Spring Locker Room Report: Offensive Review

Oklahoma quarterback Paul Thompson (pictured above) hands off to running back Kejuan Jones during the Red-White game Saturday in Norman. See inside for a position-by-position breakdown of how the offense progressed this spring with quotes from Chuck Long, Kevin Wilson, Kevin Sumlin, Darrell Wyatt, Cale Gundy and several Sooner players. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Sometimes the Red/White scrimmage can be misleading, and sometimes it can tell the whole story. In this case, the defense continued its fine spring, while the Sooner offense didn't show anything like the way they played all spring.

All spring the Sooner offense moved the ball, not at will, but they had their moments against the defense. The defense also had its moments, as they did a much better job guarding against the big pass and showed their front seven could be a dominant unit.

With the offense scaled back to the basics, the defense had a field day up front in the Red/White scrimmage. The front seven showed that they can be a dominating unit whipping the offensive line all day and totally controlling the scrimmage.

"All spring I have been telling you that we feel pretty good about our front seven. We think we are going to be very good up front," said Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "Granted the offense didn't use a lot of their offense, and when an offense does that against our defense we should control the scrimmage and we did. I promise you we have had our hands full with our offense all spring.

"Last Wednesday they drove the ball up and down the field on us. We were so disappointed in our defense that we actually ran them after practice and had our front seven guys do some extra conditioning after practice. So don't think that we had this much success every day in practice. For the most part we more than held our own, and I am very pleased with the progress that we made this spring."

***

When the Sooners took the field Saturday the offensive coaches knew that they were in trouble. They knew if they were only going to use 25 percent of their offense that a defense as good as the Sooners were going to eat them up. If an offense is going to have success using a limited playbook, then you have to get great individual play from most of the members on offense and that certainly didn't happen on Saturday.

Oklahoma's quarterbacks threw interceptions, the wide receivers and tight ends dropped passes and fumbled the football, and the offensive line provided limited competition for the defensive front. OU stuck with their formula of alternating quarterbacks on each series in scrimmages, and in this game that plan didn't help the quarterbacks as they were never able to get into any rhythm. Thus you had QB stats that wouldn't win many games.

Paul Thompson finished with 13-of-24 for 131 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions. Rhett Bomar finished 9-of-19 for 72 yards and two interceptions in his worst scrimmage of the spring. And Tommy Grady struggled at 5-of-15 for 33 yards.

"It was very hard to get into any kind of rhythm today," said the junior Thompson. "Not only was our defense playing well, but when we had to come out of the game every third series you couldn't keep up with the feel of the game. The offensive lines were in their own battles and the wide receivers as well, we couldn't be in there with them to get a feel of what was working or not working for them because sometimes we were with the first unit and sometimes the second. We had to start over and that was hard to do. Then we didn't use much of our playbook because the game was on TV, so that made it a tough day on us."

"Our defense was fired up and ready to play today, and they are a good unit," said Bomar. "You turn them loose and attack an offense that is only going at 25 percent capacity and they will force a lot of offensive units to struggle. Then on top of that, it was hard for any of our quarterbacks to get into a rhythm today. It wasn't as hard in the other scrimmages because we were using more of our playbook and we had a batter chance. With the game on TV, we didn't show much because we were rotating so much that none of us could get anything going. We could never get a drive going where we were going to be on the field for 10 to 12 plays. We were always facing new starts two series later and that is never good for a quarterback."

Grady saw as many series as the other two quarterbacks, but you can tell that most feel that he didn't play well enough to stay in the competition. However, that was not the feeling you got from talking to Grady or the Sooners coaches.

"I didn't do that well today, but all of us on offense struggled somewhat," said Grady. "I wish we could have played better today and I think that we should have, but our defense played well and shut us down. I don't know what my situation is, but I feel good about my spring. I will try to talk to Coach Stoops and Coach Long in a few days to find out what they are thinking about where I stand."

