NORMAN, Okla. – The Oklahoma football team went inside the stadium on Thursday for their second major scrimmage of the spring.
The Sooners, who held out several starters, used the scrimmage as more of a situational workout to test key position battles.
On offense, quarterback Jason White, running back KeJuan Jones and wide receiver Mark Clayton did not play. And on defense, Dan Cody, Jonathan Jackson and Antonio Perkins were held out.
Overall, OU Head Coach Bob Stoops was pleased with the scrimmage, which saw two redshirt freshmen (Joe Jon Finley and Tashard Choice) make the biggest plays of the day.
"Those guys stepped up and made plays," said Stoops. "They got their opportunity to make plays and they did, which is positive. "We have a lot of young guys making strides and getting better. We did a lot of situational work today and looked good. And no one is hurt, which is good again. I like the way we're playing."
"I like the intensity of the guys and how we competed and how we're playing," Stoops continued. "We're making progress. It's wasn't perfect, but it never is."
Below is a position-by-position look at the highlights from Thursday's scrimmage.
Once again, Jason White was held out of the scrimmage, and that left the door for Paul Thompson and Tommy Grady to get more reps.
Thompson took all the snaps with the first team offense against the first team defense, while Grady worked with the second team offense against the second team defense.
Overall, it was a very good day for the quarterbacks, who hit some big plays and stayed away from making the big mistake.
"I think they threw the ball pretty well today," said Offensive Coordinator and QB Coach Chuck Long. "We put them threw a lot of tough situations today. We had them coming off a goal line situation, and we had a four-minute offense where we were acting as if we had the lead and needed first downs."
"We started pretty slow, but got it going pretty good. Paul is so mature. We feel so good with him out there. He struggles at first, but picks it up and leads us on a few drives, and then we got the big plays from Tashard (Choice) and Joe John (Finley).
Thompson did struggle in his first drive against the first team defense, but came back to lead the first team offense on two scoring touchdowns.
On Thompson's first scoring drive, the big play came when he was flushed out of the pocket and found Brandon Jones behind the secondary for a big gain after rolling out. Thompson then faked a run to J.D. Runnels, and then rolled back to the left side and threw a nice screen pass to Runnels for a 15-yard gain down to the two, where D.J. Wolfe carried it in for the score on the next play. Thompson then capped a 61-yard drive in the two minute drill near the end of practice with a beautiful 1-yard play-action pass to Finley in the corner of the end zone.
In all, Thompson completed 20-of-28 passes for 184 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
"I think we started off a little slow, but everybody started to get more comfortable as the scrimmage went on," said Thompson, who completed 20 of his 28 passes for 184 yards. "I've been telling you we've got good, young talent. Joe John and Tashard proved that today. We have so many good young running backs, I lose count."
Grady finished the day with an impressive 202 yard performance while completing 16 of his 25 pass attempts. Grady was part of the biggest play of the scrimmage, when he hit Joe Jon Finley over the middle for a 69-yard touchdown pass.
"I did a little better this scrimmage than the first," said Grady. "I'm doing a little bit better in the huddle and fundamentals and I'm running the team a little bit better. I don't think I've been throwing the ball well this past week, but I think I'm coming around."
As for White, the Heisman Trophy gave his impressions of today's scrimmage and talked about his expectations for OU's offense next season.
"I think we played pretty well today. We had a lot of guys make plays," White said. "I think that we can improve on our numbers from last year. We are more mature this year. And again, that year under their belts is so important. I think that if we keep working hard through the rest of spring and two-a-days, we have a shot at being better next year."
Long also talked about the possibility after today's scrimmage that White might get some snaps in the spring game.
"It's possible, but I will lean heavily on my training staff for that," Long said (on the decision). "Whatever Coach Stoops feels like, we'll do. I think last year he got a few snaps in the spring game, but he was so sore after that one. We've tried to be a lot smarter this spring with him. I just want Jason to be as healthy as he can going into the spring. Last fall he was barely getting through fall camp. I just want to get him to the point where he's feeling good for once, so I don't know what we're going to do."
KeJuan Jones was held out of the scrimmage to give OU's younger backs an opportunity to show their stuff.
Donta Hickson started with the first team in Jones' absence, but it was redshirt freshman Tashard Choice who stole the show.
Choice, who led OU's running backs with 81 yards on 12 carries, had the biggest running play of the scrimmage with a 56-yard dash against the first team defense. OU was working off of the goal line and Choice busted through the middle, ran over Donte Nicholson and was off to the races before being caught from behind by Brodney Pool.
As for OU's other running backs, there just wasn't much room for them to run today. D.J. Wolfe got a couple of series with the first team and scored on a 2-yard touchdown run. Jacob Gutierrez and J.D Runnels looked great catching the ball out of the backfield. Runnels' bulled his way from the 15 down to the two on a screen pass that set up Wolfe's touchdown run, and Gutierrez ran well after catching three screen passes from Thompson in the two minute drill to help set up OU's final touchdown.
WIDE RECEIVERS/TIGHT ENDS
Brandon Jones led the receivers with five catches for 76 yards, but it was OU's tight ends who stole the show.
Joe Jon Finley made the play of the scrimmage on his 69-yard catch and run for a touchdown. Finley caught the ball over the middle 29 yards downfield, ran over the safety and then outran Demarrio Pleasant the remaining 40 yards to the corner of the end zone.
"I felt like I was never going to get there," said Finley, who finished with four catches for 100 yards. "I was running and running and running it seemed like forever. I kept waiting for somebody to grab my feet, but when they did it was too late."
Finley also talked about the opportunity he's getting this spring.
"There is a sense of urgency for a young player like myself. You only get so many reps, and you have to take advantage of those reps."
