NORMAN, Okla. — Rain forced the Sooners indoors to the Everest Training Facility for a brisk 2 1/2 hour workout Saturday morning. I really shouldn't use the word forced, because the Everest facility is so great that I really get the feeling that on many occasions the Sooners would rather workout in the facility than the alternative, which are the Sooners intramural fields.
Early this morning Coach Bob Stoops told Sooner Sports Information Director Kenny Mossman that the practices would be closed to the public. However, many fans didn't get the word and when they showed up, despite the poor weather Coach Stoops changed his mind and allowed the fans in to watch practice. It is the first time that fans have been allowed in to watch a practice in the indoor facility. A couple hundred fans were lined up along the West wall, stretched from end zone to end zone, watching the Sooners go through the workout in helmets, shoulder pads and shorts. Coach Stoops warned them to pay attention for errant throws and to move out of the way if any action came their way out of bounds. Outside of that, the fans and media had their best look at practice thus far this spring.
The Sooners worked a lot on team drills today and the first thing that caught my eye was the fact that J.D. Runnels had returned to workouts. Runnels went through the inside drill, where the offensive and defensive line square off, and then in the team drills he was in during all the jumbo drills and many two-back sets. The Sooners also threw the ball to him out of the backfield in their red zone drill, and Runnells made a nice sideline catch on a pass from quarterback Jason White.
White once again had the best practice among the quarterbacks. He threw the football with zip and showed good decision-making. However, early in team drills Brodney Pool jumped on an out-route for an interception on which he might have taken it back to the house in a real game.
Early in the passing skelly drill White got every other rep, with the other three quarterbacks sharing the others equally. When it came time for team drills White received 60 percent of the reps, with Paul Thompson getting 33 percent and Brent Rawls and Noah Allen splitting the remaining seven. Allen was picked off once in the team drills by Eric Bassey and the defense had several passes where they almost came up with interceptions.
During team drills the defense had a very good day with coverage sacks. On eight different plays during the team drills, White had to pull the ball down and scramble or throw the ball away because the coverage was too good. Second team corners Mark Bradley and Eric Bassey worked with the first team today as starters Derrick Strait and Antonio Perkins were sore and nicked up. Both would have played if it was a real game, but Bradley and Bassey needed the work anyway.
Bradley is such a raw talent, and he has a long way to go to be a precise corner, but he is such a hard worker that he draws appreciation from the coaches. Bradley backs down from no challenge and loves to talk trash, but he is also one player who will congratulate a defensive teammate or even an offensive opponent when those players make a good effort.
"Both of them have made a lot of improvement, as well as Jowahn Poteat," said Coach Bob Stoops. "Eric has gotten a lot better. Bradley is looking super, and heck even Darrien Williams looks good at corner. I really like how all of those guys have come on."
One thing that Bradley has going for him is that he is a big, strong corner and his punch at the line of scrimmage can knock a receiver off his route. Will Peoples and JeJuan Rankins were slowed down at the line of scrimmage on different occasions just because Bradley was able to get a good punch in at the line of scrimmage.
Tony Cade saw action in the varsity team drill towards the end of the drill. Cade lined up at free safety, Jason Carter at SS, along with Williams and Poteat at CB during this part of the practice. Cade made two tackles during the drill by just reading the running play and slipping underneath the blocking. It is easy to see why Mike and Bob Stoops both are so high on the heralded freshman out of Lewisville, Texas.
Donte Nicholson almost picked off two passes today, and Lance Mitchell had his hands on a pass as well, but couldn't hold on.
Peoples had his best day of the spring running some exceptional routes to get open from 12 yards and in. Peoples has developed into an excellent comeback receiver, where the quarterbacks throw to a spot under ten yards and during his route he comes back and makes the catch. Both Bassey and Bradley had their work cut out for them trying to keep up with Peoples in that drill.
Sooner wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt singled both Peoples and Brandon Jones for their spring work thus far. Jones had the catch of the day hauling a deep flag route, some 40-yards downfield from White. Jones had to go up with three defenders in the area and haul in a pass that was high and a bit outside. This past spring Jones demonstrated improved concentration in those situations and that was certainly the case on this one big play.
"Both Will and Brandon have improved so much as wide receivers and sometimes you miss how well they are doing the small things that makes a receiver good," said Wyatt. "Both are much better receivers now than they were at this time last year. Both have learned how to practice and have learned what it takes to be a good wide receiver. It is not just being a better athlete or faster than the defensive back, because what they both have found out is that there are good athletes on defense as well. We have had practices so far where they haven't made any big catches, but they have graded out well in the practices because they have run the correct route, made the right reads or made the good block. Of course, you have to catch the ball and both have done a good job in that area thus far, but when you add the other things on top of it then you become a good wide receiver."