"I really want to keep this competition going, and right now all three quarterbacks are very much in it," said Coach Chuck Long. "I saw some very good things from all three quarterbacks. I knew coming into the spring that this would happen — that all three would play pretty well and that we would not be ready to name a starter coming out of the spring. All three guys are pretty inexperienced, but all three are talented and I knew there would be a great competition.

"There is nothing wrong with the competition going on into the summer. I grade the tape every day after practice and at times all three guys had better days than the other two. Today, Paul showed that he has a little more experience to handle some of the adversity that was thrown at them today. But all three have been very good this spring and I can honestly say that all three still have a chance to be the starter next spring."

Is this coach speak? Maybe, but this spring I would say that the competition is still pretty close. While Coach Long doesn't want to put out a depth chart or admit that one of the quarterbacks has an edge, I felt through much of the spring that Bomar was a little better than the other three. And there were many times Grady was the second best quarterback on the roster. However, the final week always means a little more than the first three weeks, and Thompson had his best practices of the spring during the final week. He was good in the Sooners' scrimmage last Wednesday and he was the best quarterback in the Red/White scrimmage. The fact that Thompson has been through the war's before paid off for him during the last week.

I still favor Bomar to win the quarterback job, but it is going to be quite a battle with Thompson. And if Grady will suck it up and hang in there he can make the battle very interesting. Grady still has the best chance to get hot in two-a-days and really put on a show. This race will go into the summer and all three know how important the summer is to winning the quarterback race.

"The summer is very important, but it is somewhat of a weird deal because the coaches can't coach us or watch us workout," said Thompson. "It is up to us (quarterbacks) to schedule seven-on-seven drill, and what we are going to do during those drills. We also have to be leaders throughout the summer during off-season workouts with Coach Schmidt and then take care of all of our off-the-field-activities. You have a good opportunity to get better in the off-season, and that will be my goal this off-season."

"Well, I hear that it is important and talking to Jason White I understand you can lose a lot of ground if you don't handle the summer right," said Bomar. "I went through the summer workout last year, but Jason handled all the scheduling responsibility and I will handle a lot of that this summer along with Paul and Tommy. That is OK with me because I have been doing that all my life. This is on a major larger scale, but getting phone numbers and calling guys, and even picking them up to get them to workouts is just part of being a quarterback. Putting together a practice plan for each seven-on-seven practice is something that I have done a lot of before as well. This will be a big summer for me because I will get a chance to prove even more to his team that I am a leader and that I want to be a big part of this team. It is going to be a lot of fun, which is all it is about anyway."

***

Based on the spring game most of you probably feel the offensive line is in terrible shape for next year. However, I want to point out again the Red/White scrimmage does not always indicate how the spring went for a unit, and that is the case with the offensive line.

"I don't think we played well in the game, but for the most part I think we have had a pretty good spring," said offensive line coach Kevin Wilson. "I think we still have to continue with some ways to improve through the summer, and with the addition of some other guys our depth is going to get some help. Our guys had a great winter with Jerry (Schmidt) and I feel pretty good about the spring.

"The way we sat that game up and the questions that we needed to get answered didn't really work out for us because we needed to force the passing game with our quarterbacks. Then with Adrian (Peterson) not being in, we weren't looking to run the ball anyway. And the quarterbacks weren't live and weren't allowed to run, so we didn't get to do some things that we would normally do. We also didn't want to show some things that we've done throughout the spring.

"Irregardless of all that, I was a little disappointed that we didn't play harder and that we didn't play a little more physical than we did. The defense kind of pinned their ears back and we didn't compete as hard as we should, and that disappointed me."

Coach Wilson continually moved players around this spring trying to find the right combinations, and he feels he knows a lot more about his team today than the did at the start of spring.

"I feel pretty good about Chris Bush at center. Chris Chester is probably our second center, but as a senior I am giving him a chance at right guard," said Wilson. "That probably forced J.D. (Quinn) snapping more than he wanted to. J.D. will probably be a third center and more of an offensive guard, but when Jesse White and Jon Cooper come in maybe that will allow us in practice J.D. strictly at guard.