Also impressive at tight end was junior Willie Roberts, who made several athletics catches and finished with 64 yards receiving. James Moses only made one catch, but it was the only ball thrown his way. Moses got open in the middle of the secondary and made a nice 15-yard catch and run to pick up a first down on the first drive of the scrimmage.
Jones, JeJuan Rankins and Brandon Jones started for the receivers. Travis Wilson was held out of the scrimmage with a broken pinky finger.
The OU offensive line got a boost when Chris Bush and Antonn Reid were cleared to scrimmage but Kevin Wilson decided to hold Bush out, which meant Chris Chester started at center.
Chester, who moved to the offensive line this spring from tight end, had several high snaps on the day, but only one got away from Thompson that might have been recovered by a blitzing Eric Bassey had the play not been blown dead.
"I thought it was OK at best," said Kevin Wilson on the OL's performance. "I think the good thing was the fact they got different situations. From coming out from your own goal line where you have to get good field position, to another where you have to kill clock when you have the lead.
"Many times in spring practice you just play and keep running the next play, but you have to learn to get the flow of the game. There is a flow of the ball game, and it was nice to put guys in situations. We had a couple of short-yardage plays that we didn't get where we were trying to square peg it, but it was OK. We were doing pretty good."
"Chris Bush was cleared for practice, but I just didn't put him out there," Wilson continued. "They've cleared him but he just doesn't look like he's full-go. We didn't expect him to go a lot."
One player who has made a move to the second team and catching Wilson's eye is Brett Rayl. In fact, Wilson has been impressed with his second team unit much more of late.
"Brett Rayl is playing a lot better," Wilson said. "Akim's (Millington) doing well out there. It's nice for Tommy that he can sit back there in the pocket a little bit and not fear for his life. Now he can see the receivers and he can throw it sometimes. But when we needed some attitude when we were trying to move out from the goal line or kill the clock, it would be nice if we had a little more umm pah."
The star today for the defensive linemen by far was Dusty Dvoracek.
Dvoracek recorded two sacks, had the hit of the scrimmage when he stuffed Donta Hickson for a 1-yard loss, and at one point made five straight tackles.
"It was lot of fun today," said Dvoracek. "You have to love the game of football. I'm just trying to get the spirits of the rest the team up. I'm jumping around and when they see me, a senior, playing hard they want to do the same. I just want everyone to play as hard as they can. I want to be an example. I love to play hard, and I figure as long as I'm out there I'll give it 100 percent."
Lynn McGruder was banged up on the first series of the scrimmage, and that left the door open for Lawrence ‘Moe' Dampeer to get more reps with the first team, and he responded. Dampeer was tough to block once again, as he was constantly getting pressure up the middle.
"I was really impressed with Big Moe," said Dvoracek. "Big Moe made a lot of plays, but what impressed me the most was when he got tired he was still trying to make plays. I know we graduated two seniors, but I'm not sure we won't be better next year at defensive tackle."
Dan Cody and Jonathan Jackson were also held out of the scrimmage. Larry Birdine, Calvin Thibodeaux, John Williams and Alonzo Dotson all got time in their place. Birdine finished with two sacks, while Williams made four tackles and had one sack.
Lance Mitchell played his first live action since the knee injury and was excellent leading all tacklers with 11 stops.
Oklahoma linebacker coach and defensive coordinator Brent Venables said after today's scrimmage that he feels good about two of his three positions being set.
Mitchell is obviously the starter in the middle, but it now appears that Gayron Allen has emerged as the starter at the weakside spot.
"I like Gayron's consistent ability to line up and make plays, and he did a wonderful job today," said Venables on Allen, who had five tackles today. "He did a wonderful job filling in for Lance last year and he led our team with tackles for loss. That's one of the positive things, making plays at the opponents' line of scrimmage. And the things that he's been able to accomplish this spring are no real surprise to us. He and Lance have been the two best linebackers, and Clint Ingram has been a real close second."
"Those three guy are a little bit ahead of everybody else," Venables continued. "Outside of really Lance and Gayron, all those other guys are still competing and fighting, and even that is not set. We are also trying to have plan B ready. You just don't know how things can turn out."
As for Mitchell, Venables says the best is yet to come despite last season's knee injury.
"Lance is better than ever," said Venables. "That is as far form a cliche as you can say when talking about him, but he's so much better now then he was at this time last year. He's better physically, he changes direction better and knows the game and defense better. What a Godsend to have him back. I really believe Lance believes that as well. It's been the best thing for him that he's been able to come back, all things considered."
Antonio Perkins was held out of the scrimmage, which led the way for Jowahn Poteat to join Eric Bassey as the starting corners with Brodney Pool and Donte Nicholson at safety. But when the Sooners went to the 'nickel' package, it was Brandon Shelby who got the start the 'Roy' position.
Other than the big play to Finley, which was given up by the second team defense, it was a fairly good day for the secondary.
Brandon Jones was OU's only receiver to get loose, and he had big catches in the first team's first scoring drive.
"I think we came out and played pretty well," said Nicholson. "We're still trying to get used to the chemistry with everybody and coach Bo (Pelini). If you want to grade us between a one and an 10, I think we're a six right now. We still have a ways to go. We gave up those two big plays, and we just can't do that."
If you had to pick a star in the secondary it would have to be Brodney Pool. Pool was all over the field, finishing with eight tackles (one for a loss) and breaking up two passes.
The Sooners will take Friday, Saturday and Sunday off before returning to practice next Monday. Stoops said OU's tentative schedule for next week is to practice on Monday, Wednesday, Friday before the spring game next Saturday.
Spring Football Scrimmage Report (4/8)
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