Spring Locker Room Report: Offense Recap

See inside for a position-by-position recap of the offensive side on spring practice, including quotes from Bob Stoops, Kevin Wilson, James Patton, Kevin Sumlin, Cale Gundy, Rhett Bomar, Adrian Peterson, Allen Patrick, Malcolm Kelly and Duke Robinson. (AP Photo/Ty Russell)

There is one thing that is very clear about the Sooner offense under new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. Being what he calls a 'fat guy, which is his term of endearment for offensive linemen that Wilson is among the fraternity, he wants his offense to be known for being physical more than anything else, and more so it appears than when Chuck Long was the offensive coordinator.

This may be nothing more than a difference in how a former offensive lineman thinks compared to a former quarterback, but never before in the spring was playing physical the main theme for each position.

"I just think if you are going to be a great offensive football team you have to be physical enough to run the football, and to always be able to pick up short-yardage when you need to," said Wilson toward the end of spring. "That doesn't mean at all that we don't want to be creative in our thinking and that we can't trick teams or whatever. We have a creative offense and there will be many times we out-formation a defense or disguise what we do enough to create a big play. However, lets not kid ourselves because we are not re-inventing football out here and coming up with an offense that nobody has ever seen before. To make it work, most of the time you have to out-execute your opponent and be more physical than your opponent."

"There isn't a position on the field where you are not physical in football," said Wilson. "It is a physical sport and our guys on offense are learning that to play the game right and the way we want to play it you have to be very physical. I think we improved in this area this spring, but we are not where we need to be, but we got better.

"In the offensive line, we were short-handed but those guys never complained. They kept fighting and they actually learned more than any other position how to play hard for the entire practice. At least they showed improvement in that area, and I think those guys will have a little confidence going into two-a-days. However, I think at tight end and fullback, where I have the responsibility, I think they need to play much more physical. We didn't have many knockdowns at either position. And at both of those positions, you have to be incredibly physical at the point of attack.

"This summer, all the guys at those two positions need to get bigger and stronger and get ready to come into preseason camp ready to play. Like I have told them, we don't have to use tight ends or fullbacks in our offense. I think we have some good players there so we will see what happens in camp."

However, in saying all that, Wilson felt this spring was a successful one for the Sooner offense.

"I don't know if we got everything that we wanted to get out of the spring, but I think we made some big strides," said Wilson after the final spring practice. "I think we got a lot of work for those offensive linemen, and we are working real hard to see where our tight end and fullback can get.

"I think Adrian (Peterson) practicing every day is going to get better in the run game, protection and catching in the pass game. I liked the last two or three days with Rhett (Bomar). Even on plays that he didn't make, because of a poor protection or a guy didn't go to the right place, he was going to the right place at the right time. I had the best feeling about him since I have been here. We are a long way from where we want to be, but there is a lot of good talent and a lot of good players going the right way. It is never perfect on offense, but I like where we are at right now."

The big question coming into the spring was the development of the offensive line, and coming out of the spring it is still the big question. It is not that the offensive line didn't make any progress, because as a unit they made great strides and the six individuals who finished the spring made giants strides thanks to a ton of reps, which would have normally not been available for them.

"I thought it was a great opportunity for me. I am sure that the other guys felt the same way," said sophomore Duke Robinson. "I mean, I would get 9 out of 10 reps and I could just tell I was getting better every day. For me, this has been a very good spring. I lost weight and got in better shape, and that helped me in all phases of the game up front. Then our lack of depth actually turned out to be a great thing for me, because I played every down and faced a defense that is really good. I have a lot of confidence right now and I am already looking forward to August."

The lack of depth is one of the reasons why redshirt freshman Brian Simmons moved over from defensive tackle to offensive guard, but the lack depth also provided a golden opportunity to move.

"One of the reasons why I wanted to move to offensive line is that I felt I could contribute to the team more and get on the field quicker," said Simmons during spring practice. "I moved over and started getting major reps immediately because there just weren't many of us around. That has really helped my develope in the offensive line. And because I am getting to play so much I think things are coming around for me very well."