"If we played a game today Chris Chester would be our No. 2 center. Chris did well, but he needs to gain some weight. Akim Millington has done well, but he needs to continue to get stronger on the right side. I think with Bush, Kelvin Chaisson as much as he has played, and Davin Joseph being our best player, I think we are pretty solid from our center going left."

"We need to make sure Chester and Akim can play on the right side on the level that we need to play at for a 15 to 16 game schedule," Wilson continued. "By the time you throw in the two-a-days and the open dates, you are talking 16-week grind of offensive line play. It will be interesting to see when big Duke (Robinson) and Brandon Keith come in here where they might fit in. Maybe one of those guys can play guard. Chris Messner had the best spring of any second team lineman and J.D. Quinn has the best potential, but playing center kind of marred his progress a little bit with that snapping deal. But he is probably our second best guy.

"Big (Branndon) Braxton and Ben Barresi are pretty talented young guys that had better than spring's than most first time out of the gate experiences. They played second team the whole spring and got a lot of work. I think we will have some great competition in the fall. We might end up doing what we did last year and have four guys who play the bulk of the time. But as good as Chris Chester is, and with Akim being a young guy, we might have to play those two spots by committee if Keith, Robinson, Cooper, White, Barresi or Quinn allow us to compete at those positions and maybe push those guys. I think if we can have a great summer and have some competition at those spots, we can be pretty good."

***

At running back, Adrian Peterson worked out on his own as he attempted to get his surgically repaired shoulder in shape. AD is expected to be full-go by two-a-days, and he should be close to going through the summer offseason program and full speed when June 1 rolls around.

Kejuan Jones had a very good spring and improved his speed to the 4.55 range. Jones is primed to have his best year at Oklahoma and will play the same role he played last season. Donta Hickson once again proved his is a very good third running, and Jacob Gutierrez wowed Sooners fans and his own teammates with some amazing runs this spring.

"Our running back position is very strong. That was proven out there this spring," said running back coach Cale Gundy. "Kejuan has been an excellent player for us at Oklahoma, and by the way he has accepted his role behind AD has demonstrated his great leadership qualities. Donta proved once again that he is a winning football player and we would not hesitate to play him at any time. Jacob improved in his pass blocking and he has a good future with us. AD will be a better player than he was last year, and that certainly is something that we are looking forward to."

***

At tight end and fullback, the Sooners had a great spring. Senior starter J.D. Runnels showed his great leadership skills by playing more than the coaches talked about before spring began.

"Coach Sumlin told me that he wanted to hold me out of some of the contact stuff, but I told him that I didn't want to be held out of practice," said Runnels. "If I am going to be a team leader then I need to be out here all the time. I need show the team that I work hard and that I give 100 percent all the time. I think spring practice went well for us. I think we found out that Russell (Dennison) and all of our fullbacks can do the job."

One of the positives that came out of the spring is that Dennison proved that he can be a quality fullback and will be a solid backup to Runnels this spring. At the end of spring, Jordan Greene and redshirt freshman Dane Zaslaw were battling for the third fullback spot, and Zaslaw was beginning to make a move up the Sooners depth chart.

The tight end position has become one of the strongest on the Sooner team with Joe Jon Finely showing that he has a chance to be a future star a the position.

"Joe Jon really had a good spring for us," said tight end coach Kevin Sumlin. "He improved as a pass receiver and he was already pretty good at it, but he been able to get bigger and stronger, and he improved as a blocker at the line of scrimmage. Bubba (Moses) is still our best all-around tight end, but Joe Jon is making a strong push. And I feel good about playing Willie Roberts this year as well.

"We have the same goals going into the offseason that we had last year in that we need to get bigger and strong to be more physical blockers at the line of scrimmage. We need to also work hard on our routes this offseason to improve in this area. I think you will see our tight ends catch a lot more passes this fall."

