says this could be the best unit yet during his tenure at OU. OU's first group is set with Jammal Brown and Wes Sims at the tackles, Kelvin Chaisson and Davin Joseph at the guards and Vince Carter at center. But what has to be worrisome to the Sooners is the depth on the line. On the second team line for the Sooners today was Brett Rayl and Chris Messner at the tackles, walk-ons David Walker and John Flynn at guard and utility man Chris Bush at center.
Travis Wilson, Mark Clayton and Will Peoples looked outstanding catching the ball on Wednesday and were by far the Sooners' best receivers. Brandon Jones showed his big play ability making one catch on a short slant in the team drills from White. Jones caught the pass, which was thrown over the linebackers by Jason White. and juked Brandon Everage and Donte Nicholson for what would have been a touchdown. Peoples also drew praise from Stoops in the post-practice interview with the media.
True freshmen receiver Tristen Ross stepped up and made his presence felt early. Ross made a great play for a catch near the sideline that impressed former Sooner Head Coach Barry Switzer. "That's an athlete right there," said Switzer, who was a pretty good judge of talent in his day. True freshmen Marcus Johnson also worked out today at receiver, and not quarterback.
This position is pretty set with starters Dan Cody and Jonathan Jackson, but one player to watch for is redshirt freshmen Larry Birdine. Birdine's stellar spring carried over in the summer as he was outstanding in the team drills today. Birdine has so much speed and instinct, that as soon as the ball is snapped he's off and already one step ahead of the lineman in front of him. Calvin Thibodeaux worked alongside Birdine as the No. 2 defensive ends.
OU is also solid at defensive tackle, where they will rotate Tommie Harris, Dusty Dvoracek (now up to 292 pounds), Kory Klein and Lynn Mc Mcgruder. OU also got their chance to see Big Lawrence 'Moe' Dampeer. Dampeer, who was rumored to have reported slightly overweight, showed lots of promise and is very quick and powerful off the snap.
Depth the only concern here with Teddy Lehman, Lance Mitchell and Pasha Jackson manning the starting slots. Wayne Chambers and Rufus Alexander were both at practice, but worked off to the side. The OU coaches said after practice that they hope to have Chambers ready to go by the first game of the season. Rufus Alexander seemed to be walking well and was not wearing a knee brace. The status of his return is still up in the air. With Chambers out, Clint Ingram got a chance to play the role as the backup middle linebacker and had a great practice. Gayron Allen also looked good and he could see some time this year filling Alexander's role. The highly touted freshmen trio of linebackers worked together today with Dane Zaslaw at strongside LB, Lewis Baker at weakside and Demarrio Pleasant in the middle. The OU coaches gave a lot of attention to Pleasant today, especially on making the calls for the linebackers.
Brandon Everage was back on the practice field and was the starting free safety. Joining Everage in the starting defensive backfield was Donte Nicholson at strong safety, Brodney Pool at the Roy Williams spot and Antonio Perkins and Derrick Strait at the corners. Mark Bradley, Eric Bassey and Jowahn Poteat also got plenty of reps at the corner. True freshmen Darien Williams also worked at corner. One player you can tell the OU coaches really think has a chance to make an impact is Mark Bradley, and the offense seemed to be picking on him at times. Bradley even took notice after one incomplete pass and commented to Bob Stoops, ‘They're already testing me coach.'
The Sooners will return to the intramural practice fields again Thursday morning at 8 a.m.
8/6 Practice Report: Stoops pleased with White
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