It's been a week since All America tackle and team captain Dusty Dvoracek was released from the team. The ‘off week' provided the team a chance to regroup and adjust to life without Dusty. Coach Bob Stoops avoided references to Dvoracek but did say; "It's a perfect time for an off-week. We'll use this time to go back through and try and polish up areas of our game we feel we can be better at. We'll try and improve there and we'll get some future opponents and schemes that we'll be seeing here in the next few weeks."
Obviously, Dvoracek is still influencing the program. The popular senior has many close friends, both on the team and in the coach's office who have rallied around him. It appears that Dvoracek, who is an excellent student, is now concentrating on classwork and staying in shape preparing for an NFL future. His team mates realize that their friend needs their support and encouragement and are anxious to see Dusty defeat his alcohol problem.
When the situation is examined from a team standpoint, it's not his huge talent that will be missed most, and make no mistake, his departure leaves a huge gap in the defensive line, but his leadership was important to the play of the entire defensive unit and his energy spilled over to the offense. So the question of foremost importance is; ‘can the team absorb the loss and continue to play at a championship level?'
J.D. Runnels answered from a team standpoint; "Football teams are an interesting dynamic. Generally they are able to better absorb tragedy, pain, personal loss, as a whole - compared to the difficulty experienced by a single individual. The loss was devastating, but we have come together as a team to deal with it, and we will overcome it as a team."
But J.D. emphasized that they would not abandon Dvoracek to their efforts to make up for his absence; "Dusty will always be a part of this team. If we beat Texas – he beats Texas. If we win a Big 12 championship, he wins one as well – same with a national championship. We'll carry Dusty with us into every game. That's what friends do, and that's what team mates do."
So in effect, Dvoracek can still help his team, and has apparently chosen to do so. If fact, Dusty has impressed many by admitting that he was wrong and facing his responsibilities in mature approach to the entire situation.
More Mo, a likely replacement, or mystery man?
Dvoracek's' departure leaves the Sooners short in the preferred four tackle rotation. Lynn McGruder, Carl Pendleton and Remi Ayodele are the top three at the moment with Steven Coleman and the much discussed Lawrence Dampeer the top contenders to play at the four spot.
Regardless of continual rumors, newspaper prying and talk show hosts, Dampeer still offers the most promise. He literally is OU's most talented defensive tackle, and gives the Sooners the best shot at near full scale recovery from Dvoracek's premature departure.
In the end it's going to be Bob Stoops that gives Dampeer the green light to play, as defensive line coach Jackie Shipp is solid in his corner. Shipp has commented on Dampeer within the past week; "I am happy with Mo. He is taking care of his business in the classroom and taking care of the things that he should do. He has become a better student, a better football player and he is making progress. If Big Mo keeps it up, the sky's the limit."
Obviously it's a discipline issue that can not be breached because of sudden necessity. Dampeer is a very popular, likable player with team mates and coaches, but for reasons stated in previous reports, he did not complete the summer training schedule that most of his team mates suffered through - partly due to his own behavior, and partly due to circumstances beyond his control. While Stoops and Coach Jerry Schmidt are not entirely pleased with the results, they apparently have been won over by Dampeer's effort of late.
Although Dampeer did not finish the official workout program, there were Mo sightings this summer. Doug Switzer, son of a famous coach and an official OU Insider, tells about his Mo epiphany; "I was over in the Huffman one day, fooling around with a basketball. I looked up and saw this huge guy, and I do mean huge, dribbling the basketball. ‘Sure,' I thought. What's this fat guy going to do on a basketball court? Then WHOOM, he just dunks the ball, slams it through. And he continues to do it – moves and all. So I go over and ask him his name. ‘Dampeer,' he says. I thought; ‘Oh my gosh'."
Switzer was not the first to recognize Dampeer on the court. One Kelvin Sampson went to Stoops last winter, as he was down to eight players and needed help in the upcoming Big 12 tourney. "Can I borrow Mo for a few weeks?" Sampson asked. The request would have been granted if Dampeer would have been caught up in a few more classes, as both coaches eventually agreed that the basketball experiment would take too much time away from Dampeer's studies.
However that's the talent level were trying to describe here: massive, mobile and tough. Strong enough to plug the middle and force Big 12 backs outside so that Birdine, Cody and Jackson can take their shot.
