A pall hung over camp early this week as a result of a shoulder injury to freshman running back Adrian Peterson Sunday evening. The 6-2, 219 pound running back hit the turf hard after only a handful of carries in the season's first full contact scrimmage.
On the play, Peterson had gone airborne at the last minute to elude an incoming missile disguised as Brandon Shelby . The move left Shelby nothing but air and lower legs where a split second before had been a good sized football player. But Shelby had already committed his body to where the target was supposed to be, and the result was a hit to the lower legs that sent Peterson spinning downward, head first, toward the turf, where first contact was his shoulder.
The pain was obvious to the crowd of 12,000, and to the payers and coaching staff who quickly formed a watch around doctors and trainers attending to Peterson.
"He's tough, very strong in his upper body and that'll speed his recovery." Coach Bob Stoops said after conferring with doctors. And, as predicted, by Wednesday Peterson was active, lifting weights and telling us he was ‘on schedule and feeling great.' Look for Adrian to be cleared for contact by Wednesday or Thursday of this week, increasing the possibility of him playing in the season opener in two weeks against Bowling Green.
The last week of two a days read like a casting call amid distractions and rumors of defections.
Redshirt freshman Lawrence ‘Moe' Dampeer missed two days of practice as he was frustrated over the extra work needed to obtain the level of conditioning needed to compete at the level set for him by this staff.
In a frank ‘heart to heart' with a member of the staff, Dampeer was told to take a few days off and re-evaluate his goals, once again sending rumors swirling around the talented defensive tackle, who admittedly had experienced his share of both misfortune and freshman immaturity.
Dampeer's troubles began last winter when a stress fracture in his foot failed to heal quickly, hampering his off-season work out schedule, and keeping him from valuable progress in spring drills. Add to that less than 100% effort in class, and a recipe for trouble was born, as Dampeer was caught in a ‘catch 22.' He now needed to attend summer school to make up classwork, and this prevented him from participation in the full work out schedule prescribed by ‘summer head coach' Jerry Schmidt. Dampeer was frustrated – and a little put out with himself at the same time.
But after a few days, Big Moe apparently decided that he'd take the advice of those who support him and give total effort to becoming the player everyone expects. If there was any doubt of his intentions, they were clearly demonstrated Thursday evening when he dominated his side and bull rushed offensive linemen that were forced to double team him.
The situation has left the staff in their own ‘catch 22.' They know Dampeer is one of the best DT's and can easily earn a starting slot next year. But if he plays this year, what message does that send to teammates who did show up in shape and go through the summer workouts as prescribed?
The only way out of the dilemma is for Moe to work harder and do more than everyone else, and he apparently is trying hard. Bear crawls, wind sprints, stadium steps and gassers. The effort is not lost on his teammates, who are rooting for Dampeer to catch up and contribute. This team wants to win it all and they realize the talent that lies within the massive body that also posses the agility to dunk a basketball. This team could use someone with those attributes, and will use him if he is willing to match their effort.
Right now Moe is showing signs of progress, both mentally and physically, and if this ‘get tough' experiment works and Dampeer eventually stars, it will be considered a major victory in the life of one player and one coach who cared enough to put discipline ahead of talent.
Another player plagued by doubt and disappointment is Jejuan Rankins . The junior from North Carolina has young family members constantly asking for his return and, although penciled in as a pre-season starter, he sees playing time limited by what could be the country's best group of receivers, including seniors Mark Clayton, Mark Bradley, Will Peoples, Brandon Jones and Ataleo Ford .
The pressure became too much earlier this week and the coaches realized that Jejuan would be better served if he was granted a few days to settle things down back home. More rumors, some involving a transfer to NC State popped up, but were extinguished when Jejuan returned to Norman yesterday and practiced Friday night.
An Ambulance Ride for Carl
A vicious hit Wednesday morning sent redshirt freshman Carl Pendleton to the hospital for checkups. But the scare was over when he tested fine and returned to practice later in the week.
Lance Mitchell Returns
Butkus candidate Lance Mitchell is also fighting emotion centered around his father, who remains in critical condition. Lance was given a 'leave of absence' to be with his dad, but decided to return to Oklahoma Wednesday. Mitchell would rather not discuss the issue and we'll respect his wishes.
It's Still a Game
With all the aforementioned distractions, the coaches orchestrated a spirited, fun practice Wednesday evening to take a little pressure off this team and to defuse the grind of two-a-days. It was good to see the camaraderie of this team and the competitiveness between offense and defense shown Wednesday, as the team worked out in shorts and shoulder pads.
It was almost like watching a ten round heavy weight fight, and there was plenty to record. Adding the most drama was Jason White , who was knocked down hard on a play that had the OU coaches and players taking a deep breath as he slowly got up.
