Wilson talks offense

Oklahoma offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson talks the offenses' progress this spring, how they'll handle their depth at running back and the quarterback race.

OU Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson recently appeared on WWLS with Craig Humphrey and I to give his thoughts on the Sooners' offenseove performance in spring practice.

CH: I know you are playing a little golf and considering how hard you work most of the year you deserve a little time off?

KW: "This is a fun time of year. Spring practices are always non-stressful, teaching-oriented, and we are getting ready to get into an evaluated period of recruiting when we run around and see kids, but we can't talk to them. So the stress factor goes down and you can really enjoy your time working with the players on campus and getting to know the players that maybe you're going to recruit. And then making up some good family time with your wife and kids, so it is a very good time of year."

JH: What did you think about your offense following spring practice?

KW: "We made some strides in some good ways. We had a lot of kids coming back and a lot of good players. We challenged those guys to be a great team or a great offense, but we are a long way from that. However, there is a lot of experience and a lot of good players coming back and if they keep making some strides that great players, great units and great teams do, then we can be pretty good. That was their challenge.

"I thought we had a very physical spring on both sides of the ball. We had a lot of emphasis in the trenches in our inside-drills, in team work running the ball. The defense loaded up to stop the run. They were playing good run defense and we had to get our running backs going. Our receiving position was solid, but a little inconsistent sometimes catching the ball and with some things that needed to be cleaner. However, we will clean them up and they will come around. Malcolm Kelly was held out and that hurt us a little bit. All in all, I thought it was pretty good.

"A lot of guys will make a big deal with the quarterback situation, and that needs to continue to play out. We said before spring that all of those quarterbacks had skills to play as good or better than Paul (Thompson). The next to last practice we are in our pass skelly drill and Coach (Bob) Stoops walked by and he said, 'You know, all of these guys are throwing the ball better than we did last year.' So we are not where we want to be, but we are pleased with what is going on. We just need that to play it out and we think it will go in a good way. We just need to let these guys grab the bull by the horns and run around a little bit and see how it plays out."

CH: Last year you had to make an emergency change at quarterback and then lost your tailback for a good period of time, and I felt you had to have a plain vanilla offense at times. This year you will be young at quarterback, but experienced everywhere else on offense. Won't the fact that you will have a veteran offensive line allow you to be more creative this year offensively?

KW: "You would hope and we would think so. As an offense you want to be as diverse and as wide open as you can be, but you don't want to cross the line, much like in the golfing world, where guys are making foolish errors, pressing a little too far. There is a fine balance there. We want to definitely be wide open, but last year with the young line sometimes you pick and choose the things you think you can and can't handle at that point at time. Same thing with the quarterback situation with Paul.

"I say this all the time, we will do offensively what the quarterback can handle and what the line can handle. Now that they have played, they can take a step up to be better. Hopefully, that will enable us to continue to expand. We have a lot of quality skill kids that allow us to look at different things, and I think we can have more diversity with formations and playmakers potentially. That will continue to unfold.

"That quarterback situation, I look at it right now as similar as last year's line. I think all three have a chance to play well for us, so we just need them to play and let it play out. I think I was the Lone Ranger out here last year who wasn't too worried about the line. I thought that line would be good, but they just needed to play. I kind of have the same sense of the quarterbacks. I have a very positive, good feeling. We just need those guys to play and when they get out there to make sure they can handle it. Some guys can't handle things and some guys can, and that will play out.

"With so many people returning we should be able to do a few more things. With our whole receiver corps back, all the tight ends back, who are good players, all the line back and with Adrian (Peterson) being hurt we had a couple backs play well for us last year. Now we get to throw DeMarco (Murray) and Mossis Madu into the mix and I am very excited about the potential of the playmakers on offense. Hopefully, we will continue to have a great summer and see how we evolve come fall."

