The season opener is just a couple of days away and the Oklahoma Sooners are chomping at the bit to get their season going. The Sooners are a big favorite over the Tulsa Golden Hurricane, but Bob Stoops and company continue to take preparations one game at a time. So Tulsa has the Sooners first impression, and as Oklahoma gets ready for their season opener it is a good time to break down the Sooners starting with their offense.
Jason White is the guy and has been since spring practice. However, with that comes some uncertainty. White has only started two games and played considerably in two others and that doesn't give him much experience coming into the 2002 season. I am as high on White as the next guy and I believe he is a very good quarterback. However the fact he hasn't played much is a concern for the Sooner coaching staff.
"We need to get Jason on the field against Tulsa and get him as many reps as we can," said Offensive Coordinator Chuck Long. "Jason really hasn't played a lot of football since he has been at Oklahoma. What we have seen of him we have liked and at this point from what we have seen we have trusted our football team to him. We are confident Jason can play winning football, however he needs to get on the field and get some snaps."
"The best thing I like about Jason is that he can come right back from a bad play and then make the play of the game. He doesn't get down because of a bad play or a bad quarter. I think that is important for a quarterback. Jason has a tremendous upside to him and I am looking forward to watching Jason reach for that upside."
Since taking the news that he was regulated to backup status, senior Nate Hybl has been the model teammate. He has worked hard in camp and has been a great leader.Considering the nature of college football, you can bet at some point this season Hybl will be counted upon to help the Sooner win a football game or win a series of games.
"We don't feel our quarterback situation could be in any better shape with Jason as the starter and Nate as our backup," said OU Head Coach Bob Stoops. "Sure Nate is disappointed that he is not the starting quarterback and we wouldn't want it any other way. However, in saying that, Nate has practiced incredibly well and showed great leadership and is in the best shape of his life. We feel very confident in Nate's abilities if and when we use him."
Redshirt freshman Brent Rawls will be on the sideline for at least six more weeks and quite possibly more with his surgically repaired thumb. Rawls promises to come back a better quarterback.
"All I can do at this point is study the game as hard as I can and be a better quarterback mentally when I can return," said Rawls. "I am going to attend every meeting, listen to every play call and ask a million questions while I can't play. I am going to study the game harder than I have ever studied the game before. I can't throw, but that is no reason for me not to improve as a quarterback."
"I am a patient guy. I had to play wide receiver before I finally got my shot at Evangel. I realize that this year I don't have much of a chance to play, but next year is a different story and by the time I am a junior, I will have a great chance to be the quarterback here. I won't back off until I am the starting quarterback at OU."
This is a tremendous position of strength for the Sooners. Quentin Griffin returns for his third year as a starter. No player on the Sooner squad is more respected then Griffin. His offseason workouts are legendary and when healthy he is one of the top running backs in the Big 12.
"Quentin is one of the most underrated running backs in the country," said running back coach Cale Gundy. "He is a complete running back and his running ability is second to none. This football team counts on Quentin for a lot of things and he gladly accepts that responsibility."
This year it appears that Griffin will not have to take all the running back responsibility by himself. Renaldo Works has been a good soldier for the past two years, biding his time waiting for his opportunity to star in the Sooner backfield. The Sooners even incorporated a two back offense to take advantage of Works abilities.
However, as is turns out Works may have to continue to wait or at least share what few carries he was to get this year with redshirt freshman KeJuan Jones.
"KeJuan had a great preseason camp and is definitely going to help us this year," said Gundy. "KeJuan is great with a football under his arms, the best on our team in fact. Since two-a-days started he has improved as a blocker and with his assignments. KeJuan has become a much better football player. He is a very talented player and we have to find a way to get him on the playing field."
The Sooners will do that by playing Jones in short-yardage and goal-line situations, and when Quentin needs a rest it will be Jones who comes into the game. When the Sooners line up in the two-back Works will get the call and he may also get a series as the one-back.
If Jones runs like he is capable, Works will have a hard time keeping him off the playing field.
Jerad Estus is talented, but just can't find any playing time. Same goes for Danta Hickson at this point. Hickson is young enough that the OU coaches still feel that he has a upside to him, but he will have to be patient and wait his turn.
There is no question that the offensive line should be better this year. Despite losing two talented seniors in Frank Romero and Howard Duncan, the Sooners will be better up front for several reasons.
First, they are healthy. Injuries forced the Sooners to play a true freshmen and two redshirt freshman last season. This season, for the most part, the Sooners are healthy and that is a start. Each player up front is in the best shape of his life and each offensive lineman came back from summer workouts a better athlete than he was before.
Second, the addition of offensive line coach and run coordinator Kevin Wilson has been a huge plus for the Sooners. Wilson's enthusiasm and aggressive attitude has been a breath of fresh air for the Sooner offensive linemen.
"I think Coach Wilson has been the best addition that we made this year," said sophomore center Vince Carter. "He always has a positive attitude and he is a great teacher. He is fighting with us and wants us to be aggressive and each player in the offensive line realizes that he is behind us."
The offensive line is set for the most part. Sophomore tackle Jammal Brown had a great preseason camp and has STAR written all over him. He was outstanding in the one-on-one drills and demonstrated that he can be an outstanding pass blocker. Sophomore Wes Sims will start at the other tackle and his athletic ability is tremendous. He doesn't seem to be a natural talent, but he was more comfortable as training camp went on. Sims' star is not dim by any means.
At guard, veteran senior Mike Skinner is in the best shape of his life. Skinner is down to 298 pounds and actually looks trim. Skinner has demonstrated great leadership and is a valuable teammate for those younger offensive linemen.
