Oklahoma's 2006 edition of spring practice ended just like it began, with the defense getting the best of the offense in a non-tackling workout.
The last hour or so of the practice was in a typical scrimmage format, but tackling wasn't allowed.
"It was good," said OU head coach Bob Stoops, who was seen working on his golf swing on the 40-yard line early on in practice. "We didn't end up scrimmaging. I kind of chickened out on it. I felt fortunate that we have been all through spring and not had any injuries, and we didn't get any today. I just didn't want to take a chance of something happening. That means all of our guys will be able to do the strength and conditioning training through the off-season and summer.
"We had a physical and aggressive team (drill) and it looked like a scrimmage, until we started to just square people up and butted instead of trying to twist people in the ground and what not. It was good as the guys have worked hard this spring and made good progress."
For the day, the Sooners' first team defense pitched a shutout keeping Rhett Bomar and the first team offense out of the end zone in the full-field portion of the workout that pitted the first team offense against the first team defense. In the process, they picked off Bomar twice, both of which would've been returned for touchdowns by Reggie Smith and Lendy Holmes.
Joey Halzle and the second team offense faired better. Halzle led the second team to two scoring drives against the second team defense throwing two touchdowns in the process.
The first was a beautiful 50-plus yard bomb down the sideline to a streaking Eric Huggins. Huggins responded to his touchdown catch by spiking the ball over the goal post.
"Eric had a good day," Stoops said. "He caught a nice deep ball and looked good. He is making progress and getting better."
On his second touchdown pass, Halzle hit Joe Jon Finley over the middle for a 5-yard score. Halzle also executed a perfect play-action pass to Finley in the corner of the end zone for a 15-yard touchdown in the red zone portion of the scrimmage.
Bomar did throw two interceptions in the scrimmage portion of the workout, but to his credit he was on fire in the skelly and team blitz drills. Bomar hit Finely over the middle a couple times for big gains and tossed a couple of other touchdowns threading the needle over the middle.
New QB coach Josh Heupel talked about the progress Bomar and Halzle made this spring.
"Both of them had a better understanding of what we are trying to accomplish as we went through the spring," Heupel said. "We still have a long ways to go at the quarterback position as we head into the summer workouts and before we get into fall camp. They have gotten better, but they have to have a great summer if we want to end up where we want to be next fall.
"The spring is all about feeding them as much as they can to see what they are good at and not good at, and just seeing how much they can handle. You can try to limit their mistakes each and every Saturday they come out there on the football field.
"This summer, they'll get out there and throw with the receivers. We need to get better with the timing with our receivers and going through the reading progression and getting the ball to the right guy at the right time."
Adrian Peterson and Allen Patrick were once against pretty much rendered useless in the running game with the no-tackle policy. Peterson and Patrick were also split out on a couple of plays, but Kevin Wilson says that was more to help the defense prepare for those situations than him attempting to open up the offense. Tight end's Brody Eldridge and Joe Jon Finley were both impressive catching several passes over the middle.
As mentioned above, Eric Huggins had one of his better workouts of the spring with the long touchdown reception and another 20-plus yard catch on a deep out against the first team secondary. Paul Thompson, Juaquin Iglesias and Malcolm Kelly got most of the work with the first unit.
Speaking of Thompson, the quarterback turned receiver who was impressive in the Red-White game, capped his spring by from Day 1 to Day 15.
"It's just coming with reps," said Thompson on his progress. "You get more comfortable with the position and I feel I have done that just watching film and sitting in there with Coach Sumlin. He's helping me a lot with technique, getting off the ball on time and with my routes. I think that's showed the last couple of weeks.
Thompson says his confidence has also grown more this spring.
"I have more confidence in my hands," Thompson said. "I'm always going to try and catch with my hands. With my big body, I can block some defenders off and reach out there without them coming over the top, so I'm using that to my advantage."
As for the offensive line, we thought they did a pretty nice job today protecting the quarterbacks and giving them time to throw. The starters were Cameron Schacht center, Brian Simmons and Duke Robinson at guard and Branndon Braxton and Chris Messner at tackle. Freshman center Chad Roark missed practice for the third straight day apparently with some conflicts in the classroom.
As for the run game, it was hard to tell how good the line looked with the no-tackle policy. However, it looked like on a couple of carries that Peterson was potentially going to break some big runs.
After practice, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson talked about the offenses progress this spring.
"I don't know if we got everything. I think we are making some strides where we want to go," Wilson said. "We got a lot of work for those lineman. We're working really hard to see where our tight end and fullback can get. I think Adrian, practicing everyday, is going to be more polished. He's going to be better in protection for throwing.