It was a rare so-so day for White, as the senior from Tuttle actually threw a few bad balls, and was picked by Tony Cade once. But White bounced back and connected with Travis Wilson for the play of the day. Facing a 1st and ten from the 15 yard-line, White was able to beat double coverage on Wilson with a perfectly timed out route. The ball was delivered right as Wilson came out of his break. Wilson then promptly turned, caught the ball, spun and took off the for end zone where he successfully dove for the pylon.
Lance Mitchell's return to practice seemed to lift the defense, and despite missing four days, Mitchell didn't miss a beat. At the end of every play you could look up and see Mitchell around the ball carrier or receiver. It was somewhat reminiscent of a dominant performance by Roy Williams in a similar practice two years ago where Roy dictated play. If Lance plays at that level, the Butkus will be his.
But the overriding emotion Wednesday was good spirited fun as offense squared off against defense on the rugby fields.
Either unit would taunt the other when any significant play was made in a virtual standoff of great talent. The offense, after seeing successive passes denied by a hawking secondary, finally got a completion to Bradley over the top and down the sideline for a mock score, erupted into cheers usually reserved for a Cotton Bowl victory in October.
The defense returned the favor when a ball was batted down or anytime an interception was tallied, but yelled loudest and longest when they shut out the offense in the two minute drill.
Defensive Players Moving Up
Young players are making a move and getting noticed, and some veterans are showing excellent leadership. Some of this week's winner's on defense were:
Larry Birdine , who we said before drills began needed to show that ‘he wanted it. ' The sophomore started to let his play do the talking this week, continually becoming a force to be dealt with when rushing the quarterback. Birdine looks like he might start emulating senior Dan Cody , who also had a typical ‘Cody week' batting down passes at the line with his seven-foot wingspan.
Weekend Wrap Up is also ‘bullish' on red shirt freshman Demarrio Pleasant who continues to impress with his ability to blitz from the strong side linebacker spot. Brent Venables has to feel better about his depth at linebacker after watching Pleasant come alive this week.
Pleasant's former Lewisville teammate Tony Cade is also showing signs of life. Knock downs and interceptions are becoming standard fare for Cade as he is increasingly getting comfortable in the Sooners' standard ‘cover two' defense. The Sooners seem to be set at safety now with Brodney Pool and Donte Nicholson also playing at star level, and Jowahn Poteat is also impressive. Two younger DB's showing promise were Darien Williams and freshman Brett Bowers .
We've probably failed to mention senior Donte Nicholson enough, but we've become so accustomed to his play that it seems ordinary. No doubt this is Donte‘s year to impress and he'll play a big part of any run to the Orange Bowl.
It's not a complete Weekend Wrap Up without mentioning Chijioke Onyenegecha. We realize that other ‘experts' have said that CO is only a ‘ third string corner' and will not be a factor this year. Please cancel out those predictions!
Chijioke showed how physical and dominant he can be in Thursday's scrimmage. Detractors fail to acknowledge that Onyenegecha was slowed by a hamstring injury until recently and did not get a chance to fully show his talents until this past week.
Brent Venables commented on his cornerback's progress; "Chijioke created a situation where he had a lot of distractions that prevented him from making the kind of progress as quickly as everybody would have liked. There were a variety of reasons that kept him from making the transition and there were just a number of things both on and off the field that kept him from making the kind of strides that everybody would have liked as quickly as they would like. But he played outstanding ball tonight, (Thursday). We have seen major improvement in both Cade and Chijioke in the last two to three days."
The play at corner has increased the possibility of a red shirt year for Marcus Walker who sustained a bad sprain Thursday night but appears to be getting over it. No doubt that Walker has been very impressive, but it would be a shame to waste a year if he's not in the rotation and playing often.
Defensive line coach Jackie Shipp , (who - by the way, has to be one of the best in the business), talked about some of his young linemen. "We have a few young guys coming along and that's due to the two great examples set by our seniors, Dusty Dvoracek and Lynn McGruder. I wish everyone could play like Dusty, who's the best example of effort on this team, and who does everything the right way."
Dusty Dvoracek has become a team leader and a coach's dream.
"Lynn McGruder has improved himself as a result of hard work and dedication. He's overcome some tough spots in his life to become a very good player and team leader. But as to the young guys, I'd say Carl Pendleton has made tremendous strides in two-a-days. He's an intelligent, hard working player who does everything we ask him to do. He is most definitely going to play this season. Steve Coleman is another guy who's worked hard to lose a bunch of weight. He now needs to get stronger - and he'll get there."
