Talking offense with Kevin Sumlin

Will J.D. Runnels (pictured above) get to carry the ball next year? Can the tight ends finally emerge as major pass-catching threats in the offense? Oklahoma Tight End/Fullback coach Kevin Sulmin answers those questions and much more.

Most of the Sooner coaching staff is out recruiting, but only seven can be on the road at one time. Last week, OU tight end coach and special teams coordinator Kevin Sumlin was in Kentucky and Houston evaluating players, but this week he is in the office doing recruiting work from the home base.

Knowing that Coach Sumlin would be in the office, Bob Barry Jr. and I decided to give him a call to talk some Sooner football today on Sports Morning on the Sports Animal.

BBJ: Are you having a little bit of down time after spring? Or are you guys still running around recruiting and going crazy?

KS: "Yeah, during this time of year after the spring game, for the next week we sit down and we talk to our players that we coach individually and assess where they are. We discuss goals for them for next year, how they did in the spring and where we would like for them to be in the fall. After that, we all hit the road evaluating juniors. We are all over the country right now looking at juniors, and evaluating guys figuring out who we are offering and who we are going to try to get into the boat."

JH: One thing that is very evident is that OU has become a national recruiting school. I know you can't talk about names, but talk about the fact that OU is all over the country and not just in Oklahoma and Texas any more.

KS: "I think our philosophy has changed a little bit over the last couple of years. We have done well in Texas and we have done well in-state, and we have done well in states regionally. We started a year before last and we targeted top players at each coach's position no matter where they were located in the country and we went out and tried to recruit them.

"I think it worked then and it really worked last year as our recruiting class was strong. It was one of the top classes in the country. We signed players from 13 different states and that speaks to the program to our notoriety nationally. When you recruit further away you probably have a little less chance of landing some guys, but we have been successful for the last couple of years."

BBJ: I am going to play role of the fan and ask when are you going to get another Trent Smith and get a tight end that can catch touchdown passes?

KS: "I am ready for this question. I get asked this question all the time. It is no different than when I go out to eat. When you look at the draft and what happened we had three or four wide receivers that were pretty good. They were actually better than pretty good, they were real good. That is why they are going to play in the NFL.

"Our philosophy here is to get the ball to our best players. When you have guys that talented and that deep you are gong to utilize them. Now, as this season comes on, we are going to have some younger wide receivers and we are going to have some experienced tight ends. So, our roles are going to change a little bit.

"Are we going to lead the team in receptions? Probably not, but with our experience and the fact that all three of our guys having played in big games, and they have made big plays in big games, our experience is going to be a factor for us next year. I think our tight ends are going to be utilized much more."

JH: Your tight ends were actually used more last year, but you have receivers who are developing like Joe Jon Finley, who appears to be growing into a great receiver?

KS: "You look back three years ago when you lost a talent like Trent Smith, and at that time Trent was a lot older and Mark (Clayton). Those guys were a lot younger, so Trent caught a lot more balls and he was around the football more. The very next year Bubba Moses had played very little, Willie Roberts had just arrived from junior college and Joe Jon had never played the position. We were really starting with a young crew three years ago, but now they have kind of come into their own.

"They have played in a lot of big games and each guy has contributed as all three of them caught touchdowns last year. They all have played in big games for us, they have played on the road, they have played in some big stadiums and they have played in crucial points in games. I think their experience is going to be a factor and we are real happy with their development."

BBJ: Talk about J.D. Runnels and the fullbacks. Who is behind J.D. at this point?

KS: "J.D. does so much for our football team that people don't see, and there are a lot of things that go into that. J.D. is a great player and he is a leader by example and a very, very physical football player. He is very smart and does a lot for us in pass protection. Another most asked question of me is whether J.D. is going to get to carry the ball this year? Yes, we have installed a play or two for J.D. to carry the ball.

"As far as his back-up goes, we moved Russell Dennison over right before the end of last season. He is one heck of a special team player and a good linebacker, but he is a better fit for offense, I think. We were surprise how well he ran and how well he caught the ball. He can be a physical player, as you have seen on kick-off coverage and everything else. It is just a matter of time for him getting reps, knowing where to go and who to block. I was real pleased with his development throughout the spring.

"We feel we have a quality back-up in Russell Dennison and Dane Zaslaw is coming off a knee injury, so we have some depth there. We also have a walk-on Jordan Greene, who people asked about after he caught all those passes the spring game two years ago. He has good size. And actually, J.D. is the smallest guy of the group.

"We feel real good about that position, especially with our freshman (Matt Clapp) coming in, who is also one heck of a player. We have real good depth at that position. J.D. is going to lead us and then we lose two real good football players at the end of the year."

JH: J.D. has developed into quite a leader on the team hasn't he?

KS: "We take for granted that the guy has started for 41 straight games since he has been here. His experience and knowledge of things that go on is amazing. I laugh at practice when I will look behind me and J.D. will be talking to Russell Dennison and he is coaching him. It is things that he has seen and things that he has experienced on the field. His experience and leadership are just invaluable to this football team."

BBJ: What was your perspective of the quarterback position in the spring and of this team's offensive capability going into the fall? Will it surprise some people?

KS: "I see it kind of like when I got here a couple years ago. We came into the spring and Jason is coming off an injury. We weren't real sure what was going on there at quarterback. Right now we are kind of in a developmental situation at quarterback.

"Are we capable? Yes. Do we have good players? Yes. Are they young? Yeah, and that is part of the deal. Every year the great thing about college football is the players. For us as coaches, the spring becomes a fun time, especially with young players because you watch them grow. I think that happened at the quarterback position and it is happening in the offensive line.

"With Adrian being out our inexperience was even more apparent at the running back position. I think, as we develop in two-a-days and going through practices, we are going to be fine. Whoever surfaces at that quarterback position is going to be more than capable of taking us to the National Championship game."

JH: Talk about the kicking game and how you going to develop some competition in the fall?

KS: "Cody Freeby struggled a little bit in the spring. He had some injury problems during the second half of the spring and that showed up. He is going to have to strengthen himself this summer, get some rehab and come back and work hard this summer.

"I think Garrett Hartley really finished the year strong for us last year. That came through the spring as he did everything we asked of him and he made his only attempt in the spring game. With the breeze here in the stadium. I thought he kicked the ball off very well. His height and hang time were excellent and he kicked the ball most of the time into the end zone.

"It is a developmental thing with both guys. Both guys are young and I have seen, as you have seen, that over time players get better and that will be the case with both guys. Obviously, we are going to create some competition for them in the fall because that is Coach Stoops' style. We are going to have people that play at a championship level, and with that comes competition for the position. So, I wouldn't worry about that right now."

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