Sooners Advance in Saturday Practices

Sooners tweak offense, solidify defense & kicking game

Although mild temperatures in the mid seventies greeted Oklahoma's second practice, (Saturday 8 AM), several players were bothered by heat related stress. Most noticeably, defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson and receiver Curtis Fagan, whose body temperature rose enough that trainers prescribed an ice bath to offset it. Clint Ingram and Larry Birdine were also effected.

Coach Bob Stoops was asked about the heat and if it bothered his team. "Not really, it's not too bad, when you consider that we had 2 or 3 out of 105 - 110 players out here that's not too alarming" Stoops was asked if he thought all of his players were in shape."  "Sure, just because someone is effected by heat  does not mean they're not in shape, it can happen to anyone. In the first few days it's pretty common to have a couple of guys cramp up. However, we're a well conditioned football team. I'm not at all worried about it."

The Sooners worked on the no-huddle offense early in the practice, led by quarterback Jason White.   While the offense worked on getting players and plays in quickly, the defense concentrated on proper alignment and play recognition..

Meanwhile the kicking concerns eased some as both Steven Saburri and Trey DiCarlo looked more than adequate. Both kickers hit a like number of field goals this morning. However again, DiCarlo's kicks seemed to have more lift and distance. Coach Jonathon Hayes said that there was a possibility that the Sooners could use one for kick offs and another for placements, although he'd prefer thta one distance himself from the competition.

The overall theme of the morning workout was ‘fundamentals'. Running backs in 'dummy drills' where tackeling dummies are actually thrown in front of them while on a full run, requiring them to evade the obstacles. Defensive backs also had their hands full in a drill where six wide receivers come out against only four DB's. The DB's are taught to quickly play the ball.

Co Defensive coordinator Brent Venables was asked about the progress of the defense overall. "It's so important that we keep getting repetition so that we begin to get recognition. Reps and recognition, that what it's all about during two-a-days. We try to throw a lot at them.  Run the same play. Then we come out in an alignment not seen. The point is to learn to read the same keys, regardless of the alignment. Read the key, and you know it's virtually the same play."

When asked about his linebackers, Venables said, "The new guys are picking it up well and Pasha Jackson's benefiting by only playing one position, (SLB). We probably put too much on him in the spring, but he has accelerated his learning by playing the one spot."

The ‘Roy experiment' for freshman Rufus Alexander may be over, for now anyway.  And it's more a matter of depth than ability. "We have plenty of defensive back depth and very little at linebacker. So we really can't spare giving them any of our guys right now," Venables said.  Alexander is currently the backup to Ted Lehman at WLB along with Gayron Allen.

Meanwhile the quarterback hysteria seemed to settle into a quieter pace with Jason White apparently the leader, and Brent Rawls and Nate Hybl getting alternate snaps with the 2nd unit, (although Rawls did get a few snaps with the first unit today as well). In the end, each QB had his share of high and lows during the practice.

At one point in the session, the defense was dominating the offense. A vocal and frustrated Bob Stoops darted out and challenged the offense with some in-your-face admonishment. "It's 3rd and eight! I want a first down - Nate, get me a first down!"  Hybl then went back and threw a perfect thirteen yard strike to Curtis Fagan who had worked in between Brandon Everage, Perkins and Bassey.  Don't count any of these guys out yet.

Antwone Savage had outstanding practice number two, again reverting to the player we saw in 2000 and James 'Bubba' Moses looks more and more like a threat to take the two spot at TE, a very important position this year as the Sooner's employ more two TE sets.

And Saturday it was Jujuan Rankins who received a little extra attention much like freshman teammate Travis Wilson did in earlier sessions.  At this time coaches are impressed with the skill level of both players. Will Peoples also looked good at receiver. But it was walk-on Adam Creath who made the catch of the day, a diving grab that was sure to at least cause the coaches to ask "who was that?"

At running back it was much of the same story, although some critics are quick to name a successor, Quentin Griffin still leads the pack.  Bob Stoops was asked about ‘Q'. "He goes unnoticed, yes, no question. We have some big goals for our run game this year. We want a 1,000 yd rusher, and we know Quentin can be that guy.  ‘Q' always runs faster, tests better, and is our strongest back. So is he under appreciated? Yeah, I think so."  While he may not get a lot of playing time as a  (RS), freshman, Kejuan Jones took a swing pass and made things happen. When Jones touches the ball, look for the electricity to energize the players and the crowd, providing a momentary break from the heat.

In the late afternoon session, again cooler than normal early August temperatures offered relief for coaches and players.  

When asked if he preferred warmer temperatures to start, OU head coach Bob Stoops said, "No, I think that we'd take this every day if we could. It's easier on the team and when their fresher, their execution is better and it's easier for them to concentrate and remember their assignments. I'd take one or two days like this every year."

The AP Pre-season Poll was announced shortly before the start of the late afternoon session. Coach Stoops was asked his reaction to his Sooner team being voted the number two team in the country behind Miami. "It's OK. It puts us in a position to accomplish our goals, it's not a bad spot to start from." Stoops confirmed that he had a vote in the coaches poll but would not disclose where he placed his own team. "That's privileged information," he joked, "but it's probably accurate to say that it was somewhere in the top ten."

The kickers and special teams had the full attention at the beginning of practice and the pattern of the last two days continued to hold. Combined, Steven Saburri and Trey DiCarlo were 14 of 18 for the day.

Blake Ferguson punted well and there was no indication at this point that freshman Travis Wilson would get a chance to show his punting ability - perhaps because he is needed in another capacity on the punt team, as one of the outside ‘gunners' along with Antonio Perkins, Derrick Strait, and freshmen Aaron Miller.  On the punt receiving unit, Andre Woolfolk's ability to provide protection likely means he's needed until someone steps up with equal or better skills. While Brandon Jones has not seen a lot of time in the punt return slot, he and Kejuan Jones might be the best potential punt blockers on the team, rushing from the outside, and will most likely contribute there this year.

At running back Donta Hickson had an exceptional practice, as did Larry Pinson at fullback, who on his initial carries showed good speed and evidence that he's a tailback playing fullback.  Freshman JD Runnels also showed promise and his trademark determination as he is willing to go through a wall. Other notable performances came from Jerad Estus who showed great speed on the corners.

Notable plays on defense were turned in by Dan Cody, who had an exceptional ‘effort' interception against Jason White and has proven to everyone that ‘Dan is back.'  Jonathon Jackson also performed well at defensive end. (Jimmy Wilkerson and Curtis Fagan were held out due to heat problems suffered in the first practice Saturday. Both are expected to return soon, and Dusty Dvoracek was held out due to a minor shoulder injury, and is also expected back soon).

At the conclusion of practice, Oklahoma announced that the first scrimmage would come Wednesday at 6:00PM inside Memorial Stadium. 

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