Spring Football Practice Report (3/23)

Bob Stoops, Jason White, Lance Mitchell and Chijioke Onyenegecha talks about Tuesday's practice.

NORMAN, Okla. — The Oklahoma football team returned to the practice field for the first of 15 workouts this spring inside the Everest Training Center Tuesday in Norman.

The Sooners, who dressed out in shorts, jerseys and helmets rather than full pads, worked out for two hours and 30 minutes inside because of the windy conditions outside. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops was pleased with the workout.

"The guys came back as always ready to go," Stoops said. "Schmitty (OU strength coach Jerry Schmidt) and his group do a great job of getting them in condition. We are in great shape. The guys responded to everything we threw at them today, including some of the new stuff. They just went with the flow and picked it up."

Stoops is also anxious to see the team in full pads.

"It's an NCAA rule so we have to do it," said Stoops, on the requirement to not dress out in full pads for each practice. "In football you really don't learn much when guys have pads on. You know we like to bang heads in practice and we can't do that in shorts. I can't wait until Friday when we can put them on."

Below is a position-by-position look at some highlights, notes and quotes from Tuesday's practice.

Heisman trophy winner Jason White went through the individual drills, but not team drills. Junior Paul Thompson worked with the first team during team drills and was backed up by redshirt freshman Tommy Grady.

"I want to go through the drills, but they really don't want me to," said White, who says he's fully recovered from his injuries. "But that's something I'll continue to work on. It seems like I'm always having to negotiate with the doctors anyway. I had a lot of bumps and bruises from last season, but I was able to go through most of the offseason stuff anyway. Today was really the first day I've ran a bunch. So, I'm not in the best condition. However, I'm stronger than I've ever been in my life and my knees feel great."

"Jason is fine," said Bob Stoops. "He's in great shape. We just held him out of the team drills because we just want to make sure everything's going to be okay. He could've gone through them if we wanted him to. And he wants to, but there's no need to do anything with him now, we need him next season."

White's absence from the team drills definitely gives more reps to Thompson and Grady in their battle for the backup spot. Thompson was the first to take reps with the first team, and as is expected for the first spring workout was a little rusty. Thompson still continues to have a great arm and athletic ability, but he threw one interception and wasn't as accurate throwing the ball today. Grady, on the other hand, looked good throwing the football but still looks like he needs some work re-fining the other areas of his game other than throwing. Grady was tripped-up on one play after taking a snap from center.

A day of practice without pads or contact doesn't do any justice for the running backs. However, one back who appears to be on a mission and taking a leadership role with the other backs is junior KeJuan Jones. Jones was the first back to work with the first team during the team drills. Backing up Jones was (in order of appearance) Donta Hickson, Tashard Choice, Courtney Tennial, Jacob Gutierrez and D.J. Wolfe. Wolfe, who was sporting Derrick Strait's old #2 jersey, only got in for one series during the team drills.

Tashard Choice and D.J. Wolfe are going to be hard to keep out of the Sooner backfield. Choice is better than you think. He is very thick and with his 4.54 speed he can really move his 205-pound frame.

Wolfe has a great presence about him and he has tremendous size and speed. He is still learning the offense and thus didn't get many reps today, but as he picks up the offense his natural talent is going to be hard to ignore. Both can catch he ball well and will be tremendous assets catching passes out of the backfield.

The Sooners want to come out of spring with at least two RBs to compete with Adrian Peterson in the fall. Peterson is tuning up for that competition by running track, and at a recent meet ran a 10.6 100 meters. For a man his size, that is really moving.

At fullback, J.D. Runnels took the majority of the first team snaps, but redshirt freshman Dane Zaslaw didn't waste any time to make his first play since switching to fullback from linebacker. Zaslaw looked comfortable and caught one nice pass out of the backfield. He will battle with walk-on Dan Townsend for the backup slot behind Runnels.

One of the major battles to watch this spring is tight end. James 'Bubba' Moses worked with the first team at tight end and burned Russell Dennison over the middle for a nice catch. Backing up Moses was Joe John Finley and Willie Roberts. Moses appears to have the most overall talent of the group, but Finley is a fighter and Roberts looks much improved. This race isn't over yet.

At receiver, it was Mark Clayton and JeJuan Rankins who lined up as the first team wideouts along with Travis Wilson in the slot. Brandon Jones and Will Peoples were the first two receivers off the bench followed by Tristen Ross and Marcus Johnson. Mark Bradley suited up today but did not go through many, if any of the drills today.

Ross, a redshirt freshman from Shreveport, looked to be the best of the OU receivers catching out routes today. Ross has the ability to make the tough catch and then turn upfield and make something happen on the run.

