Defense dominates first scrimmage

See inside for an in-depth position-by-position look at the highlights from Saturday's scrimmage including quotes from Bob Stoops, Kevin Wilson, Brent Venables, Josh Heupel and Paul Thompson. Pictured: Lendy Holmes (right) and Brandon Caleb (left). (Photo/

Norman — As expected, Oklahoma's defense dominated the first major scrimmage of the 2006 fall camp Saturday night in Norman.

In all, the defense picked off seven passes (including the 7-on-7 portion of the workout). The first-team defense also kept the first-team offense out of the end zone during the full-field portion of the scrimmage.

As for the offense, it was a somewhat of an up and down performance, but of course the defense didn't have account for their main weapon — Adrian Peterson — who donned a blue jersey and was limited for most of the scrimmage.

Overall, OU head coach Bob Stoops was pleased with what he saw on Saturday.

"I was very pleased," Stoops said. "You go into these situations where you only have one week of practice in pads. I thought it was really good. Clean line of scrimmage, didn't have a fumble all day.

Paul (Thompson) managed the huddle well, managed the line of scrimmage and snap counts well. He still has a lot of brushing up to do, but he got more in a rhythm as we went along. He went something like 11-for-13 towards the end. He just needs to be behind center more and more. He's also without AD (Adrian Peterson) in the backfield, and Malcolm Kelly had a family wedding. He's the best man at his brothers' wedding. You're missing some guys that are big parts of what you do, and we realize that.

"Defensively, very few mistakes," Stoops continued. "Very good play, which we expected. I expect our defense to be very, very good if we keep progressing. Really pleased with the kicking game. Derek Shaw did an excellent job at deep snapper, as well as Eric Mensik.

"Field goals and PATs all were very clean. Punting was also very good. They averaged 42 to 48 yards a punt. What I was most concerned about was our operation time (getting the punt off and avoiding the rush), and that was excellent. We're further ahead there than maybe I would've anticipated.

As for what the Sooners showed on offense tonight, Stoops said they didn't exactly open up the playbook.

"There's more to come," said Stoops. "As well as you can only work on so much in as many days. We're trying to bring the offense along in different stages. We have more to come in what we're going to do. There's no sense broadcasting it and putting it out for everybody to see."

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables recapped his unit's performance.

"We need some more big hits, caused fumbles," Venables said. "We had good position on the ball, good understanding. We're communicating back there. I like our underneath coverage — it was solid — and our awareness and the backfield and not letting the ball get on top of us.

"Lendy (Holmes) was in good position. Nic Harris and Demarrio (Pleasant) were really good. Reggie (Smith) didn't have a lot of opportunities in the scrimmage, but in 7-on-7 you saw what he could do. Our defensive line played good. It was a solid outing, but there's a lot to get corrected, particularly in the red zone."

Below is a position-by-position look at the highlights from Saturday's scrimmage.

To put it nicely, Paul Thompson's performance early on was 'forgettable' but to his credit he picked it up toward the end of the workout leading the offense to two scoring drives of 40-yards and two more in the red zone drills.

Thompson threw three interceptions on the 7-on-7, but rebounded to throw two touchdown passes in the red zone drill. On the day, he completed 15 of his 26 passes for 136 yards. He also threw two interceptions in the full-field portion of the scrimmage.

Halzle, on the other hand, was fairly steady in the 7-on-7 drills with the highlight being a 58-yard touchdown pass on a pump and go route to Adron Tennell. In the actual scrimmage, he threw two interceptions, no touchdowns and finished 11-of-25 for 111 yards.

"Joey's doing a nice job," said Stoops. "He's still got some things to learn. He'll learn from feeling the speed of everything. He made some nice plays, but he just has to avoid some of those gambles."

Halzle's interceptions were both on deep balls. One was overthrown and picked off by the cornerback who outran the receiver, while the other was thrown deep instead of to the receiver who ran an out pattern.

"For the most part, they did pretty good," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. "I'd like to see their huddle confidence and command be stronger, more talking to the guys on a critical play like, "Hey, we really need this conversion. We're in the scoring zone. Let's go score.' But at this point, I think everybody's just thinking about plays instead of thinking about how to play.

"Paul had that one pick. He tried a daring shot and the defense made a great play. It was a daring shot in a positive way. The defense dropped in and made a phenomenal tip that I would say nine of out 10 times wouldn't be made. Alonzo (Dotson) made a heck of a play.

"Paul's decision-making was pretty good. Joey can be better. Joey had some incomplete passes where his choices were poor. I'd like to see him get better."

Thompson talked about his slow start.

"Sometimes it takes a big play to get a guys' confidence and get the ball rolling," Thompson said. "But we definitely did that toward the end. Actually, from midway towards the end we all started feeling real comfortable. I felt comfortable. I'm used to 85,000 fans, so the 25,000 that were there didn't bother me," Thompson said.

