With the conclusion of spring practice, the Oklahoma coaching staff has jumped right into player evaluations. A week from Monday, OU's coaches will hit the road to evaluate 2008 and 2009 recruits for the following four weeks.
So despite the fact that spring practice is over the coaches will stay incredibly busy over the next month and a half, but not too busy for OU Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables to talk to OUInsider.com about his thoughts on spring football.
JH: You had two practices following the Red/White game. How did they go for your defense?
BV: "We put in a number of things that we had not had a great deal of time to work on in live situations. We worked on our two-minute defense, some of our 3-4 defense, goal-line situations. We also looked at some different personnel combinations and tried to get certain guys at a few techniques. We were over-emphasizing and feeding them opportunities to improve at techniques that you know that they are critical for your play next fall."
JH: As a group you always seem to cover so many different things in the spring, especially when you only get 15 practices. Were you pleased with the amount of work you got in and with the amount of information that the defense learned during those 15 practices?
BV: "Absolutely. It felt like we really did get a lot accomplished. We felt like that we found out who could do what and what guys can make what types of plays. We looked at guys and determined what they need to work on going into next fall. Things that you can build on and count on going into next fall. I am hoping somehow and someway, for example, that the Ryan Reynolds injury is really something that has helped us find out what some other guys can do. It allowed us to look at some different combinations too.
"I think, ultimately, in the end it has allowed us to build some depth. Depth sometimes means a guy can play a couple of different positions. We did get a lot of work in and we feel the guys improved and learned a great deal more about how we play defense and we learned a great deal more about them."
JH: After Ryan's injury, did Curtis Lofton develop at the WILL like you hoped and did Mike Reed come on at the MIKE like you hoped?
BV: "They sure did. Really, both of them did. There was more assuredness, but there is some growth that needs to take place. But it will. Both showed me that they have more than enough ability to do it and play it at a really high level based on the improvement I saw them make in a very short period of time."
JH: A great story this spring was walk-on defensive tackle Tommy Taggart, who actually started for you in the spring game. Stories like that always make the spring interesting don't they?
BV: "No doubt. And he has really been one of the surprises of the spring. We knew he was good, but until you get him opportunities to get out there sometimes you just don't know. It is just like a Gayron Allen, who I would have never thought that he would play at the level that he did in '03 and '04. Had it not been for two guys getting injured, Lance Mitchell and Wayne Chambers, you never would have known that he could play. I got a linebacker drill tape or highlight tape that I teach coaching and technique on, and he is on there along with Teddy Lehman virtually more than anybody else.
"They are just tremendous football players that, again, sometimes you are blind as a coach. It takes those situations sometimes for those guys to pop out of nowhere. Those are good stories not only for you guys to hear, but good stories for us as coaches when you can find a guy already in your program like that."
JH: With the scholarship limitations are walk-ons imperative to the success of your program in many ways?
BV: "No doubt. It is a huge advantage if you can find that, but it is not always the norm when you can either. The more you throw it out there and cast your line, if you will, the better chances inevitably that you might catch a big one."
JH: As you go into the off-season, are you settled at safety or are you still looking for safeties?
BV: "We feel good about our safety group. Obviously, Darien Williams has started and played. He was good enough to play the last two years for us, and play well. Nic Harris has shown that he can play. He has played since his true freshman year. We have always liked Nic. Nic can be nickel and he can play safety. He can play them both really, really well. Nic can also play SAM.
"Then D.J's (Wolfe) improvement and transition from corner to safety is also in the running for most improvement and best move of the spring for us. We feel really good about D.J. Dominique Franks, as a nickel back coming in and being a fifth DB as well, has really proved that he can make a lot of big time plays. He reminds you of a little bit more instinctive Antonio Perkins when 'Perk' use to be our nickel back his first few years. He has all the ability, has tremendous vision on the field and instincts. He just needs to play. He really made a tremendous amount of improvement, yet we just need to find him reps.
"So we have those guys, let alone Keenan Clayton who was hobbled up the last couple of days with a quad (injury). Then Quinton Carter was hobbled the last seven practices with a bad ankle. That was really tough on him. He has shown us a lot of really good things too. Safety is not dire straights as we look at it by any stretch."
JH: Since Coach Stoops and you have been at OU, you have always played great defense. From what you saw this spring, can this group play at the high level you expect your defense to play at OU?
BV: "We are capable of it, but we have to earn it. Guys have to commit to it, they have to invest in it, and a lot of that is going to be on them between now and when we show back up in August. Nothing is going to be inherited and nothing is going to happen by osmosis. There is a lot of work that needs to take place and guys need to make a tremendous and genuine investment in becoming great players and a great defense.
"There is a chemistry and trust that needs to develop over this time. The guys have to have that go-for-broke attitude with the weight room and the way they condition. If they want to become good football players, then good football players are usually smart football players too. They need to understand our defense by committing to watching additional film on their own. The film study is critical. They have to find a way that they can find an edge, an edge over themselves from a year ago at this time, and how they can improve. You just don't say I am going to improve because I am a year older. It doesn't happen that way. What is your edge? We need each of our guys to ask themselves that."