"I like Rhett's progress over the last three days. Even on the plays that we don't complete, was because maybe we had a protection breakdown or the guy making the catch didn't go to the right place at the right time. I've had the best feeling about him since the time that I have been here.
"We are a long way from where we ought to be, but there's a lot of talent a lot of good players that are going the right way. It's never perfect on offense, but I like where we are at right now.
"I think we threw enough to the receivers to get a gauge how far Thompson has come and exactly what Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson can do for our team, and for Fred Strong and some guys like that."
Wilson also talked about the development of the offensive line, and how the lack of depth there hurt them in everything else they wanted to do this spring.
"We got a lot of work for a lot of talented linemen against a lot of guys," Wilson said. "And in some ways, fatigue set in for some of those guys. But they got into a lot of different situations to where they will hit next fall not as rookie-ish or ill veteran as they were coming into this spring.
"Again, we were a little limited with our run game and the way we do things, so we worked a lot on the pass game and I think we evolved a lot in some protections."
Wilson also said the Sooners couldn't get as physical as they would've liked to in scrimmages because of the lack of depth on the line.
"It was really tough to do that because we just didn't have the numbers, and we didn't have Adrian running at full speed," Wilson said. "Sometimes when you do a play over and over and you don't tackle, you can't get a good view or feel for the play because the defense is pulling off. A lot of times it's subjective and it's a 1, 2, or 3 yard gain that maybe is a 4 or 5 yard because of his power or strength.
"I think in our individual and inside drills, yes, I think we were able to get some physical play. But I think in our scrimmages, they went a different way. Now I think in our preseason we will be able to do some things and get physical. We'll have better numbers and we can get more physical in two-a-days. I don't question our toughness. We had to be smart, but with the way we were set up we just didn't want to pound our guys."
As mentioned above, it was a good day for the first team defense, as they held the first team offense out of the end zone while picking off two passes.
"We are strong there," said Stoops. "I keep saying it, but they have a huge advantage with all the recognition. They are so familiar with what our offense is doing, but we are still improving in both areas because we are going good on good against each other."
The starters to begin the scrimmage were Alonzo Dotson and C.J. Ah You at defensive end, Cory Bennett and Steven Coleman at defensive tackle, Rufus Alexander, Curtis Lofton and Demarrio Pleasant at linebacker, D.J. Wolfe and Reggie Smith at corner and Darien Williams and Jason Carter at safety. Ryan Reynolds also split time with Pleasant at strongside linebacker.
Once again, it was another solid day for the secondary. Reggie Smith picked off one Bomar pass on a slant pattern that he would've taken to the house. And he should've had another when he perfectly timed a pass to the fullback out of the backfield, but the ball hit him in his hands and fell to the ground, which also made DB coach Bobby Jack Wright fall to the ground on his knees in disgust.
Lendy Holmes, who once again worked as the nickel back, picked off a pass and returned it to the end zone. He also followed the trend that Huggins set by spiking the ball over the goal post.
Darien Williams also made a great play to pick off a Bomar pass on the sideline to Malcolm Kelly, but the catch was ruled out of bounds. Both Williams and Carter continued to start at safety, but this race is far from over as Nic Harris and Keenan Clayton will continue to push for starting spots next fall.
Special Teams Notes
As for Mike Knall and Garrett Hartley punting today, let's just say it wasn't an impressive display. Truth be told, the players standing on the sidelines almost got as much of an opportunity to field punts as Reggie Smith and Manuel Johnson did.
Jason Carter blocked one punt and another snap by Clint Gresham sailed over Knall's head. Hartley did look sensational on kick-offs booting just about every attempt into the end zone against a slight wind.
Summing it up
After the practice, Stoops was asked about the high points of the 2006 spring season.
"I don't know if anything has truly been accomplished yet, so I would be careful in saying that we are there in any area. This team is so young and has so much potential for improvement that every area needs to continue to get better. The structure and discipline defensively, the consistency of knowing what to do, the recognition of fundamentals and basics is real obvious to me.
"Offensively, our offensive line has made good progress, but they still a long way to go. They have made it and hung together the whole time showing a lot of toughness without having much of a rotation. They have competed well. They have good ability and they have gained really valuable experience. The running backs have gained more experience being out here as much as they have. Receivers and quarterbacks have gotten better. Again, everybody has a long way to go, but they all got a lot of good repetitions."
Thursday's Practice Report (4/13)
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