The fifth-year senior also talked about his success rolling out on play-action passes and throwing.

"It's going to be a threat. You've got to respect Adrian and you've got to respect anybody we have back there," Thompson said. "It's going to open up so much more, but right now AD's in a blue jersey. The guys know that on defense and so a couple of times when we switch up they know we're going to run it. Otherwise, they're going to blow it dead and we get 1-yard run with AD, and that's pretty unrealistic. So we're definitely feeling good about that."

Thompson also talked about the emergence of Adron Tennell and the rest of his receiving corp.

"They did good. Adron Tennell came through and made some plays. He's been doing that throughout two-a-days. He was in there making some great plays, as well as some of the other young guys. That's definitely something to build on. We're definitely going to have Malcolm (Kelly) back and when Manuel (Johnson) heals up, we'll have a good corp out there.

Quarterback coach Josh Heupel also talked about the play of Thompson and Halzle.

"I was really pleased as the scrimmage went along," Heupel said. "The past 7 or 8 days in camp, I've seen him (Thompson) continually progress. He's getting better and better and more comfortable with what we're doing offensively, where he needs to go with the different looks he sees from the defense. I'm pretty pleased with the way he played tonight, but there are some things that we need to clean up before we get ready to play.

"He's obviously a guy that's athletic. He can make some plays on the perimeter, but he's getting more and more comfortable setting back in the pocket and making more plays there to. So you'll see a combination of bunch.

"Joey made some nice plays," Heupel said on the juco transfer. "He made a couple of decisions that put us in tough situations, but he's continually getting better and better and more comfortable with what we're doing offensively and our scheme. I'm really encouraged with where he's at."

One note to point out about the offense tonight is that they really worked on the play-action passing game on probably 75 percent of the passing plays. And the encouraging aspect of the play-action game was that the line blocked it well just about every time out.

The play-action rollout plays also got Thompson out on the edge several times and created some nice running opportunities, and that was even without the threat of Adrian Peterson in the backfield.

Running Backs
Adrian Peterson was pretty a non-factor as he was dressed in a non-contact blue jersey. However, the young pups got a chance to get some playing time and they didn't disappoint.

Chris Brown was the fourth running back to get reps behind Peterson, Allen Patrick and Jacob Gutierrez (also limited while wearing a blue jersey), and he looked great catching the ball out of the backfield. The Alexandria, La. native actually led the team in receiving yards with 47 on three catches.

Norman, Okla. native Mossis Madu was the leading rusher with 33 yards on 12 carries. He also caught a nice pass for a 19-yard gain.

Freshman DeMarco Murray did not participate in the scrimmage due to a 'sprained toe'. OU head coach Bob Stoops said after the scrimmage he expects Murray to be back on Monday.

Fullbacks/Tight Ends
The fullbacks were a big part of OU's play-action passing game tonight, and for the most part they delivered.

In all, the fullbacks combined for 7 receptions and two touchdown catches, both of which came in the red zone drill. Walk-on and former linebacker Ian Pleasant and Matt Clapp worked with the first team and both caught TD passes in the red zone drill. Dane Zaslaw also had a nice scrimmage catching the ball out of the backfield.

The tight ends only combined for four catches, led by Joe Jon Finley's three catch, 27-yard performance. Jermaine Gresham caught just one pass for four yards in the scrimmage, but did manage a nice leaping catch over the middle for a big gain in the 7-on-7 drills.

And if Saturday is any indication of what's to come this season, look for a lot of two-tight ends sets with Gresham and Finley involved.

Offensive Linemen
Other than the quarterbacks, this was certainly the most watched position tonight. And in our opinion, they performed very well.

"I was very pleased with the play at the line of scrimmage," said Stoops. "Overall, the protection was solid. They need to keep getting better, but they're showing a lot of good improvement. They're getting more and more confident. It was positive and you saw a good pocket most of the day."

As a whole, the first and second team line only gave up one sack on the night. Now that was also helped out by the fact that Kevin Wilson had the quarterbacks rolling out all night long, but nevertheless giving up one sack on 51 passing plays is impressive for this unit.

The first team again was Chris Messner and Branndon Braxton at tackle, Duke Robinson and Brandon Walker at guard and Jon Cooper at center. The second unit was Chase Beeler at center, Cory Brandon and Trent Williams at tackle and Sherrone Moore and Curtis Bailey at guard.

It was also a fairly good night for the centers, as there were only two poor snap exchanges — one by Cooper and Thompson and one by Beeler and Halzle — on the night.

Special props also go out to Cooper and Braxton. Cooper is still trying to recover from his broken leg, but it certainly wasn't bothering him when he kept driving his man on one play and eventually pancaked him at least 20 yards away from the end of the run.

