Norman — Despite the off the field drama of the past two days, it's officially 'Football Time in Oklahoma' on the field.
The Sooners took the field for the first time this fall on Thursday in helmets, jerseys and shorts for a non-tackling, but spirited workout. The OU players and coaches were also saved from the immense heat of the past couple weeks, as a storm blew in cooling the temperature and also postponing the beginning of practice for roughly 30 minutes.
Of course, all eyes were on newly anointed starting quarterback Paul Thompson, who took every snap with the first unit. Thompson also sparked the team with a pep talk beforehand.
"I told them I'm gonna ride with you and if you'll ride with me we'll go get this thing done," said Thompson after practice.
As for Thompson's re-emergence at quarterback, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson didn't seem too concerned with the fact his new QB hadn't taken snaps there since last season.
"He was rusty in some ways," Wilson said. "In a perfect world, you'd be doing that stuff every day. In my golf world, sometimes I know three months off gets those bad shots out. At the same time, it would've been nice for him to have a little more time in the past.
"But we have 30 days and that's the nice thing with us right now. The rule changes say we have 29 practices, but those practices are spread from Aug. 3 through Sept. 2. So you do have a lot of time to get him right. I think we're going to be in good shape with him."
"He had one bust today going the wrong way on a read," Wilson continued. "The only time he hasn't played quarterback was in the spring. He's got a lot of time on task and Chuck Long has done a great job coaching him for three years at quarterback, and Josh (Heupel) will do as well.
"It's not like we're putting some athletic dude at quarterback to run around. He has a lot of quarterback skills. He came here to play quarterback and I think he's going to do great."
New quarterback coach Josh Heupel also talked about Thompson's first practice.
"We're doing everything possible to show him as many looks as we can," the former Heisman Trophy runner-up said. "We think things are going to come back quickly for him, and have already. He's reaction time and decision-making is going to be quick out there. I think the light's already come back on for him. He'll continually knock off a bunch of the rust day after day. I think you will see him continue to improve by leaps and bounds day by day.
And Heupel is no stranger to Thompson having coached him in his graduate assistant days.
"I was around him when I was a grad assistant here and I've spent a lot of time with him. I'm familiar with him his demeanor and how he handles some of things. I have a great familiarity with him."
Heupel also said it's a plus that Thompson is taking over the reigns with the team fully behind him.
"Any time you have a quarterback that has the respect and admiration of the 104 guys who are on the football team, it's an added bonus. No doubt," Heupel said.
As for the direction the offense will take now with Thompson at the helm, Wilson said he's still trying to see what he has to work with before he decides on a philosophy.
"I got an email on Monday, prior to anything happening, of a guy saying that our defense was so strong that all we had to do was take a knee on offense. So, we are considering that," Wilson joked. "I swear to God, I have an email where a guy is saying, "Coach, I have the answer for you. Just take a knee.'
On a more serious note, Wilson said…
"I saw an article that somebody wrote this summer, that I thought was really good, with a lot of comments from me at that time. It said that I'm waiting to see who I can count on, what the quarterback can do, what the o-line can do. That was said prior to anything happening or anything going on. So, as we go through a week of camp we have to get a feel for what these linemen can handle.
"I don't think we will be running him (Thompson) every play," Wilson continued. "I don't think we're going to be bootleg or sprinting out every play. We are going to have to drop back, be good in third down. He does throw a tight ball. I think it's getting ‘Hypes' (Josh Heupel), myself, Kevin Sumlin and Paul in sync with what he's comfortable with and what's he efficient with so that we can be productive.
"I don't see us, all of the sudden, being a (shot) gun team. I don't see us being a quarterback-running-every-play team. I don't see us being a giving-it-to-AD-every-play team. I see balance, but balance based on what he's comfortable and what he's efficient at."
Again, Thompson took just about every rep with the first unit with the rest going to Juco transfer Joey Halzle.
Thompson was a bit rusty, but he also looked good at times spreading the wealth hitting receivers, tight ends, running backs and fullbacks. Thompson hooked up twice with Malcolm Kelly, one of which would've gone for a 60-yard touchdown.