Look for Amazing Mo to see his first Sooner action against Texas Tech next Saturday. Forget weight, Coach Shipp would like to see Dampeer get into shape where he could play ten to twelve plays at 100% without relief. Right now, that's the goal, get there and in time the weight issue will take care of itself.
Will there be tweaks to fix leaks on defense?
It's no secret that the defensive backfield is not hitting on all cylinders at the moment. Many people point to junior cornerback Eric Bassey as the culprit. The coaches however do not place the blame on one individual.
Bob Stoops commented on the play of the defensive backfield vs Oregon; "It was pretty good. We had a few plays we would've like to have played a little better. But, for the most part, they were pretty solid." Brent Venables voiced similar thoughts and did not show any panic over the play of anyone; "They played solid, but there are still things that they need to get better at. However, that was our best game from a secondary standpoint up to this point."
The bottom line is that the Sooner ‘cover two - zone' scheme functions as a unit, vs a team that plays man and exposes the guilty party in a slightly more obvious manner. However, the coaches are still looking for the best corner combination, with Bassey, Chijioke and Jowahn Poteat being the primary candidates to eventually nail down the starting CB slot opposite Antonio Perkins.
We'll remain adamant that Chijioke, admittedly a work in progress, will play more as the season progresses. "We don't have anyone that can do what he can do," one coach said. Look for Chijioke to get a lot of playing time against Texas Tech, and the promise of Chijioke's potential does hold out hope for this team to be even better in November than they are now.
The most pleasant surprise on the team has been Larry Birdine. Defensive end coach Bobby Jack Wright commented on his defensive ends this week: "Right now Birdine is probably playing better than any of them. Larry has really asserted himself and he is making is presence known out there. He is making a lot of plays and is playing with a lot of intensity and enthusiasm. I've always said he's a fun guy to coach and a fun guy to be around. He brings a lot of excitement to the game and he is really playing well right now, and I am really pleased with how he is playing."
Head Coach Bob Stoops points out that Birdine has been a ‘game ball' recipient in all three of the Sooners games so far. This is particularly shocking when in mid summer coaches were trying to figure out a way to get Birdine motivated to play to his potential. Asked if he thought a sincere talk with Birdine did the trick, Bobby Jack Wright replied, "which one?"
However, it appears that Birdine now ‘gets it' and the coaches can focus their attention on other young players. And it comes just at the right moment as junior Calvin Thibodeaux was lost for the season with a broken bone Saturday. Most likely to play in Thibodeaux's absence? Put big John Williams (6-5, 242), ahead of Alonzo Dotson (6-4, 241), at the moment anyway.
Until either are ready, the Sooners will rotate three primary DE's and we will probably see some third and long when all three DE's are in at once. Texas Tech will reveal the success of this experiment.
Coming along . . .
Write down Clint Ingram and Rufus Alexander under ‘biggest relief.' The linebacker spot opened the season with a question mark that has been answered well by these two. Venables commented on Ingram's play after Oregon; "They had two backs and a tight end or two tights and a running back out there more than our first two (opponents) did. They were in those formations substantially more. That is a team that strives for that balance in a two back run or pass department. So, we just tried to match-up personnel with them."
"Clint played outstanding. He made some mistakes, because it was his first opportunity and really the stuff that we saw against Oregon was our first real work at it in just some basics of defending pro style of offenses. Just the isolation play is something we don't see. We don't get ‘good-on-good' work in practice, because our offense doesn't run the iso, they run the zone scheme. So, you don't learn to defend the isolation, until your guys are out there in a game and doing it. Clint had a big time game. He was all over the field as a backer and on special teams, he made some mistakes, but he had an outstanding game."
Sometimes your MVP does not always play. Gayron Allen continues to provide solid support and his steady play has probably allowed these two to flourish. Both should thank Gayron for his mature leadership and encouragement, particularly in practice, that has enabled these two to reach their potential quickly.
Allen displays the true meaning of ‘team' and deserves the respect and admiration of all Sooners. Think that attribute will be important on October 9th? If so, Sooners fans should remember players like Allen that show the younger kids the ways of a champion.