As for Braxton, he electrified the team and crowd with a pre-stretching dance in the middle of the 'O' formed by the players at mid-field which was topped off by a 'pelvic thrust' motion at the end for good measure.

Wide Receivers
Was a star born tonight? Last year at this time it was freshmen Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias who began to show promise, this year it's Irving, Texas freshman Adron Tennell.

Tennell led the team in catches with four and was second in receiving yards with 37. However, those numbers don't include several catches he made in the 7-on-7 drills, including a 58-yard touchdown catch on a pump and go route. What's impressive is that Tennell showed he could not only be a deep threat, but that he can run great routes and find the seams in the defense.

"Pooh, that's his nickname, is playing in a great way," said Stoops on Tennell.

Sophomore Malcolm Kelly was not in Norman for the scrimmage, as he was granted permission to attend his brothers' wedding, of which he was the Best Man.

To start the scrimmage, the first team receivers were Juaquin Iglesias, Manuel Johnson and Quentin Chaney, but you can expect Tennell to be joining that group soon if he continues to improve on Saturday's performance. Manuel Johnson left the scrimmage with a 'slight strain' according to Stoops, but he isn't expected to miss any extended period of action.

Defensive Linemen
Was it a good or bad night for the defensive linemen? That's a tough question.

On one hand, they put the clamps on the running game minus Adrian Peterson. But on the other hand, the only sack recorded on the night was by backup defensive tackle Cordero Moore.

Defensive end Calvin Thibodeaux did not scrimmage tonight and he was replaced on the first unit by Larry Birdine. C.J. Ah You was the other starting defensive end, and Carl Pendleton and Steven Coleman started at tackle.
v The big star here tonight was backup defensive end Alonzo Dotson, who dropped into coverage to make a leaping interception on a Paul Thompson pass on one play, to go along with one tackle for a loss and another play in which he busted into the backfield to slow down a running back at the line.

Defensive tackle Cory Bennett blew up one running play in the middle, and Gerald McCoy busted up the gut on one play forcing the quarterback to get rid of the ball early.

Rufus Alexander, Demarrio Pleasant and Zach Latimer worked with the first unit, and judging by the rushing stats all performed nicely.

Pleasant, who continues to have a great fall, led the tea with seven tackles. Lewis Baker chipped in six, three of which were stuffs behind the line in which he flew in like a heat-seeking missle. He also had a great pass breakup over the middle on a deep pass to the tight end.

"Zach did some good things and Demarrio and Lewis Baker all did some great things," said defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. "Nic Harris, he's playing that nickel spot, did some really good things. He has a good understanding and made some good plays.

"But as far as the linebackers, I like our two-deep. We've got some guys that can really play. They're physical and have good awareness, good instincts and good range. I'm excited about the group."

All in all, it was a pretty good scrimmage for the Sooners' defensive backs.

The first unit tonight was the same as it has been with Reggie Smith and D.J. Wolfe at corner and Darien Williams and Keenan Clayton at safety. Nic Harris was the nickel back.

But the big star of the secondary on Saturday was receiver-turned-cornerback Lendy Holmes. Holmes picked off three passes in the 7-on-7 drills and two more in the scrimmage.

"They were just throwing the ball up trying to make Lendy look good because he had a big contingent here from Dallas to watch him play," joked secondary coach Bobby Jack Wright on Holmes, who looked like a centerfielder chasing down a balls at the warning track on two of his interceptions.

"No, Lendy really had a great practice, especially in the passing game. He's got great speed, great range and a great burst. Having been a wide receiver, he's got a good feel for chasing the deep ball."

"He did some really good things today, but a couple of times he showed his youth," Venables said on Holmes. "He didn't get lined up correctly, but when he gets it all figured out he has a chance to be an outstanding player. But still, the mental mistakes right now are 6-point mistakes.

"Some of it may not be apparent to the naked eye. It's still processing and getting down technique, but that's why we've got three weeks of practice left."

Starting corners D.J. Wolfe and Reggie Smith each picked off a pass in the 7-on-7 drills, and the first team safeties — Clayton and Williams — were also impressive not allowing receivers or tight ends to get behind them.

Special Teams
If you were inside Memorial Stadium today then any worries you may have had about the kicking game certainly shouldn't be keeping you up tonight.

Garrett Hartley was nearly perfect on his field goals, making his first nine (including a long of 52) before he finally hit the crossbar on a 47-yard attempt. Overall, he finished 10-for-12 on his field goal attempts and a perfect 4-for-4 on PATs.

As for the punters, it was an impressive performance by junior Mike Knall, who led the way with a 48 yard average on six kicks, all of which had nice hang time. Michael Cohen averaged a respectable 42.5 yards per punt while Hartley finished at 41.7.

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