Below are excerpts from Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops' first weekly press conference of the 2006 season held today in Norman.
Stoops: We're all excited starting the season off here in the gameweek and opening here at home with UAB. Really looking forward to getting on the field and seeing hopefully the progress we've made through the last month, and playing a good football team. UAB is a team year in and year out in their conference who always does awfully well.
Coach Watson Brown and his staff have done a great job through the years. You look at a lot of their games they've played in the past, some of their openers, last year with Tennessee. Very good game — 17-10. They played Georgia very close I believe the year before. Year in and year out they're always a good football team.
They've got good athletes when you look at their talent across the board. Very sound in what they do. It's a challenge that we have to be ready for. Hopefully, we've made significant progress here through our two-a-days and our camp getting ready for this season.
We feel like we have, but you have to get it out there on the field and play with some discipline, some toughness and some effort. That's really what we're looking for. I want to see our guys come out and play in a disciplined way and in a physical way, and play with great effort and play smart. That's what we have to do.
I felt, especially early on a year ago, we did not do that. Hopefully, we're a little more schooled in how we play fundamentally to start the season. If we do, we've got a chance, hopefully, to have a good year.
On the perception — and the ratings drop — that OU could win a national championship with Rhett Bomar, but not Paul Thompson
Stoops: Perception doesn't much matter. There was a perception other years when we weren't very good and came on and were awfully good. There was a perception a year ago that we were going to be awfully good, and we weren't.
The bottom line is I think a lot of people got carried away with what might have been at some point in the future with a Bomar or anyone else. The bottom line is we hadn't seen that yet. When we left a year ago, we were an 8-4 team. Our quarterback threw, I believe, 10 interceptions and 10 TDs. I'm not taking anything away from anybody, but again that isn't exactly lighting it up.
I believe the year before Jason White threw for roughly 40 TDs and 7 interceptions. Now that's something to replace. So in the end, I think peoples' perception was skewed on what may have been at some point in the future. But it's fair to say at this point, maybe it wouldn't have been.
What we see in Paul is a guy that's taken snaps for four years and is a fifth-year senior. There's maturity there. There's physical strength and ability. I see a supporting cast around him that I believe will be better to start the year than it was a year ago. So with all of those put together, we still believe Paul is a guy that is a very good quarterback, with a chance to be great if the players around him will play that way.
I think it's fair to say when we started a year ago with Paul, and early on with Rhett, the supporting cast around them wasn't very supportive. So in the end, I think they, particularly Paul in the first game, took a lot of unjust criticism directed just at them when there was a good number of players who didn't play to the lever we're used to.
Hopefully we can change that.
On if the offensive line is better right now than it was to start last season
Stoops: We'll see. We've got to go play and see that. The receivers, I thought, were very poor a year ago to start the year. We'll see if we can come out in a better way — tight ends, receivers, the offensive line — all of it.
On Reggie Smith playing a number of positions, including kick returner and punt returner…
Stoops: Yes, yes. Corner — yes. And part-time receiver possibly.
On if Smith will start at receiver
On if Smith is playing several positions because of his talent or...
...or is it because of the depth they have at corner
Stoops: That's another reason we said that. We really like the way Lendy Holmes and Marcus Walker have played through camp as well. So that will give us some flexibility with Reggie. If he needs a blow in a series here or there, we'll be able to give it to him.
On if he's curious to see how Smith will handle the load playing multiple positions
Stoops: There's a curiosity to see how anyone's going to handle any load. We've got other guys that we've got to see how they play too.
On if there is maximum number of plays that they'll set for Smith to play on both sides of the ball
Stoops: I don't know. I think that will be a feel of just how he feels and how he's holding up.
On what is the biggest challenge for Smith playing multiple positions
Stoops: You guys make way too much out of this. He's a corner and he's in his meetings. But a corner as opposed to a safety, they don't have nearly the mental checks and as much to figure out as safeties do. That part is quite different than it was a year ago, as well as he's much more comfortable in the position.
It's just being comfortable offensively in what we're going to ask him to do. Again, he's not going to be in their 40 plays. You're talking 15 maybe 20 plays in certain stints where we feel he gives us an opportunity to give us something extra on offense.
On if he's pleased with the changes in the offense
Stoops: Yes, though I don't know if there's a change. I think there's just an evolution of what we're doing.
I'm very confident with Coach (Kevin) Wilson, Coach (Kevin) Sumlin and all the offensive coaches. How they've handled the situation, their thought-processes and how we've worked our gameplan and how they're working up to this game.
They have a lot of experience, a lot of diversity and they're smart. We have played to our talent for the most part in a pretty good way here through the years.
Hopefully, we're able to do that again this year.
On his reasoning for shutting down practice, to the public and media, earlier than normal
Stoops: I think just all the distractions. Players have enough to deal with. It's hot out there, it's 105 degrees. You're hustling to get to a meal because we've got a meeting in a little bit, and then we get back on the field later.