Offensive Strategies start to Line Up
OL Coach Kevin Wilson continues to tweak his line and consider his options. Nothing is sacred as Wilson tries to not only get the best out there, but in the best positions. The most intriguing is the possible move of Davin Joseph to left tackle, a spot now held by Wes Sims .
Why? Wilson thinks Joseph can dominate at tackle. He knows he has more questions on the ‘outside' than at guard this year, and certainly next. That move would likely put Sims at guard, a position everyone agrees he'll likely play in the NFL. Wilson agrees and knows Sims will be as dominant at guard as Joseph could be at tackle, and asks of the potential shake up, "will this make us a better team?"
Our guess is that it should, and it's probable that the Sooners will open with this combination against Bowling Green.
Center Vince Carter is still taking an occasional practice off, but continues to improve his stamina. Although a red shirt year for Carter is less likely now than a month ago, Kelvin Chaisson and Chris Bush worked some at center, just in case.
Quarterback remains a problematic position - far better than a ‘problem' position, but one where abundant talent has forced OC Chuck Long, like Wilson, to consider all possibilities.
This week saw the Sooners working on rolling White out of the pocket, and even had him practice the ‘Josh Heupel to Quentin Griffin' shuttle pass, (but this version has KeJuan Jones playing Griffin).
The coaches also realize that Jason must spend some time under center when intending to pass, so as not to telegraph ‘pass' or ‘run' as was often done last year when a pass was normally preceded by Jason in the gun, and a run usually followed any time Jason lined up under center.
If you saw Paul Thompson ‘test' scores you understand why the coaches hesitate to waste a year of eligibility. The players were grouped by position and four areas: (broad Jump; vertical jump; bench press and forty time), were tested to show speed, strength and athleticism. Among the quarterback's, Thompson posted bests in all four areas: vertical – 35"; broad jump – 10'9"; bench press – 315; forty - 4.43. It's not surprising when you see these figures that OU also ran several option plays with Paul Thompson with PT this week.
Think of those possibilities!
No coach talks about it – but several have to be a bit in awe of Rhett Bomar . Thursday's scrimmage showed Bomar is all that he's cracked up to be as he showed great reads, a lightning quick release and accuracy not seen for years on Owen Field. What Rhett does need is a year to learn the offense, and more work with this receiving corps.
Offensive Players to watch
There were several offensive players that made a move up the charts this week:
Donta Hickson (5-10 203), was impressive in the short-yardage drills and had a couple of nice touchdown runs. Junior Willie Roberts (6-7 245), now looks to be on the verge of earning some major playing time. Roberts had a great week running routes and was outstanding in the short-yardage passing game to the tight ends on Wednesday night.
Thursday night was big for Jacob Gutierrez who showed what he could do when he took a safety valve pass from quarterback Rhett Bomar and turned it into a 62-yard touchdown. On the play, Gutierrez showed all the skills that coaches and fans have been talking about, as he slipped a tackler, (Brett Bowers) four-yards behind the line of scrimmage, then juked another before sprinting ahead 12-yards where the defense converged on him, only to bounce off them and continue his him sprint to the end zone with Bowers trailing him.
In recruiting, all eyes are on Kingfisher, Oklahoma where Curtis Lofton , (6-2 225 4.6), is expected to decide this weekend and announce on television Sunday night. It's still an OU – OSU horse race and Sooner coaches have absolutely no ‘gut' feeling one way or another, but there's no doubt they'd like to corral this one time OSU lock.
The Sooners covet Lofton and Ryan Reynolds , (6-2 221 4.6), of Las Vegas at linebacker. Reynolds could easily be the nation's top LB and Lofton is not far behind, but the Sooners are in the hunt for the nation's elite here and are looking to land two or three, (depending on where Lofton decides to go), of the top linebackers in the country.
In addition to Reynolds and Lofton, their top six prospects at linebacker are all ranked among the nations top twelve:
1) Luthur Brown ; Lakewood, CA. (6-2/227/4.70)
2) Eugene Hayes ; Madison, FL (6-1/218/4.62)
3) Rey Maualuga ; Eureka, CA. (6-2/235/4.50)
4) Brian Cushing ; Oradell, NJ. (6-3/227/4.45)
5) Antonio Clay : Jeffersonville, GA. (6-1/207/4.60)
6) Rico McCoy : Washington, DC (6-2/212/4.55)
In other recruiting news, the nation's second ranked offensive lineman, Michael Oher ; (Briarcrest Christian), Memphis, TN. (6-5/330/5.20), has said that Oklahoma will get a visit and they are probably his leader at the moment. The nation's top defensive line prospect, Callahan Bright ; (Harriton HS) Bryn Mawr, PA. (6-2/315/4.90), loves Jackie Shipp, admires Tommie Harris and said that Oklahoma will be one of his five visits.
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