***

Wide receiver was one of the most watched positions this spring. When you graduate four seniors who have a chance to go into the NFL, and two of those could possibly go in the first round, then fans are wondering if you can replace all that talent?

Seniors Travis Wilson and Jejuan Rankins both had super camps with Rankins consistently being the best receiver in camp. Wilson's final two weeks in camp were better than his first two, but once he really turned it on he showed the Sooner Nation that he has a chance to possibly be OU's next All-American at wide receiver.

Redshirt freshman Quentin Chaney and Lendy Holmes battled off an on for the third starting spot in the three wide receiver sets, and both had great moments. Fred Strong is the third member of that group. While not as polished as the other two, Strong showed good speed and showed that he will be a factor in the future at OU.

Tristen Ross had an up-and-down spring game with four catches and four drops, but for most of spring he had the best hands on the team. By his own admission, Ross was 15 pounds overweight this spring, but still showed that he could get open and for the most of the spring caught everything in sight.

"I thought it was a very positive spring and some guys made some positive strides," said OU wide receiver coach Darrell Wyatt. "It was evident at the Red/White scrimmage that Lendy Holmes is going to be a player here at the University of Oklahoma, and I think Quentin Chaney had some moments. He has had a great spring, but what we had a chance to see is the difference from playing in practice and in front of large crowd for the first time.

"I think you saw some young guys in the final scrimmage where their nerves become a bit of a factor, and you have to be able to concentrate in front of a big crowd. However, I think it is a positive experience and one that we will grow from."

Chaney came up with a number of big plays this spring and did it once again in the scrimmage. For Chaney, this spring was a chance to prove that he could be a player at OU.

"I think this spring I proved that I do belong at OU and that I can play here," said Chaney. "I think most people felt I needed to be a tight end or play basketball or something because of my size, but I know I can play at this level and play at a great program like OU. I had a good spring, but I still have a lot to work on. I have a lot of confidence after this spring and I can't wait to get started in the offseason."

The Sooners like to play five to six wide receivers a game, and by the looks of things OU has that kind of talent available.

"I think Quentin Chaney and Lendy Holmes definitely established themselves as guys that can go out and make plays and help us win football games," said Coach Wyatt. "We have had some other guys that have been up-and-down this spring, but we will have some heated competition with our incoming freshman. All four of them have a chance to play for us. Three of the four guys were actually at our final scrimmage and they are a good-looking group. I am excited this fall to work with all those talented guys."

***

In all, the fact that the defense dominated the spring game is not something that people should worry about.

"I used to come back and watch Jimbo Elrod and that great defense just dominate the offense in spring practice and in the spring game," said former Sooner All-American center Tom Brahaney. "Then when the season started that wishbone offense would start rolling up 300 yards-plus rushing per game and 40 points per game, while that defense would continue to dominate opponents. Spring football means a lot of things, but the final game doesn't tell us if one unit is going to be a lot better than the other one. People shouldn't judge the offense from this game."

My point exactly. Tomorrow, we will look at the defense.

Note: I will be gathering names of prospects that attended the scrimmage over the next few days. Quarterback Jevan Snead of Stephenville, Texas, spent a couple of day in Norman looking around. Highly thought of wide receiver Jermaine Gresham of Ardmore, Okla. looked like he was having a good time on Saturday, and the same can be said of defensive end Derek Burton of Muskogee. Linebacker Anthony Lewis Haltom, Texas, has become a top priority for the Sooners, and from all reports he had a fantastic weekend in Norman.

Signees that have been positively identified at the scrimmage thus far included linebackers Lamont Robinson, Ryan Reynolds and Curtis Lofton; defensive backs Reggie Smith, Nic Harris and Keenan Clayton; defensive tackles DeMarcus Granger and Cordero Moore; wide receivers Malcolm Kelley, Manuel Johnson and Juaquin Iglesias. Also, tight end Aaron Cummings was in attendance.


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