On offense – it's White, Clayton . . . and AD
Bob Stoops offered praise for his offense last Saturday night; "Offensively, I was very pleased how we played for four quarters and finished running the ball. Our third down conversion rate was excellent. Jason White was just incredibly efficient in his third downs and some of the great throws he made in those situations. Mark Clayton, breaking another record here, he also made a lot of big third down plays. Adrian Peterson running the football and creating big plays was really exciting to see his progress. And I'm happy with the O-line. I thought it really was strong throughout four quarters. Vince Carter had an excellent day and was recognized along with Jason White, Mark Clayton, Adrian Peterson and J.D. Runnels, as far as players of the game along with Trey DiCarlo and Russell Dennison on special teams. So, some new names are showing up and making big plays. All in all, it was a solid victory."
As of now White and Purdue QB Kyle Orton, (junior) are inching up the Heisman ladder towards Matt Leinhart who had the advantage of a huge ESPN popularity campaign before the season even started. Of course, Texas fans were voting Cedric Benson until ‘el Ced' started his own Heisman campaign this week - that's to Aggie Doug Gottlieb, who obviously shoots questions better than free throws, for getting that firestorm started.
Speaking of a quiet MVP
How about Donta Hickson's play against Oregon, including a key TD run which put the Sooners up 17-0? Thank goodness Donta has more tenacity than many of his fans who had given up on his playing here. The celebration in the end zone after his 25 yard TD was as genuine as any seen on Owen Field in years. It's a testimony to how hard he's worked and what kind of influence he's had on his team mates. Coming out of Texas the same year, Hixson was a far distant second behind Cedric Benson. Benson may be the better runner, but it appears the Sooners may have gotten the better man.
It was surprising that he got the call in a reserve role ahead of freshman D.J. Wolfe when junior Kejuan Jones went down with an ankle injury. OU running back coach Cale Gundy revealed that Hickson got the call because he understood the pass protections better against the type of defense that Oregon was using. From there, Hickson made the most of his opportunity.
Stoops had this to say about Donta's TD: "It was exciting. We appreciate Donta in a big way, and I told him that in front of the whole team. His touchdown run starts to separate us. It was 10-0 still and he gets it to 17-0, and that's a big play in the game. Donta continues to contribute, and will. He's a strong player and we'll keep working his role and see where it goes."
On the O-Line:
Despite the agonizing over the purported weaknesses in the offensive line, Stoops continues to show no panic when discussing the unit; "I though the O-line blocked well today, despite playing several reserves. Chris Bush had an excellent day. Coach Kevin Wilson looks at him as a starter. Chris is playing really well and can play about any position out there. He's a strong player for us. Chris Messner got in there and did a nice job. I'm sure he'll learn and improve from it. Those guys came in really play well."
Wilson was happy (as always) with junior Chris Bush, and also complimented Chris Messner in the victory over Oregon; "Chris Messner played the best he has played than at any time this year. I am talking practice, scrimmages, the Houston game or whatever. This game he got in under fire and got in pass protection a little too deep and got called for holding, which cost us seven. However, I had him for four knockdowns in 18 snaps. That was very good to see."
"The only problem with Chris Bush was that he was going so much for Davin Joseph at right side (guard), and Davin didn't really practice until Thursday, and for him to go back to left side, I thought Chris made a nice adjustment for us. Davin played well off his injury, but he was rusty in the first half and then played a very good second half."
If Joseph would not have been ready, Wilson admits that John Flynn would have been the likely starter, but said that Akim Millington was also ready to play right guard if needed, and that Chris Chester had worked some at left guard last week.
The offensive line is better, deeper and more versatile this year. It's one of the big reasons why the Sooners have a better offense this year. However, the off week did give Offensive Line Coach Kevin Wilson a chance to try out a few twists and different combinations. He explained some of his practice experiments: "Moving guys around is not too much for them to handle. We're working to come up with more depth. If we have a problem and Wes is injured, then maybe Messner comes in there. Or, maybe it's Jammal Brown at left tackle or Akim at left tackle. Or Jammal at left and Davin at right, with Kelvin, Bush and Chester inside. What is the best combination of five without screwing us up if one of our starters gets hurt?"
"Our protection concepts are similar, but on our run concepts you have to know if you are blocking play-side or back-side. It is also getting comfortable getting in a left-hand or right-hand stance. Just messing around this week, Jammal looked pretty good at left tackle, so maybe we will have that in the works if we need him there down the road."
Recruiting . . .
It didn't all happen on the field this week as two high profile recruits were visiting for the Oregon game. Tight end Martellus Bennett, (6-6, 240), Houston, Texas, is ranked as the second best tight end in America. He had previously committed to Miami but now may be having second thoughts.
