The Sooners held a spirited two and a half hour workout on Friday, their first day in pads this spring. It was also the first outdoor workout and the coaches wasted little time in working on all aspects of their game.
The first hour was spent in individual drills before the offense and defense were brought together for about a 25 minute session to work on the running game. Behind the offensive line of Branndon Braxton, Sherrone Moore, Chad Roark, Duke Robinson and Chris Messner, Adrian Peterson looked to be in mid-season form, ripping off some big gains off-tackle and wide. Peterson was especially effective running left behind Robinson and Messner and made some impressive cutbacks during the session.
Brody Eldridge joined Joe Jon Finley in the double tight end formation, with Matt Clapp at fullback. With Ben Barresi expected to be sidelined about a week with an ear infection, Chad Roark got all of the first team snaps at center, and a great deal of them with the second unit. Cameron Schacht spelled him briefly, but Roark got yeoman work today.
All eyes were on Brian Simmons, the redshirt freshman who has been moved from defensive tackle to offensive guard because of the lack of depth this spring, and also because of the success OU has had in making such moves in the past. After seeing Simmons work there today, Coach Bob Stoops indicated that the move was likely permanent.
"I thought he looked awesome for one day and just on the run trying to teach him where he's going and what to do", Stoops said after practice. "But he looks like a natural in there, much like I kind of equate it and evaluate it looking like a Davin (Joseph) and a Jammal Brown the way they made the transition. I think it has a chance to be really good for Brian as well."
"Of course, if it didn't look good, we wouldn't do it. But I can tell already he looks, again, very natural and it looks like it's going to be really good for him. And it will help us as a team as well."
Simmons, 6-5 and 285, worked at both left and right guard and spent extra time after practice working with offensive line coach James Patton on technique. He told me he excited about the move and ready to learn his new position.
"I'm learning a lot. I didn't realize offensive linemen had to know so much", said Simmons. "I feel like I did alright for my first day, but my hamstring hurt a little, so I'm not 100 pecent yet. But I honestly feel like I did pretty good, I mean, for my first time as an offensive lineman here."
I asked him if the move caught him by surprise or if he had been thinking about it.
"I'm going to be honest. I thought about it a lot. I feel like I can get on the field sooner at this position. I'm just going to give it a shot and I feel like I'm going to do well at it. Honestly, I wouldn't have made the move if I didn't think I was going to do good at it, so I'm looking forward to the opportunity."
And Simmons said the coaches emphasized the success that Joseph and Brown had in making the switch to offense.
"Yeah, yeah, they really did and it helped the transition come a lot easier. They said I would be able to use my athletic ability as an o-lineman and it would give me an advantage over most offensive linemen. I played tight end in high school, so I've got a little bit of an offensive mindset, but it's been so long that I really need to do a lot of work to catch up."
Stoops was generally pleased with the first day in pads, except for problems with the snap count, which the team continued to work on during practices. That, said the head coach, was something that was to be expected.
Peterson was impressive all day and even lowered his head to get a shot on the defender on one play. That's a little bit unfair since defenders are not allowed to hit the Sooners franchise player down low. AD says he couldn't help himself.
"They've kind of gotten used to that now, because they know that's how I run the ball, so if it becomes a one-on-one, they just need to get prepared or move out of the way," said Peterson.
The junior-to-be also looked good in the 7-on-7 passing drills, scooping up a low throw by quarterback Rhett Bomar on the run and making several catches downfield.
Bomar had his way with the defense in the early part of the passing drills hitting five of six early, the lone incompletion a drop of a pass to Joe Jon Finley that was right on the money about 20 yards downfield over the middle. Finley had his hands turned the wrong way and was upset with himself over the play. He made up for it later in the full squad contact drills, catching a deep bomb from Bomar that left secondary coach Bobby Jack Wright getting all over safety Darien Williams.
Both Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias made some outstanding catches during the passing session, as did Paul Thompson, who was working as the third receiver in the set. Backup Fred Strong was very impressive as well, hauling in a number of passes from both Bomar and Halzle. While Bomar was sharp early, Halzle struggled, with the difference in arm strength glaringly evident.
Defensively, Calvin Thibodeaux returned to practice today and ran well, recording what would have been a sack during the full team workout. Reggie Smith and Lendy Holmes had interceptions, with Holmes streaking down the sideline to put an end to the 11-on-11 session. Jason Carter, who is getting a shot at the safety position this spring, also had a solid workout, breaking up several passes.
Carter is enthused about his chance to try and earn a starting position in the secondary.
"That's real good for me to build my confidence, coming off of last season, I got in a few times and made some plays and whatnot. I think the coaches know my ability to come in and be a leader in the secondary and actually contribute," Carter said. "I think I will get a legitimate shot to start, but I think we've got a great group of guys in there. Every one of them is capable of making plays."
Larry Birdine and C.J. Ah You also put pressure on the quarterback in the full squad passing session, as did Steven Coleman.
The team spent about 20 minutes working on punting situations, with Mike Knall and Garrett Hartley getting the work there. Reggie Smith was the punt returner and caught every one of them, with just one slight bobble. It's looking more and more like he will get the nod as this year's punt return man.
Another interesting wrinkle is that Paul Thompson was the up back on the punting team, creating a myriad of options for any potential fake punt situations the Sooners might have in mind. As far as the punt rushing team, Allen Patrick broke through to block one punt.
And there has been so much talk about the "new and improved" look of guard Duke Robinson that I had to talk to him about his physical transformation.
"When I first came in, I was about 380 or something like that. But at first you couldn't tell unless you looked at the before and after pictures, because I really couldn't tell. I got with Schmitty, you know, worked hard on nutrition, got rid of the body fat and stayed dedicated and it helped," said the now 330-pound Robinson.
Has it made a difference in the way he feels on the field?
"I tell you what, in the summertime, I used to come in last in the "gassers" (running drills) but never again. It hasn't happened since last season."
Robinson also says he feels better about playing inside at guard.
"I feel comfortable at both guard and tackle. At first I really didn't like guard, but I got more versatile, well, I was versatile already but it was a tougher job than at tackle. It's easier at pass protection, but you've got to be able to read the defense more, you know what I'm saying? Read the inside, you've got to know where the two inside linebackers are and read the three and the one set, so you can get straight with the center and the tackle beside you."
The team will begin practice at 11 a.m. Saturday morning in the stadium and then hold a 60-play scrimmage starting at 12:15 p.m.
Gates will oepn at 10 a.m. Gates 1 and 11 will be open. Both are on the west side.
Friday's Practice Report (3/24)
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