That might be an understatement for Simmons, as the Sooner offensive coaches feel he has all the tools to be a great one before his time is up.

"We couldn't be happier with the way that Brian adjusted to the offensive line this spring," said OU head coach Bob Stoops. "In fact, there were times that he was our best offensive lineman this spring. He has all the tools and athletic ability to be a great offensive lineman, and if he has a great summer he will play a big role for us this season."

"Linemen are linemen. We know defensive linemen have to do some different things than we do because they read and react, and we have to asess some things on the offensive side," said offensive line coach James Patton. "'We have to wait and make sure we get to the guy we are assigned to block. Brian Simmons certainly has the talent. He is athletic, he is strong and he has a natural brut strength in there. He is playing well and he doesn't even really have the fundamentals down yet.

"So my evaluation to him is for him to learn the fundamentals and master the skills and techniques. If he does that he has a chance to be a real good player for us. The thing that he will have to continue to improve as he works in our off-season program and studies film this summer, is to know the schemes and know the assignments. Once he gets more comfortable with that, he can get a lot more assertive and could lead him to be a great player."

Simmons is just one of a number of talented players that the Sooners will have available in the fall.

"We certainly have a lot of talent and it will get better with a number of returning players that we have coming back," said Patton. "You look at Chris Messner, Duke Robinson, Branndon Braxton, and Brian Simmons stepping in there from when we moved him over from defense. Jon Cooper didn't get a chance to practice this spring, but we know he is a winning football player.

"The same goes for J.D. Quinn, who has played a lot of football for us. We just have to get them healthy and get them out on the field, but they have proven they can play. Ben Barresi lost some time this spring to injury, but I like what I have seen so far. Then we get five more talented players on our roster in the fall. We will have a lot more depth and some very talented players on our roster in the fall."

The Sooner coaching staff never looked at having only six offensive lineman a as a problem in the spring.

"We didn't have a great number of offensive linemen in the spring, but we had some very good offensive linemen in the spring," said coach Wilson. "We didn't have much depth, but you have to give those six guys credit because they never complained and they never bailed on us. They just kept battling and they kept a great attitude about them. Like I told them all spring, this was the best opportunity of their football lives because they were going to get all the reps. They had no choice but to improve if they just paid attention and gave great effort."

How the Sooners will line up in the offensive line come fall is still up in the air. Barring injury, the Sooners will have competition for playing time behind a position of strength and not desperation. Wilson has said many times that the five offensive linemen coming in are more talented than the two new offensive linemen that arrived and worked in the spring, and that bodes well for the future of the offensive line.

At the end of spring, the Sooners lined up most of the time from left to right with Messner, Robinson, Cameron Schacht, Brian Simmons/Sherrone Moore and Braxton. Barresi was bothered by an inner-ear infection and missed all but a week of practice, but when healthy he was doing well at both guard and center. Freshman Chad Roark also worked among the starting unit at center, but he didn't practice in the final three workouts due to discipline reasons and now is considering transferring out of the program.

Cooper will step back in at center and the coaches feel he has All-American capabilities. Quinn jumps right into the guard with Robinson, Simmons, Moore and Barresi. Barresi might also work at center behind Cooper. And despite running as the starting left guard throughout the spring, there is a chance that Robinson will be moved back out to tackle where he will work into a rotation with Messner and Braxton.

Robinson got in such good shape that he got his quickness back. As a true freshman, he wasn't quick or agile enough to play tackle, but this past spring he was without question quick and agile enough. He still lacks experience at tackle, but offensive tackles are hard to find and Robinson has the size and the athletic ability to play it and play it well.

Of course, he is perfectly suited to be a great offensive guard, but the Sooners appear to have more guard talent than tackle talent. Brandon Walker was rated the No. 2 offensive guard in Juco football a year ago, and at 6-3, 325 he brings a powerful punch into the program at guard. Jenks standout Chase Beeler also figures to be a guard or center, leaving freshmen Curtis Bailey, Cory Brandon and Trent Williams at tackle.