At left guard, senior squadman Brad Davis took over the position and never gave it up. This is a great story of a guy who never gave up on his dream to play at Oklahoma and finally things starting falling for him. Thanks to injuries, Davis got some playing time last season and caught the eye of Wilson during the Sooners Cotton Bowl camp.
Coach Wilson is looking for aggressive players up front and no offensive lineman is more aggressive than Davis. Thus, when redshirt freshman Kelvin Chaisson struggled early in camp, Davis moved over from backup center to left guard and has never given up the position.
"This camp has been unbelievable for me and something that I have always dreamed of," said Davis. "I just kept plugging and kept trying to get better. Winning is the most important thing to me and being apart of a winner here at Oklahoma has been a dream come true."
"When I wasn't playing much I still tried to do what I could to help the team win. Now that I am playing I will to continue to do what I can to help the team win. Coach Wilson wants us to be aggressive and that is my game. I will be aggressive, but I am still going to be the best teammate that I can be."
At center, Vince Carter is beginning his sophomore season the same way he began his freshman and that is as a starter. However, Carter has been nicked up at camp and that gave true freshman Abner Estrada a chance to show what he can do and the coaches have been impressed.
Estrada has played so well that the coaches are trying to decide whether to play him or not. You would think with a young center like Carter starting at center that the coaches wouldn't even think of playing a true freshman, but Estrada has been that good.
As the season opener gets closer it looks like Estrada is going to play, but that is not set in stone at press time. The problem for the coaches is that if they decide to play Estrada they have to be sure they can find him some playing time. If they don't feel they can give him enough playing time, then they need to redshirt him. If Estrada redshirts then Davis will also act as the backup center. Redshirt freshman Chris Bush could also factor in here if Estrada does redshirt. This decision is going right down to the wire.
The same can be said for freshman Davin Joseph. Joseph moved over to offensive guard midway though camp and has been outstanding. Joseph already has passed Chaisson in the eye of the coaches and in reality is the backup up left guard to Davis. Since Davis is a senior Coach Wilson is thinking about playing Joseph this year to get him ready for next season. Jarrod Barclay is a junior backup at right guard for now, but Chaisson could shift over to that spot.
Jerod Fields missed over a week of camp with an injured back, but slowly has regained his place as a backup tackle. Fields has the potential to be a starter at some point during his career and is back running with the second unit. Brett Rayl still has a ways to go and is still very raw. He will go into the season opener as the fourth offensive tackle.
"I think we have a chance to be pretty good, but I am tired of talking about this stuff and I am ready to go play," said Coach Wilson. "We have a solid corp of about eight guys who have established themselves pretty good. I like our tackles and feel Jammal and Wes are going to play big for us. We have two real young guys in Abner and Davin, who have great potential and we may get them ready to play this year. We are athletic and seem to battle pretty good. I am ready to play and I think they are too."
For the most part the Sooner wide receiver corp had a very good camp. Antwone Savage moved to the slot and that seemed to rejuvenate his career. Curt Fagan found the end zone again in camp and Mark Clayton continued to show that he is the Sooners best receiver.
The only downer for the wide receiver core was a knee bruised suffered by Clayton. Clayton returned to practice this week, but is still hobbled. Sophomore Will Peoples will start in Clayton's place, but Clayton will play a little against Tulsa, before regaining his starting job for Alabama.
Peoples earned the right to start against the Hurricane by having a better camp than Brandon Jones. However, Jones showed enough to earn some playing time behind Fagan.
The Sooners brought in a great corp of freshman wide receivers and Travis Wilson is another that has STAR written all over him. From the first day of camp it was evident that he was going to play as a freshman and he will backup Savage. If Savage fails to fire early in the season, the coaches will not be afraid to turn to Wilson, who reminds the coaching staff of former Sooner Brandon Daniels.
Ataleo Ford began to show some promise during camp, but was passed on the depth chart at the slot by Wilson. Ford is now working at both wide receiver and in the slot. JeJuan Rankins' knee injury knocked him out of the running for playing time as a freshman. If it wasn't for Rankins bad luck, he would have played as a true freshman. We may not get a chance to see Rankins this year, but in the future he is going to have a major impact on the Sooner football program.
Enough has been said about Trent Smith. He is the best tight end in college football and has been named team captain. The consummate Sooner, nobody loves playing as a Sooner more than Smith.
James Bubba Moses and Lance Donley are battling for the number two tight end spot. Moses is the future at the position, but Donley won't go quietly. Moses may be the true tight end, but Donley will get opportunities in two tight end sets where blocking is more of a priority.
Don't write off Chris Chester. He needs more work on technique and won't be much of a factor this year, but in the future he will play a lot of football for the Sooners.
The best pure athlete at tight end is Laenar Nixon. Nixon runs a sub 4.6 forty and has outstanding hands. His work ethic is excellent. Nixon is a good enough athlete to also play in the slot, but this year will get a chance to get into the weight room and redshirt.
"I really feel that we are going to be a better offensive football team this year," said Coach Bob Stoops. "Our wide receiver corp had a very good camp. I am not sure if they are going to be the playmakers that we want, but I know they have the talent to be just that."
"Travis Wilson has a chance to be a great player and he will play as a true freshman. Our offensive line has been impressive and each player is improved from a year ago. Our running back corp is the best that it has ever been since we have been here. I am confident at quarterback too. I just think the offense will be much improved this year."
The Sooners appear to be better at every single position, thus if White fires at quarterback, the Sooners will be better offensively this year.
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