JH: Last year you were able to hold Brody Eldridge in a tight end cluster and then shift him to fullback. And now with DeMarco, Mossis, Jermaine Gresham and Joe Jon Finley bringing some diverse talents to the offense, can't you disguise more formations with different personnel groupings next year?

KW: "What you are looking for there are match-ups. You can do too much and be so diverse that you can muddy up and water down, but there is a chance we could put three tight ends on the field and actually flex a couple of them out. With Finley and Gresham at tight end and Brody as a fullback, we have some flexibility. Then DeMarco and Mossis have shown us that they do things at receiver spots, even though they are not true receivers, but they are hybrid guys that have nice skills.

"We just have to make sure that we don't put too much on a young players' plate. Jermaine is still a talented young player and so is DeMarco and Mossis, but you don't want too put too much on their plate and then mentally paralyze them and they can't go out there and be the players that they are."

CH: Do you go into next season with Allen Patrick as your No. 1 guy at tailback? Who will get most of the reps? It seems like you have so much talent at running back. With five running backs, doesn't it make it tougher on your to divide up this playing time?

KW: "Well, yeah, but Coach Cale Gundy will do a great job managing those guys. I do think all of those guys can get enough carries. It is a physical enough game that I think sometimes you need more than one. You look at the pros and a lot of teams are playing two running backs. I think Adrian (Peterson) was so talented and such a good guy that we probably rode him a little bit. A lot of years we have played two guys. You go back to Renaldo Works and Quentin Griffin, or KeJuan Jones with Quentin, or KeJuan with Renaldo. I think with using two or three you can go with the guy with the hot hand.

"There are going to be some bumps and bruises along the way, but I have a good feeling about all three. In all honesty, the least flashy guy, Chris Brown, might be the best player. He is just a rock out there. He is kind of like Brody. I think everybody likes Joe Jon and Jermaine's ability at tight end, but you watch a guy like Brody perform then you come to realize he might be the best player. I know last year Coach Merv Johnson would say every week if you pick the best player on offense that it might be Brody Eldridge by the way he is playing. However, he is doing things that are not flashy, and so is Chris Brown. Chris is always getting you three and four and when he should get two, and when it should be four he is getting us five and six. Maybe there are not a lot of home-runs out there, but there are a bunch of singles. He is just a heck of a good player, but that is one of the reasons why we are looking at trying to see if DeMarco and Mossis can play a little bit of slot receiver. It is not that we don't have good slot receivers, it's that it would increase competition at the slot-receiver position. But those are two good football players that you don't want sitting on the bench all the time.

"We are not going to go in and expect anything right now. To me, it will just play out. We have not sat down and talked about this guy will get X-carries or that guy will get X-carries. There might be games where a guy might be dinged up, gimpy and out and there might be games where the carries are evenly divided. Or there might be games where a guy has the hot hand and he is getting the bulk of them. So, it is a good situation to be in and I am very pleased with those players and those kids. Cale has done a great job coaching them and they are doing a great job of playing. It is a very great situation that we have I feel."

JH: I always like to talk to you about the NFL draft and you have often told me that teams will say certain things in the media just to send up smoke screens to not give away what they are really thinking of doing. What is the latest that you are hearing about Adrian Peterson and other Sooners when it comes to the draft?

KW: "I think right now there are a lot of smoke screens. I thought Coach (Jon) Gruden of Tampa Bay had a great line saying that Adrian Peterson was the best running back to come out of college in years. He is probably wanting him to get picked before Calvin Johnson gets picked or something. Not that I disagree with that, and I don't know that, but I know that Sean Payton told me a year ago when he called me to check on Davin Joseph and Chris Chester, I used to work with Sean a couple of years ago, and he asked me to tell him what I had. Then I asked him who he was going with when it came to his picks and he said here is the top five, and in the history of the NFL two of these top five are not going to make it. Then he said here they are, and they were phenomenal names. He said it is hard to believe as great as their college careers are that three are not going to make it.