Just how much the true freshmen can help next years remains to be seen, but if Walker is as good as advertised then OU would have him along with Robinson, Simmons, Quinn and Moore, who are all considered good enough to start. Walker might be the key in determining Robinson's move back to tackle, but that is something we won't find out until next fall.

There was no controversy this time around in the spring at quarterback, as sophomore Rhett Bomar is clearly the starter. But the Sooners may have found his back-up in Juco transfer Joey Halzle.

For Bomar, it was a spring where the coaches challenged him to stretch his boundaries as a football player and to become more than just a talented athlete playing quarterback.

"We have asked him to start being the guy that manages the offense and not just be a quarterback," Wilson said. "He has some talent, but he is not the guy that manages our team the way we want it to go. We are trying to work with him, and Josh is doing a great job of that. Time will tell if he buys in, how far he buys in, and it may determine how far we go."

Bomar struggled throwing the deep ball for much of the spring and the coaches worked to change his mechanics on the throw, wanting him to put more air under the ball instead of his traditional line drive throws. However, Bomar was outstanding in the short and intermediate passing, especially the final week of practice. Halzle got off to a great start in the spring and then seemed to hit a wall halfway through getting picked off often the rest of the way. But for the most part, the play of the quarterbacks was a success.

"Both of them got a better understanding of what we are trying to accomplish here as we went through the spring," said quarterback coach Josh Heupel at the end of spring practice. "We still have a long ways to go at the quarterback position and as an offense before we get into fall camp next year. However, both have continued to work, got better, but both are going to have to have a great summer if we want to get where we want to be next fall. We will able to implement some new schemes with coach Wilson and the change at the coordinator. We also had a bunch of changes at the position coaches as well. I think both of them grasped it pretty well and hopefully they will get much better throughout the summer."

It is talked about every spring, but it is so true in college football — that spring is just the start of a long process to get ready for the season ahead.

"The spring is all about feeding them all they can handle and seeing what they can grasp," said Heupel. "Spring is to see how much they can handle before you head into fall camp, so that you can limit their mistakes each and every Saturday that they come out there on the football field. This summer, they will get out there and throw with the wide receivers and we really need to get better at some timing within our route schemes. Those guys will throw in seven-on-seven and continue to get a better understanding of defensive schemes that they will be going up against, and going through their reading progression and getting the ball to the right guy at the right time."

Bomar is beginning to show the leadership qualities that the coaches are hoping for, and he is looking forward to a great summer ahead.

"Yeah, I am 'the guy' on team. And as 'the guy' it is my responsibility to get seven-on-seven drills organized this summer," said Bomar. "I have watched some of the best do it since I have been in here in Jason White and Paul Thompson, and now it is my responsibility to do it. It takes a total commitment from our football team to make the off-season successful, and I think we have a great attitude on this football team. I think we have a team that wants to win and a mature team that realizes that we need a great summer to ensure that."

"I think I had a pretty good spring, and as an offense we had a good spring," Bomar continued. "I can't tell you how proud I am of our offensive linemen. They worked short-handed but never missed a down and never complained. Those guys played well this spring. On the one hand, AD improved as a player because he got a chance to go through spring, but our offense was limited because AD wasn't allowed to get hit. I wasn't either and you know AD is going to break a bunch of tackles. I would like to think you can't arm-tackle me either, so that limited our offense some. We got some great work in the passing game and I think by the end of the spring we were a much better passing unit."

Every good team has to have a good back-up quarterback and Halzle showed signs of being just that in the spring. However, his tailspin towards the end of spring still leaves some doubt and leaves open the competition with freshman quarterback Sam Bradford in the fall.

"I thought Joey did an excellent job, especially early on," said coach Stoops. "When you consider how limited and how few of snaps that he had coming in, then his play was encouraging. He has a good arm, but he made some mistakes out there. That is natural, as he realized the change in speed out there compared from where he was at, to the way our guys can run and close. It was challenging for him, but he has a good attitude about him and he is a smart player. He has a good arm and he has all the characteristics that you look for in a quarterback.

