Spring Football practice gets underway for the Oklahoma on March 7, and OU Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson recently appeared on Sports Morning on the Sports Animal with Bob Barry Jr. and I to talk about his goals for the Sooners' offense.
BBJ: Have you guys had any kind of break whatsoever since the Fiesta Bowl?
KW: "Yeah, we have had some down time. When recruiting finished up we have a little down time with spring practicing starting during the first of March. We are starting spring practice a little bit earlier this year, but we have had a chance to relax. We always do a fundraiser for the university golf course and since we had a long weekend some of us went out to Palm Springs, which wasn't an enjoyable golf day. But it was a beautiful place to be. It wasn't that time of year where any of us were up to speed yet in golf.
"We have had some nice breaks, but we are also getting involved with the kids in the weight room right now, and we are getting two days a week to do some agility work that we do with them. We are limited to what we can and can't do. We can't be out there when they are actually throwing the football and running plays and all that. However, we are getting around our guys in the weight room and we get with them individually in positions. We give some individual players some goals here in the off-season with our weight and our strength gains that we are trying to get.
"We always work with them through Coach (Jerry) Schmidt's program here late in the off-season with some agility things that helps in that winter team-building and team-bonding time that leads you into spring practice."
JH: You will have so many things on offense that will be fun to follow, but all eyes will be on that quarterback race. It is as wide open as I can remember it since Coach Stoops has been at Oklahoma, so please talk about how that race shapes up in your eyes as you get ready to go to camp?
KW: "I think all three guys are in the mix with a couple of them being very young. We will need to do a good job on our end trying to put them in good positions in the spring. There will be some expectations that are unrealistic really for some of those guys. We have to put them in some positive situations. There have been several years where we have always had some competition. Quite honestly, that will be the mode of the offense all spring. There is going to be a lot of competition at a lot of spots. There are some proven players at receiver, tight end, offensive line and in the backfield that will be challenged by young players who have either played some or are waiting their time to start playing. They are very talented and there is going to be a lot of competition.
"We have, in years past, had some good competition at quarterback. A couple of years ago in '05, we had a quarterback race with Jason White and Nate Hybl. I think in my time here, which is five seasons, we have had two or three years where we actually didn't announce who the quarterback would be until preseason practice. So we came through spring, through summer with it being a competition. We let those guys kind of battle it out and see who would lead the team and over time who would mature and be the one.
"I think a critical thing for us with three guys is to put those three guys in chances where they can be positive. When you have three guys involved in a competition it would be nice in time if we would see one of those guys, or two of those guys, start to separate themselves. When it stays close and you are giving work to a lot of players that kind of waters it down a little bit. It actually hurts the development that you would like per se when you feel all three guys are equal and you are spreading your reps out to three guys. So in time you would like to see one or two guys merge and be clearly above.
"I think realistically you can see any of those three guys being the one or two guys right now. You just don't want to go into August with still a three-man competition. It would be nice to get it down to a one guy deal or at least a two guy deal."
BBJ: You don't have to tip your hand, but do you have your thoughts on who you feel who will emerge and you just want to see if your predictions are correct?
KW: "Not really. You try real hard in practice to make things like game situations, but until you really get out there and it is really flying you are not sure how some guys will really, truly react. We use that old hated coaching term if he is 'game' or not? Some guys do kind of handle the pressure and the speed and everything that is on that guys' shoulders in game mode, while other guys just seem to struggle and can't. We will try real hard as coaches to put them in those positive situations. We have even seen here and at times we have went through deals that we thought we had certain positions in place, but once you get out there and play a game or two maybe that a guy did not turn out that maybe you thought would at practice situations. That has happened to us at several positions with several guys sometimes.
"I don't have a pre-thought of who our quarterback is going to be right now. We have a young high school guy that everybody is going to hype up who is very talented, but in fairness to him he is so young that he really should still be in high school. We don't really want to overload or put way too much on that guy. We have two guys who have been here, but they have only been here a short amount of time. I think they all have different attributes and different strengths and I can realistically see any of them, and all of them being successful. I think all of them have some quarterback attributes that, quite honestly, they realistically bring more to the table than Paul (Thompson) did. However, Paul was a very smart and mature guy who played in a very efficient manner.
"These guys, all three of them, have the ability and talent to play as good or better than Paul did a year ago, but will they be mature enough to handle everything that goes with that position so that they can truly play in an upper level championship type play? That is the unknown. Their talents will be good enough and their abilities will be good enough, but can they take all that and manage it back into playing at the level they care capable?"
JH:You pointed out during bowl practice that you couldn't wait until spring practice because you have so much really good young talent at various positions on the offensive side of the ball that you think you will have a very competitive this spring, even where you have starters returning.
KW: "That is one of the exciting things about the spring. I think everybody is going to make a big deal about the quarterback and the notoriety of that position and the unknown of that position right now. You know, we would be sitting here if it wasn't for Adrian's (Peterson) situation last year, and everybody saw how well he tested, and people ask how can we every replace him? Well, you saw that we could and we did that in a pretty good way. I think everybody was up in arms when our situation happened with our quarterback with everybody saying the season is gone and that we have no chance. Look how we were able to respond with Paul and play in a pretty strong way.
"I like the fact that in the offensive line Branndon Braxton was playing very, very well. But when he got hurt our young freshman, Trent Williams, came in and played very, very well. Trent could be a guard or he could be a tackle, but now that puts Brnandon Braxton into some competition to where he is not just walking back into his job. He will need to walk back in and play at a high level.