"Someone said the other day that since 1971, quarterbacks taken in the first round among the first two picks, that it is a 40 percent chance that they don't pan out to be legit quarterbacks. It is a little bit of a crapshoot for those guys, but I do know that they do a lot of research on backgrounds of those kids. They do background checks on those kids all the way back to high school. So, I think whether a kid has or hasn't done something like smoke something, I think a young man being honest is a great quality, even if he has made a mistake. So, I don't know if that hurt those guys because, trust me. They are going to do their research. That being said, you just hope they make the right decision.

"I have no insight on Adrian. The Raiders were here to work him out. I know a personnel guy with the Lions that I have worked with spent a day watching film. He spent time with all the coaches to check on Adrian. I know that the Browns GM was here, and the Bucs running back coach was here. I have talked to Coach (Bobby) Petrino's brother in Atlanta and they are not just talking to me. So I know everybody picking in the top 8, 10 or 12 picks have a good feel who they are going to pick. But do they have a good feel about the other top 10, 15 or 20 guys? I don't know enough about it, but it doesn't look like there is one for sure guy in the draft. There is probably going to be a lot of beauty in the eye of the beholder and last minute wheeling and dealing. I think Saturday is going to be anxious for a lot of kids, but I think there are going to be a bunch of curve balls come next Saturday."

CH: Back to the quarterback situation, it seems that (Sam) Bradford is the leader going into the fall, but you have (Keith) Nichol who you couldn't give him everything at once. So he is going to have more of an opportunity in the fall to win that job.

KW: "I would definitely hope and think so. Our thought process wasn't to put him in a path were he couldn't be competitive. We didn't want to lead him down a course where he was going to be over-his-head and all he could do was fail and there were so many analytical things going on that he was paralyzed on the field. We wanted to keep it simple where he could have success. Our defense is very multiple, very fast and can do a lot of great things. Offensively, we start to throw multiple formations, multiple concepts and multiple reads, you know whether it is cover-2 or cover-3, here is your blitz so change your protections. When they are young we are limited with their meeting time and we can't even meet with those guys right now. So we basically have those 15-days of practice.

"Now that he has got his feet wet you would like to think, like the little kid learning how to swim, that he is getting closer to jumping into the deep water. I would think having now played he can go back through the summer and analyze all the tapes we have done and study and probably have greater recognition and great recall. From there, we would like to think that he will be very competitive come the fall. That is our plan. We did this not to hurt his chances now, we did this to help his chance in the fall. I did this to a couple of other young players that I have coached, that I over-extended early and I broke their confidence. It took us 6, 8 to 12 months to get him back. He was a good player, but he just got overwhelmed.

"I did not want to overwhelm Keith. He physically has a lot of skills that are maybe the best of anyone in that group. He has a very strong arm and innately does a lot of really, really good things. It is just a matter of him getting comfortable and up to speed. At the same time, I am just very cautious. I don't want expectations of that kid where all he can do is fail. I have tried very cautiously to put him in a path where he could have success instead of being built up to a standard to where he could never be early in his career be what everybody thinks. We are very pleased with him and very excited about him.

"I think Sam has done awfully well and, quite honestly, Joey (Halzle) is kind of like Chris Brown. When you watch him every day he is the least flashy, but makes the least mistakes. We are a good enough team that there is a merit of that. Joey played well enough during stretches where he had Sam and Keith really pushing and making some critical mistakes because Joey was playing pretty consistent. I think the other two probably have innately a little more skill level, but Joey is a little bit more mature. Fortunately, we do feel we have a chance to be very strong on offense.

"We are as excited every since I have been here about the group. They key is to just make sure that quarterback spot plays well. Right now, I am comfortable with all three. I think all three are a little different right now where they are at, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out. Woody Hayes had an old analogy that you learn to ice skate in the summer and you learn to roller skate in the winter. That means when the snow melts you have to be a better ice skater. We can't practice right now, but those guys need to become better quarterbacks to give us a chance to have a great offense next year."

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