It was the first day of spring football practice, but even Oklahoma Head Football Coach Bob Stoops had basketball on his mind on Tuesday.
"Spring football is not that big a deal right now," said Stoops, who was sporting an NCAA Final Four hat and polo at a pre-spring press conference before practice at the Barry Switzer Center. "It feels good to be a Sooner right now."
While basketball is obviously fresh on the minds of everyone at OU, Stoops' Sooners held their first spring practice in mid-50 degree temperatures and sunny skies.
Stoops did not hesitate to comment on what will be the most heavily watched position battle this spring with the quarterbacks.
Stoops, who is entering his fourth year at Oklahoma, hinted that junior quarterback Jason White was could be OU's No. 1 quarterback heading into spring practice.
"It's obvious that when he took the quarterback position that they had a great deal of confidence in that position at that time," said Stoops. "When he was the quarterback our offense looked good."
"Jason has progressed way ahead of schedule," said Stoops on White, who is believed to be one month ahead of schedule. "He will go through all non-contact drills and will get a great amount of throws this spring."
Stoops said that Brent Rawls and Nate Hybl are competing for the right to compete with Jason White next fall for the starting position. Last year's third-string quarterback — Hunter Wall — has been moved to tight end.
Today was also the much anticipated debut of running backs Kejuan Jones and Dante Hickson. Jones and Hickson have the credentials and buzz from last year's practices to make a run for playing time in Kevin Wilson's new-look two-back sets.
Jones is changing his number to #20, but did not participate in the first half of practice. Quentin Griffin is still running as OU's top running back, but will get pushed by Renaldo Works and Jerad Estus. Hickson looked really solid today catching balls out of the backfield. Larry Pinson is a transfer from Minnesota and a candidate at the h-back spot, but was held out of practice today.
Wilson had his first shot to work on rebuilding OU's offensive line, that lost key starters in Howard Duncan and Frank Romero. The first team line today consisted of Kelvin Chaisson (LG), Wes Sims (LT), Vince Carter (C), Mike Skinner (RG) and Jammal Brown (RT). Backing up the guards were Chike Ozumba, Chris Bush and Jarrod Barclay, and Bret Rayl and Jerod Fields were the backup tackles. Brad Davis is backing up Carter at center.
The Sooners have a stable corp of receivers and all looked very good today. Antwone Savage is slated to take over for Josh Norman in the slot while Mark Clayton and Curtis Fagan are set to start the spring on the outside. Ataleo Ford backed up Savage at the slot and Will Peoples and Brandon Jones backed up Clayton and Fagan.
Jones, who is also a reserve outfielder on the baseball team, worked out with the Sooners for the first half of practice before leaving to join the baseball team for the their game tonight against Alabama. Before today it was not known whether or not Jones would participate this spring, but in a somewhat interesting moment, Jones had a lengthy discussion with Stoops before he leaving practice early.
On the defensive side of the ball it's clear that Oklahoma is loaded in the secondary. Redshirt freshmen Eric Bassey got the first shot at replacing Roy Williams' now-famous "royback" position, and looked quick early on. Bassey is running first team alongside Brandon Everage at the safety spots while Derrick Strait and Andre Woolfolk started out at the corners.
Antonio Perkins also worked a lot at one corner with Woolfolk and is also battling Terrance Simms for the nickel back spot. Jowahn Poteat ran with Perkins as the second set of DB's and has impressed the coaches with his lighting speed.
Michael Thompson returned to practice for the first time since his car accident almost a year ago and is expected to go through all drills.
A lot of the attention at the today's practice was focused on juco linebackers Pasha Jackson and Lance Mitchell, who are going through their first spring as Sooners. And right off the bat one could tell both already look the part physically.
Mitchell is battling Clint Ingram for the starting inside linebacker spot and Jackson is in competition with redshirt freshmen Russell Dennison for the weakside linebacker spot.
Teddy Lehman moved from his middle linebacker spot a year ago and will man the strongside linebacker spot this spring. Jackson and Dennison also worked some SLB today along with Lehman. Co-Defensive Coordinators Mike Stoops and Brent Venables love to use a lot of nickel sets and they want Jackson and Dennison to learn both the SLB and WLB positions.
Oklahoma's defensive line was perhaps the strongest part of the Sooner defense last year and they looked even stronger today with the addition of Tennessee transfer Lynn McGruder and redshirt sophomore Dan Cody's return.
McGruder, a giant defensive lineman with tons of high school press clippings, definitely passed the eyeball test on day one. Cody, who sat out last season for personal reasons, is back stronger then ever and looked like a million dollars.
Juan Prishker is finally healthy for the first time as a Sooner, and Tommie Harris was his usual, phenomenal self.
Redshirt freshmen Jacob Hager also beefed up during the offseason and could see some extended time with the abscence of Dusty Dvoracek this spring. Dvoracek is sitting out this spring after having shoulder surgery.
North Carolina transfer Blake Ferguson is set to replace his brother, Jeff, as OU's starting punter and has impressed Coach Stoops so far during his redshirt year and today's practice.
"I think Blake will be a very comparable punter for us this year," said Stoops.
More to come on spring practice later this week.
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