They've got enough to do. They're not professional athletes. We give you guys (media) a lot, but to say that it has to be every single day, I just don't believe it's necessary. And I believe there's too much information that gets out there about what we're doing.
It's fair to say even for people who are gambling — who's hurt, who isn't? It's just not necessary. And I don't believe it's a college player's job to fulfill that for the media every single day.
On closing the scrimmages
Stoops: Same thing. I just think there's too much information that gets out. There's no sense of broadcasting to everybody what you're doing.
On if there's an advantage to having closed practices and scrimmages
Stoops: Not if everybody else is closed. I think, early on, in the first game everybody has a little bit of wonder of what they're going to do, what they're going to emphasize.
On the new rule changes — starting the clock on a kick-off as well as starting the clock after the ball is set following a change of possession
Stoops: You have to pay attention, and depending on your situation in the game whether you're wasting time or using it.
I think, as everybody's writing, we need to be careful. I think college football's pretty darn good. I don't hear any fans complaining about length of games. The only one who does is the people with commercials and the TVs.
But 85,000 people travel a long way to come to these games and aren't looking for a quick afternoon. They want to spend the whole day. Some of them are here the night before and so they're not worried if the game's a little bit long.
Again, I think we have to be very careful that we don't we don't change the game very much.
On TCU coming into Norman and beating OU last year in the opener, and how much confidence teams will teams have because of that this year
Stoops: Well, there were four teams who beat us last year. How much is it? I don't know, you'd have to ask them. We're aware that we've got to be ready to play. We were aware of it last year and didn't seem to matter. So, we've got to play in a better way.
We've got to play more physical, more disciplined, play with some kind of attitude and make plays when we get opportunities when we get out on the field, whether it's this week or the following week or as we go through. But it starts this week.
On how important is it to win impressively this week after what happened in last year's opener
Stoops: I'm not concerned about that. We want to win, we want to play well and we want to do the best we can. You guys can write however it needs to be. We want to win.
On how much the tight ends will be involved in the offense
Stoops: Well, we need to get them involved more. And I think with their ability, we have a chance to get them involved more the way they run and catch. We hope that will be the case as we go through the year.
On if Jermaine Gresham is going to be a factor early. And is Gerald McCoy going to play or be redshirted
Stoops: Gresham is definitely in a position where he'll play. And Gerald, we're close to making that decision. We'll see. He's close, but we're unsure whether we will or not. But we're incredibly pleased with Gerald. He's been fabulous and he's working in a really good way.
On how comfortable is he with Joey Halzle coming off the bench
Stoops: Probably as comfortable as anybody else is with a guy that hasn't had as much experience as your starter has. Joey's progressed in a really good way, a positive way. He's getting better and better in his decision making.
On if they'll structure their play-calling to protect Paul Thompson from getting hurt
Stoops: You can't think that way. But also I think we've got to be smart in how much he does run the football. So, we'll watch that.
I always laugh at that question in that you look at the NFL, look at everybody in college. When you lose your starter usually the back-up guy isn't the same. He isn't as experienced or isn't quite as ready.
So, I don't know that we're in any different position than probably 80 percent of the other teams out there.
On the injury situation
Stoops: I believe Manuel's (Johnson) the only one that's in question at this point, and Brian Simmons. But he's getting closer and closer and we're hopeful Brian will be able to be back into some drills next week.
On center Jon Cooper's health status
Stoops: He's been practicing.
On if they've already installed most of the offense they'll use this season
Stoops: We have everything that our line and quarterback's are able to handle going into the game. I think everybody builds as you go through the year what you're able to handle.
Again, I know going into this year we've worked hard all through camp of tailoring things that Paul's comfortable with and fit what we do. Hopefully, it will make a difference for him
On UAB's offense and defense
Stoops: They love to run the football. He (Watson Brown) really has three really good backs that he works a lot. You'll see a lot of option, three backs in the backfield or one back with a second coming in and running option, misdirection plays with some two-backs and three-back. Almost wishbone type plays to some degree. And they'll spread it out as well trying to throw the football.
Defensively, structurally very sound. Last year they did a lot of quarters and half-field coverage and mix in their man free, which is similar to what many good, strong defenses do. With a new coordinator this year, we anticipate the same thing since it was good for them.
On if they've decided on a punter
Stoops: Not just yet. They've (Mike Knall and Michael Cohen) worked really well. I believe the positive of this is they've both competed really well and have made each other better.
Yesterday, we were out there and one averaged 42 and the other averaged 46 over a good number of punts. And that's been fairly consistent, so I'm pleased with that.
On if punter Mike Knall was hurt last spring or has he just improved
Stoops: Early on, there was a little bit of a minor injury but he's gotten better. He's worked hard, he's improved and I think usually competition does that for somebody.
On if both could punt on Saturday
Stoops on UAB, the state of the Sooners
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