"A year ago I felt Brian Simmons would be a tremendous guard, but unfortunately he had a knee injury in the summer and he missed some time. Brandon Walker, the junior college player, came in but having watched Brian in spring and Brandon last year, I felt that Brian would definitely have a chance to compete for that position. I don't think if it had been for the injury that those guys would have split time, even at the end of the year in a championship game and the bowl game. Brian Simmons was playing a lot of football during the course of the football game. Now, Brandon Walker has a little knee scope where he going to miss a few weeks of spring ball. That being said, I would like to think that Brian Simmons would be in a good battle for one of those internal spots. Chase Beeler is going to be a year more mature and he will be in a good battle, whether it will be at center with Jon Cooper or at guard.
"We know how talented Jermaine Gresham can be. Joe Jon Finley has been a nice player, but Joe Jon is going to have his hands full with Jermaine sitting right on his heels. He is an extremely talented player. It is the same thing at receiver with Brandon Caleb and Adron Tennell, who are two extremely talented receivers. Yet you look at Manuel (Johnson) coming back and you have Juaquin (Iglesias) and Malcolm (Kelly). Everybody sees the starters coming back, but as coaches you see a lot of great, young players.
"The greatest thing you can have as a coach is competition, and I think there is probably more balance and competition across our offensive football team. We don't have the quarterback answered as of yet and that will definitely be a competition, but there is going to be a lot of internal competition and that will do nothing, hopefully, but take a lot of good players and push those guys to be the next corp of great Oklahoma offensive players. We don't have those guys yet, but we have a bunch of good guys that are on the fringe of becoming some great, great players offensively.
"I think competition is the key thing that sometimes gets players over the hump. So that is the exciting thing for spring. And then, as we lead that into summer and then into pre-season, it is going to be an exciting four, five to six months watching these kids develop and to see where we can get to offensively."
BBJ: I am going to play role of the fan and ask when you are going to run more mis-direction and trick plays? When you are guys going to change it up because you are so predictable? What are you going to say to people that say that to you? Or do you, because you have new player,s think that you can be more open and more creative next year?
KW: "I think some of the young guys, and I didn't even mention Mossis Madu and DeMarco Murray that are tailbacks, are going to bring some things for us offensively. They are kind of hybrid tailbacks. We did run a reverse at Oregon, but it took an hour for the guy to come back around. The play took 20 seconds and it gained four yards. I remember saying that took a lot of work for four yards when it would be much simpler to hand the ball to 28.
"I think that is one of the exciting things that maybe we can see what some of those young players, not that Mossis Madu and DeMarco Murray are going to be receivers because they are tailbacks, but they are also very talented tailbacks. And you know Chris Brown is pretty decent and so is Allen Patrick. So you need to get those guys on the field in some spots, not to say they are going to be Marshall Faulk's or Reggie Bush's, but those are tailbacks that could play some in receivers' positions.
"At the same time, those guys are so young that we have to do a good job not overwhelming them. That was what I was talking about with Sam Bradford and Keith Nichol. We have to do a nice job with those guys so that we are putting them mentally in a good position. You can only do what your O-line can do and only do what your quarterback can handle. I am more excited about this line because I think they showed last year as sophomores that we put them in good positions.
"Shoot, we started four sophomores last year and I think we were the least sacked team in the Big 12 and we played reasonably physical. Now all those guys are coming back, except for Chris Messner. We have some depth coming back with that, probably as much as we have had since I have been here, and I think we are going to be able to do some things.
"Again, whether it will be mis-direction stuff, or a flee-flicker, or all that deal I know offensively where I have been and what I have been apart of. I think we have shown flexibility to do what we needed to do. In my time here, we had a little running back named Quentin Griffin who went for 2,000 yards the first year I got here when people said we couldn't run the ball. Then the next year with Jason White we had an immobile quarterback. We were a shotgun team and you know to be in the shot-gun you have to run like Brad Smith. We had a guy with two blown up knees that couldn't run and we won the championship.
Then you look at last year we lose our quarterback and starting tailback and we are able to win a championship again. So, I think what we will do is do everything that we can to put our kids in a position to be successful. I think I have a good background whether it be two-back, or one-back, spread, quarterback run. Shoot, I have done four years of no-huddle. We will do what we need to do to give our kids a chance.
"Everybody is going to make a big deal about the quarterback, but I know that Josh (Heupel) is going to do a great job. What I like on our offensive staff is that I have coached quarterbacks for four years, Kevin Sumlin has coached quarterbacks, Cale Gundy played quarterback and Josh Heupel played it and now he is coaching. We have a great feel for quarterback back in our room of putting that guy in good positions. I think, outside of Paul being a great kid and working hard, that is why Paul played so well last year — because we put him in good spots.
"Then it excites me when I watch DeMarco Murray, Mossis Madu, Adron Tennell and Jermaine Gresham and some of these great young talents. I think they will bring some of those skill pieces to maybe make it look a little bit more exciting. However, there are some good meat and potatoes sitting in there on that football team too that will give us a chance to be strong and an outstanding offense."
JH: What about left tackle? Besides Phil Loadholt, who are the candidates?
KW: "It will probably be Phil and Cory Brandon. Of course, right now all we are doing is watching the agilities and the workouts so when we get out there it could be different. Branndon Braxton and Trent Williams in some of the workouts actually went over during the individual time and looked well at left tackle last season. Then, of course, Duke Robinson actually was our back-up left tackle, even though I think you would like to see Duke inside at a guard spot because he is a little more comfortable in there.
"Cory Brandon is getting his weight up to about 290. He is still a young guy, but I like his athleticism. There is going to be a corp of eight or nine guys on paper in the spring. I would say it would be Phil and Cory Brandon, but once you get out there four or five days you might find realistically that somebody else is that left guy. Hopefully it will be Phil or big Cory."
Wilson looking forward to spring practice
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