"I really believe that he is going to be a huge help to us as we travel through the year and years to come. He has a good head on his shoulders about the way he plays football, and he is going to help. We like our freshman quarterback as well. Sam has a lot of talent and we are looking forward to getting him into to camp to see what he can do."

At running back, the Sooners were limited thanks to the ACL injury to super Sooner Jacob Gutierrez that kept him out of spring practice. I ran into Gute recently around the OU football office and he said he would be cleared to start running straight ahead in another week.

With Gute out, AD and AP (Allen Patrick) were left to man the tailback duties.

"It is the first spring for me so it was real good for me," said Peterson, toward the end of spring practice. "I worked on fundamentals on everything that we do. I worked hard on pass protection and running routes in the passing game. I also thought I improved on catching the ball. I can catch the ball. I know everybody wonders about that, but I have good hands and I can catch the ball. They (coaches) just haven't thrown it to me yet.

"I also have been working on the timing with our o-line in the running game. I am too fast sometimes and I don't let the blocking develop in front of me. It is hard for me because I just want to take off and go, but sometimes it is better if I wait a second. I think I am going to be better at that next fall."

"It was a great spring for me, because I haven't had a chance to play much running back in a while," said Patrick. "I got a chance to get a lot of reps and I think I got better at everything. I am playing behind a great running back in AD, but he is going to need to rest at some point in the game. And when he does I am going to be ready."

While there were no major complaints about AD's performance in the spring, he was given the same challenge that Rhett was and that was to become a better all-around football player.

"Much like Rhett, everybody keeps telling me how good AD is. But I just think he is real talented," said Wilson. "I still don't think he is a great player. He makes a lot of great plays because of his athletic ability, but he misses some plays because of his lack of patience that he has. It is just a lack of understanding of our offense. We tried to be smart and not get him hit, but he needs to be a better player without the ball.

"He needs to be better player in protection, recognizing blitzes, and catching the ball so that he becomes a good guy catching the football. He needs to continue to work on how to set up blocks and not just run fast to the right. He needs to continue to work on getting a feel of the pace of the play and let some blocks happen. He needs to get a feel for the defenders so that he can find some cutbacks over there too."

The work it not complete, but there is no question that the running backs are better players than before the spring started.

"I think both of them have improved this spring," said running back coach Cale Gundy toward the end of spring practice. "They are two very talented running backs and I would challenge any other team in the America to come up with two running backs as talented as AD and AP. However, they needed to work on just becoming better players. AD had never gone through a spring, so just improving on fundamentals was very important for him. And AP hasn't been a running back for very long, so every snap he was learning and improving on something."

"Plus, since we didn't have but two running backs we didn't run the ball that much in the spring, so both guys got a bunch of opportunities to work in the passing game," Gundy continued. "Both improved their pass protection and both improved running routes out of the backfield and catching the ball. We are excited about using them out of the backfield, because both are very fast and both are very good in the open field. So that is something that we hope to take advantage of this fall."

OU will add three talented freshman running backs in DeMarco Murray, Chris Brown and Mossis Madu, but it will be tough for any of them to earn any playing time if Gutierrez returns to full strength.

At wide receiver, the Sooners returned all but one of the primary players from the year before. However, they all played as freshman last year so a sense of urgency was still there this spring for this talented group.

"We talked every day this spring about gaining maturity and what we are looking for is consistency," said wide receiver coach Kevin Sumlin following spring practice. "We have some guys with great talent, but what we don't want to see is flashes of great places one day and then dropping off with bad plays the next. Maturity is about being consistent and giving us something that we can count on, and that is what we are wanting out of the whole group."

As you might expect, sophomore's Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias lead the way for the receiving corps this spring.

