Stoops previews spring practice

See inside for excerpts from OU head coach Bob Stoops' pre-spring practice press conference. Stoops talks about the quarterback battle and much, much more. (Photo/Lisa Hall)

Below are some excerpts from OU head coach Bob Stoops' pre-spring press conference held Wednesday morning.

On the early start to spring practice

Stoops: We're starting a little earlier than usual. I'd like to have this start around this time a year on a regular basis. I want to be able to finish our spring game and our spring earlier in case you get any kind of major injury. You have a chance to recover more, be fully recovered and have time in the summer to rehabilitate, gain the strength and have an injury fully recovered and ready to go in the fall.

Though we haven't had much of that in the spring, it still is my thinking to start it sooner to get the players back in time for the season if there were anything that way. So, it's always a balance. Anyway, we're looking forward to starting today and getting out there and doing lot of good work.

On the returning experience and quarterback battle

Stoops: I feel like we've got a lot of experience and strength on our team that's back. I think it's obvious when you look at the players that have played a lot and where they're back, the quarterback will be the main center of attention for sure. I told our guys we're going to be on the field a long time getting those guys as many snaps and repetitions as we can.

They're a great group of guys. I've really loved the way they've worked through the winter. All of them â€" Joey Halzle, Sam Bradford and Keith Nichol — they work together really well, which is fun to see as a coach that they're pushing each other, helping each other. They've made significant strength gains in the winter. All of them have gained weight, gained strength. I think Keith Nichol is up to 200 pounds, Sam's always been a big guy and Joey's well over 200.

They've worked really hard and look good coming into the spring. So we're just anxious to get them out there and get them snaps, get them repetitions and continue to develop them. They're talented guys, so we expect a lot out of them. It will be fun to get them out there playing.

Last year when Paul (Thompson) transitioned back from receiver to quarterback everybody was up in arms, 'Oh, the season's over.' And I said that our team was much more capable of helping that position and being a better offense around that position than we were the year before because of increased experience. That will for sure be the case even more this year.

With all the experience back on the offensive line, all the experience at running back, tight end, receiver,our offense will be much stronger around that position to help that position and develop that position. Now we've just got to get out there and start to do it.

On the defense and battle at linebacker

Stoops: Defensively, we've got a ton of guys back that have played a lot. The area people ask about will be linebacker. I believe we'll be more explosive and stronger in the long run at that position by the time we start the fall than we were a year ago.

When you look at the explosiveness and increased size of Curtis Lofton, he'll have a bigger role. People forget Ryan Reynolds, who was scheduled to start last year but was held out because of a knee injury. He'll be back. Those guys are powerful, strong guys. Demarrio Pleasant's back. Then you throw in guys like Mike Reed, who is a big, physical, strong guy. Overall we feel that position, in the end, is going to be a really good one for us.

On in he's ever gone into a spring practice with as much depth and quality players on the offensive line

Stoops: Well, we're still thin. The depth still isn't there when you look at the number of players. Most people are going out to spring ball with 15-18 guys on their offensive line.

We're still thin at that position, but I don't think anybody would argue the quality of players that we have there. So all those guys are back. They're all stronger, more physical from going through another winter.

Cory Brandon was hurt last year, who had a chance to play a lot. He's back. Phil Loadholt, a guy that everybody's talked about, has great size but he has great feet and a great work ethic to go with it. We believe there's great quality with those players.

On if his philosophy on how they pick a quarterback has changed

Stoops: No. You always want a tough guy. You want a guy that's going to play smart, you want a guy that's gonna be able to make plays. We're always about throwing first, so that's always going to be the case.

On his goals for the quarterback position this spring

Stoops: What I just said. To play smart, be tough, avoid the bad plays, make good plays. Make strong plays that you're able to make, but play within the offense. We want to develop all three of those guys and get them as many snaps and repetitions as we can.

On certain coaches not wanting to come out of spring practice with three quarterbacks still in the race

Stoops: You'd love to go out there in one day, know who the guy is and give him all the snaps. But is that realistically going to happen? No. These guys all need work.

On having a lot of starters back, yet there will still be competition at several positions Stoops:That's what you want. There's always competition here. We've had guys that have started some years, and whether they get hurt or don't play well, someone else gets in there and plays in a really good way and they're fighting to get their job back. That's what you want.

You want competition. To me, that's the only fair way I know to direct a team — is the guy that's performing the best the most consistently plays. It has nothing to do with age or anything else. It's what you're doing on the field and what your production is.

On the experiments of the secondary this spring

Stoops: Well, we feel like some other guys have come along. We want to give some guys like Keenan Clayton and Quinton Carter more snaps. Brian Jackson, we're going to look at some at safety. Those guys have got good speed and cover ability.

We're going to continue to work Reggie (Smith) some at corner. Just bringing more of those guys along and seeing if they can handle the pressure of it, make the right adjustments, make the plays that need to be made.

On if Reggie Smith will play the boundary corner

Stoops: Probably. Most likely that's where we're looking to work with him.

On the defensive ends

Stoops: There's good players there. John Williams and Alonzo Dotson have played a lot of football for us. They're seniors and they've played a significant amount over the last several years.

And then you have some young guys coming up. Auston English played as a true freshman for us, but redshirted last year. Alan Davis has moved back there. We used him a little last year at fullback when we had some injuries, but overall he's a guy that's played there for us before.

Tim Johnson and Pryce Macon — we've got some other young guys that we've got to continue to develop. But again, I feel that there's quality players there.

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