For a guy that everybody else reported was leaving OU, junior JeJuan Rankins had a heck of a practice today. He was fast, tough and caught everything in sight. The OU coaches believe that Rankins will be a great player before he graduates from OU. Despite all the rumors, Rankins never approached the Sooner coaches about leaving and he had a tremendous offseason, despite personal problems at home.

OU Wide Receiver Coach Darrell Wyatt is doing a great job both on and off the field for the Sooners. He is working with Rankins on taking better care of himself. He is trying to teach Rankins how to eat right, rest and to just take care of his body so that he has the energy to be a super player for the Sooners. Then you look on the field and all the receivers are getting better, which is a sign of a good coach.

Will Peoples is a wide receiver that we all overlook sometimes, yet when he is healthy he is a super player and one of the better pure receivers on the field. Peoples had a great offseason and he has come into camp in the best shape of his life. He looked fantastic today, caught everything in sight and always beat the DBs covering him.

Rankins and Peoples were the two best receivers today. However, it is hard to put anybody ahead of Mark Clayton. Clayton is the best worker on the team and he never takes a play off and he is always trying to get better on each play.

With Vince Carter held out of practice today while still recovering from knee surgery, it was Chris Bush who replaced him at center along with Wes Sims and Jammal Brown at the tackles and Davin Joseph and Kelvin Chaisson at the guards. On the second team it was Chris Messner and Akim Millington at tackle, Antonn Reid and Chris Chester rotating at center, and David Walker and John Flynn at the guards. Chester and Bush also saw some time at guard. Chester also worked some as the long snapper and struggled on several attempts. Also, contrary to various rumors Brett Rayl is still on the team and was at practice this afternoon.

If you had to pick the position that looked the best ‘physically' today it would have to be the defensive line. Dusty Dvoracek and Lynn McGruder worked as the first team tackles and Jonathan Jackson and Dan Cody were the first team ends. Jackson looked great today and batted down a pass by Tommy Grady.

But not to be outdone by Jackson, was redshirt freshmen DE John Williams and DT Steven Coleman, who both looked like a million bucks. Coleman and Moe Dampeer worked as the second team tackles behind Dvoracek and McGruder, and it was Coleman who seemed to stand out the most today among OU's redshirt freshmen tackles.

Linebacker is another position to watch this spring as the battle to replace Teddy Lehman and Pasha Jackson should be fierce with many stout prospects waiting in the wings. The one position that isn't up for grabs is middle linebacker, where Lance Mitchell looked like he was well on his way to being ready for next year's season-opener.

"I think I'm on schedule," said Mitchell, who surprisingly went through all of the drills today. "I'm healthy enough to go through these drills. I've done every rehab. I should be ready to go. It's just a matter of having some confidence."

Mitchell is also ready to take a leadership role with the linebackers.

"Sure, I can be a leader, and I will be," said Mitchell. "I just need to take a couple days to get situated with where I'm at now, and then I can start helping everybody else. I can lead by example because I don't miss meetings and I give it everything I've got. Our young LBs can really run. I need them to play beside me and be good. Well, not good, great."

Working along Mitchell with the first team unit on Tuesday was Rufus Alexander and Russell Dennison. Sophomore Lewis Baker was the first player off the bench to work with the first team and he primarily worked at the weakside with Alexander moving to the strongside. Wayne Chambers, Gayron Allen and Demario Pleasant also saw a lot of reps with the first and second teams.

If you still weren't convinced that junior college defensive back Chijioke Onyenegecha was in Norman, then you could've has seen him with your own eyes today. Onyenegecha worked out in most of the drills with the second team, but was limited in some areas because of his hamstring injury.

"I'm about 75 percent," said Chijioke, who certainly looked like the physical specimen who was built up to be. "But surprisingly, there's really not any pain. I told the coaches I could jump in the team drills and as long as everything is thrown short I'm going to compete and get after it. But if it's a fly pattern, I'm going to be smart and let them go."

Onyenegecha also talked about the difference from junior college to Oklahoma.

"The major difference is facilities," said Chijioke. "Even though San Francisco CC is big time we never got press coverage. Here, we're just out at practice the first day and there's media and more fans than were at some of our games."

Antonio Perkins went through the individual drills but held out of the skelly drills, which left the door open for Jowahn Poteat and Eric Bassey to work with the first team at cornerback. Onyenegecha and Darien Williams worked with the second team, and Williams had a nice interception off of a Paul Thompson pass. Count Williams down as another Sooners who looks to be much improved physically.

Donte Nicholson and Brodney Pool were the first team safeties, but when OU took out the third linebacker and went to their 'Roy' package Nicholson moved up and Jason Carter took his spot at safety next to Pool. Tony Cade, who also looks like a million bucks, split reps with Carter at safety.

The Sooners will return to the practice fields again tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 p.m.

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