"The two guys who came to play every day are Malcolm Kelly, who has tried to do some things adjusting to some new routes and some route adjustments," said Sumlin. "Juaquin Iglesias has made plays for us all spring. Those two guys have shown that they can make plays in big games and they have continued that in every practice this spring. Paul (Thompson) came on towards the end of spring and Paul has improved. His challenge is going to be to keep improving throughout the summer. Manuel Johnson also played well at times last year, but needs to work on his consistency. He has great ability and excellent speed, but we are still looking to find out what we can get out of him on each play."

"Then we have seen flashes and improved maturity about the other guys," Sumlin continued. "Fred Strong had some standout scrimmages, but it hasn't become an everyday thing for him or Quentin Chaney. So those guys, and Eric Huggins, really need to adapt to what we are trying to do. And when we are talking about maturity we are talking about what we can count on from you every time, instead of flashes of this and that. They worked hard at this spring, and I think they understand what we are trying to do as coaches. I think they are trying to get there."

Kelly is ready to have a breakout season.

"I think this spring went real well for me and the guys," said Kelly. "I was able to work on a lot of small things that are going to make me a better receiver. Now I have to continue to work on those things throughout the summer, but I am very confident that we are going to have a great group of receivers in the fall."

Prospects Adron Tennell and Brandon Caleb are both as talented as the great freshmen group of receivers that were signed and played so well for the Sooners last season, and both will get a chance to prove they deserve playing time. OU wants to play six wide receivers and you figure at least three are open with Kelly, Iglesias and Thompson as sure bets.

At tight end, Joe Jon Finley has bulked up to 245 pounds and still running well and catching the ball. Finely is the starter, but he has a very capable back-up in Brody Eldridge, who is considered a more physical player and a better blocker but not a better pass receiver.

"We moved Brody over to offense and we really like him as a tight end," said Coach Stoops. "He is a physical guy and can give us that physical blocker that we need. He has good hands, but he needs time to work on them and improve on them just because he hasn't caught enough balls. He has the ability to be a good receiver as well, and he will help us tight end. Joe Jon improved for us at the point of attack, but he has to continue to get better. He is a great weapon for us as a receiver and something we haven't really had at the position since Trent Smith."

Both Finley and Eldridge will play more physical to get maximum playing time in the fall, but that is expected to happen. Super prospect Jermaine Gresham will also get a long look this fall is his ACL is totally healed. Gresham says he is way ahead of schedule.

At fullback, junior Dane Zaslaw finished spring just ahead of sophomore Matt Clapp, but the competition is far from over. Clapp suffered a stinger midway through spring and limited him somewhat for close to two weeks. Both will need to become more physical to ensure playing time this fall.

As for the effort to make Bomar and AD better all-around football players, we turn to the head ball coach himself.

"I think that has been the case," said Stoops. "You should be constantly evolving and improving. And because the game is more complex you have to realize that there is more to it than just your position. You will become a better player if you try to understand what everybody else is doing, and also recognizing defenses and what is coming at you and how you can take advantage of what a defense is doing. There is a lot to it and those guys are improving all the time, and certainly pushing to improve. They still have a huge upside just because of how young they are. They are working towards it. They have had good attitudes about it and we expect them to keep improving that way."

Last but not least, the kicking game. And again we turn to the Head Ball Coach for his thoughts.

"I feel very good about kicker Garrett Hartley," said Stoops. "He was a little bit inconsistent a year ago, but I still believe he has a chance to be a really, really solid kicker and a guy who you can really depend on. Hays McEachern held throughout the bowl preparation. I don't even know if anybody knew that he was in there for the bowl game, but we gave him that opportunity and he was awesome with it. "We need to continue to improve at center (snapper). Clint Gresham did a fair job in the spring, but he has improvement to do.

"Obviously, with Mike Knall and in the punting we have to improve. He has been here over a year and at times has shown the ability to do what we need, but he has been inconsistent with it. We also probably need to get Garrett more punts and an opportunity there. Then we will see what the possibilities are as we are out recruiting this year, and see is there are any other options."

Freshman Eric Mensik will be given chance to win the deep snapper job. And it looks like Reggie Smith is going to be the main punt returner with Manuel Johnson backing him. Smith and Patrick will be the kick returners.

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