Mark Clayton and JeJuan Rankins had their moments as well today, but the bigger receivers stood out. Travis Wilson was nicked up a little and didn't stand out much, but Clayton excelled in the short game and continues to have a nice spring.
The offense ran several different types of reverses today. It is nothing that the Sooners haven't run before, but Clayton wound up with the football off a reverse. When Wilson is in there he will get the ball on the same reverse and both will be outstanding runners of this play. The Sooners also have an end around for the wide receiver that will be dangerous with B.J. and Peoples coming around from the outside.
Paul Thompson probably had his best day of the fall. Thompson was still short on his accuracy in some passes and he needs to improve in this area. There are times when he completes a pass, but throws a tad behind the receiver and that breaks up the rhythm of the receiver. However, Thompson did complete long outs to Wilson and Jones, and they were his two best passes of the fall. Both throws had speed and were right on target.
Lance Donley had the best day among the tight end. He twice hit seam routes for big gains on passes from White and Thompson. His experience paid off as he slipped behind the linebacker to make over-the-shoulder catches for good gains. The play didn't please Co-Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables much, but tight end coach Kevin Sumlin was happy about it.
"We have quite a battle going on at tight end right now. We have some very good talent at the position," said Coach Sumlin. "Lance is the wily veteran, but I don't want this to sound like he is not talented, because he is. Lance may have the best hands among the group and he certainly has the best instincts. Bubba Moses is a great talent and is getting better every day. His hands have improved and he may be the best overall athlete we have at the position. Chris Chester has made some big plays for us in the past and is other very good tight end and Willie Roberts is talented, but just needs to get into the groove with everything that we are doing. Joe John Finley has been outstanding so far and shows signs of being an outstanding tight end for us. We really think tight end is going to be a position of strength for us again."
Both KeJuan Jones and Renaldo Works continue to split work at tailback, but Jones did get a few more snaps in the one-back set today and Works got the work in the I-formation.
It seems they have alternated in these roles the first days of practice, but we will watch and see what pattern they take from this point on. It is obvious that Jones and Works will be the two primary running backs for the Sooners this season, but Donta Hickson is getting more reps than he received last year.
Also, it appears that Tashard Choice is beginning to break away from the freshman pack. Choice was the only freshman running back that got some reps within the varsity team drill. He took at least four hand-offs and did a good job getting into the hole and making defenders miss. I still don't think any of the freshman running backs are going to play this year, unless it is on special teams. However, Coach Cale Gundy may want to carry four running backs just in case so he needs one of the freshmen to step it up and early that appears to be Choice.
During the inside drill the Sooner offensive line welcomed Lawrence Dampeer to the team by having him match-up with All-American candidate Davin Joseph, and it was quite a battle. Dampeer didn't get the sack, but he did get some penetration on a couple of occasions. Joseph won the battle for the most part, but he came away impressed with Dampeer.
"Lawrence is going to be a very good player and it did us both a lot of good to hook up today," said Joseph. "He is very strong, but quick and fast for a big man. Lawrence is going to be tough for any offensive lineman to handle. I have told him to come ready to practice everyday, because we will make him better just like he will make us better. Lawrence is tough to battle in practice everyday, but in the end we will all be better players."
"I have learned why everybody thinks Davin is so good, because he is big, strong and has good feet," said Dampeer. "I came at him with everything that I have and he is hard to get around. What is great about the offensive line is that they have told me to bring it every day in practice, because it is going to make me better and make them better. We have the number one defensive line in the country and the number one offensive line in the country, and if we have practice hard every day we will all improve every day."
The first offensive line remains the same, but Chris Bush did get plenty of work at right guard alternating with Kelvin Chaisson, and he figures to get a few series a game at right guard as well. Bush is also the back-up at left guard and at center. The second offensive line was made up today of Bush at center, David Walker and Akim Millington at guards, while Chris Messner and Brett Rayl manned the tackles. Millington also worked at tackle as well.
Steven Coleman and Carl Pendleton are also getting some work during the varsity team drill. Both look promising at defensive tackle and both are big men who are very athletic. Tommie Harris did not participate in the team drill, because his lower legs were sore. Kory Klein and Dusty Dvoracek have been very impressive in camp and it is good to see Dvoracek not hampered by his painful turf-toe injury of a year ago.
Cody Freeby appears to be pulling ahead in the punting duel. Freeby boomed several punts into the rafters of the indoor facility and boomed several more punts over 45 yards. He did shank a couple, but for the most part appears to be getting his act together. Blake Ferguson didn't have a bad day. In fact, he had several punts that were good. However, Ferguson doesn't have the leg strength as Freeby and as long as the freshman stays consistent he will wind up winning the punting job.
The Sooners will practice tomorrow at the intramural fields and the practice will begin at 8:30 in the morning.
8/9 Practice Report: Sooners move workout indoors
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