Bennett commented on his OU visit: "It went good. I like the atmosphere and the players had a good chemistry and bond with the coaches. I could tell that I could fit in up there because the players are real and they already made me feel like I was a part of the team. The atmosphere was great. When I pulled up on Friday people were already at the stadium setting up tents and stuff and getting ready for the game. The fans were unbelievable. The coaches were real and they didn't try to sugarcoat anything with me. They shot straight with me and that is what I wanted to hear."
Bennett also said that Norman exceeded his expectations; "I got out on the town a little bit and really enjoyed it. It is a small town, but on the day of the game everybody came to Norman. The town was pretty with some great trees and things. I thought I was going to see some chickens, cows, and I thought the people were still going to be riding horses. But I found out that Norman is a mini-city with Oklahoma City right up the road. I think Norman would be a great place to live."
Look for this one to go down to Miami, Texas, Oklahoma and possibly Arizona.
Also in was linebacker Demetri Stewert (6-4, 215, 4.6), from Overland Park, Florida. Stewert gave this assessment of his visit to OU; "Oklahoma is such a great football state. I like how the whole state surrounds Oklahoma football and the No. 1 thing in the state is Oklahoma football. The atmosphere at the game was incredible. I was impressed with the entire program and everything about the program. I like how much emphasis they put into the program and how much they cared about the students." Stewert's top five are: Miami, Oklahoma, LSU, Ohio State and Notre Dame.
It was thought that New Jersey linebacker, Brian Cushing, (6-3, 227, 4.5) - a Rocky Calmus clone, was a heavy lean to an east coast school. But he surprised almost everyone by admitting that USC is a current favorite, giving Oklahoma and other schools west of the Ohio River a fighting chance. "Besides visits to Miami and USC, I am trying to set visits with Virginia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Louisville, Maryland and Boston College. Those are the schools I am still thinking about." Cushing reveals the Adrian Peterson talk has reached the east coast; "I'm still pretty high on Oklahoma. They do an unbelievable job on defense and Adrian Peterson is an unbelievable running back, so they have a bright future."
Maybe Thibodeaux's injury will put a spotlight on the Sooners need for more defensive ends. The top rated DE in the country is Rancho Cucamonga, California's Averell Spicer, (6-2, 265, 4.62), who revealed his visit schedule; "I will go to Florida State the week before Thanksgiving. I am going to Oklahoma December 10 and then I am going to USC the second week in January." USC will be hard to overcome here, but the Sooners can do it with wins and a great visit.
Oklahoma also is in the hunt for Mesquite, Texas defensive end Cordero Moore, (6-4, 265, 4.7), who will also visit. "I am still considering all the schools at the moment," said Moore. "I like Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Miami, Texas Tech, LSU and Texas A&M. Oklahoma is recruiting me hard along with those other schools. Oklahoma is a great football team and I went to their spring game and had a chance to meet Bob Stoops."
Count DeSoto, Texas cornerback Brian Jackson, (6-1, 210, 4.5), as an Arizona - Oklahoma battle. Jackson likes Oklahoma but realizes playing time may come quicker at Arizona.
One CB that may be ready to make a decision is Lufkin's (Texas) Alton Dixon, (6-0, 190, 4.48). "I am starting to lean a lot more to Oklahoma. They contacted my mother about the school and she likes the academic program at Oklahoma. I have always like Oklahoma a lot and now my mom also like's them quite a bit as well. I want to take a couple of visits before I commit. I know that I am going to visit Oklahoma and I will also visit Florida and Washington State."
Add Ft. Collins, Colorado offensive lineman Jon Cooper, (6-3, 273, 4.95), to OU's shopping list. Cooper went to the Iowa State and Iowa summer camps and did well at both, dominating in most one-on-one sessions. Cooper has been offered by 10 schools thus far and he is still working to narrow his choices down. "I almost had my choices down until Oklahoma came and offered, and I had to put them in the mix," said Cooper. "I am trying to set my officials, but that has been kind of tough. I am already official set to visit Iowa State (10-9) and I am very close to setting a visit Oklahoma (10-23). I am also considering officials for Missouri, Cal, Iowa, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State. I am not going to take an official to Colorado State because they are right up the road, but I am going to take in some games."
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