The lone interception of the workout was thrown by Halzle, who likes to throw the deep ball a little more than Thompson.
This is going to get old in these reports this fall, but Adrian Peterson looked like million bucks out there again today. Backing up Peterson is Allen Patrick, who was stripped on one play by Lewis Baker.
Working behind those two were Jacob Gutierrez, DeMarco Murray, Mossis Madu and Chris Brown. Gutierrez looks to be fully recovered from his off-season surgery, as he flashed some shifty moves on several occasions. Madu also flashed a couple of moves, which drew some chatter from defenders.
We got our first glimpse at freshman tight end Jermaine Gresham today, and he certainly looks the part. He's big, fast and really smooth catching the football. Dane Zaslaw took the first reps at fullback, but Matt Clapp also worked with the first unit.
Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias worked with the first group at receiver. They were followed by Manuel Johnson and Quentin Chaney, then Fred Strong and Eric Huggins. Kelly made the big catch of the day on a bomb from Thompson.
Manuel Johnson also got a lot of work with the first unit in the slot. True freshman Brandon Caleb struggled catching the ball early, but did make one nice catch on an out route later in the workout.
New line coach James Patton is going to be in experimentation mode the first week or so, but the first unit lined up today as follows: Chris Messner and Branndon Braxton at tackle, Sherrone Moore and Brandon Walker at guard and Jon Cooper at center.
The second team consisted of: Curtis Bailey and Cory Brandon at tackle, Trent Williams and Duke Robinson at guard and Chase Beeler at center. Cameron Schacht also worked some with the second team at center.
Robinson didn't work with the first unit to begin each drill like he did in the spring, but he will still apparently have a very important role as the swing guy on the line this year. Robinson also saw time on the first team at tackle, as well as time at both left and right guard. Chase Beeler also saw some time with the first unit at center.
As mentioned by Wilson above, the centers had some troubles with the exchanges with the quarterbacks in and out of the shotgun, but that is obviously to be expected early in camp. However, they worked on snaps after practice.
Cory Bennett and Carl Pendleton were the starters at defensive tackle, with Steven Coleman and DeMarcus Granger as the backups. Gerald McCoy and Billy Blackard worked with the third team, while Cordero Moore and Adrian Taylor/Pryce Macon were on the fourth unit.
At defensive end, Calvin Thibodeaux and C.J. Ah You lined up with the first unit, with Alonzo Dotson and Larry Birdine following them up. John Williams, who showed a lot of emotion when he was on the field, also worked in with the first and second units and looks to be recovered from his injury.
The first string linebackers today were Rufus Alexander, Demarrio Pleasant and Zach Latimer. They were followed by Curtis Lofton, Lewis Baker and walk-on Kyle Peterson. True freshman Jeremy Beal also worked at linebacker, rather than defensive end, along with Lamont Robinson.
Lewis Baker made a nice play when he stripped Allen Patrick, pitched the ball back to Lamont Robinson, who would've then ran it in for a score on one play.
The story here was that Keenan Clayton started at strong safety over Jason Carter, who had worked with the first unit there for most of the spring. Darien Williams was the starter at free safety.
Backing them up was Nic Harris and Jason Carter. They were followed by Brett Bowers, who has been moved back to safety from corner, and Quinton Carter.
At corner, it was Reggie Smith and D.J. Wolfe running with the first unit, followed by Lendy Holmes and Marcus Walker and then freshmen Dominque Franks and Jonathan Nelson.
Walker had a great day picking off one Joey Halzle pass and knocking down a few others. Wolfe, Smith and Holmes also looked good in pass coverage. On a couple of plays, Wolfe welcomed freshman receiver Adron Tennell to big-time college football with press coverage, of which Tennell had a hard time getting off the line.
Garrett Hartley looks to have bulked up over the summer and was crushing the ball. Hartley also looked the best, to me at least, of the three punters today. But it was hard to tell just how each one was doing as they were on the far end of the practice field.
Reggie Smith, Manuel Johnson and DeMarco Murray worked as the punt returners. Hayes McEachern was the holder and freshman tight end Eric Mensik and walk-on Derek Shaw worked as the deep snappers.
Thursday's Practice Report (8/3)
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