NORMAN - Tight end will have a totally different look this spring at the University of Oklahoma. Gone is four-year starter Trent Smith, and tight end coach Jonathan Hayes resigned his position with the Sooners to accept a similar post with the Cincinnati Bengals. Both played a big role in the Sooners recent run of success under Bob Stoops. However, replacing personnel is common place in college football.
"Shoot, we have to replace great players all the time here at Oklahoma and somehow we will find a way to replace Trent," said Head Coach Bob Stoops. "Trent was a great player for us, but because of his great play we have been able to recruit great players behind him. Those guys will step up and become great players as well. We have also lost several coaches since I have been here and we have always found a quality replacement. Jonathan will be missed, but in Kevin Sumlin, we feel have found another quality football coach to follow in his footstep.
Sooner fans should know of Sumlin. Sumlin was the Offensive Coordinator at Texas A&M this past season when the Aggies upset the Sooners in College Station. Sumlin's aggressive playing calling led to big plays in the Sooners secondary and a 400-yard day against the vaunted Oklahoma defense.
Sumlin was let go along with the entire coaching staff when R.C. Slocum was fired at the end of the season at Texas A&M. It didn't take Sumlin long to land a new job as he signed on with Gary Barnett at Colorado as the wide receiver coach. Sumlin worked all through December and January recruiting for the Colorado Buffaloes. However, it was toward the end of January that Jonathan Hayes announced that he was leaving OU for the Bengals.
Bob Stoops has always been impressed with Sumlin and the Sooner boss had the old Texas A&M OC at the top of his wish list. It only took one phone call and Sumlin was convinced to come to OU and switch to tight end coach to boot.
To Sumlin's credit, he didn't make the announcement until after the Buff recruits were signed on the dotted line. Sumlin was instrumental in five of the signees inking with the Buffs. If he announced that he was leaving early that could have had an effect on whether those signees inked with Colorado or not. Barnett wasn't happy when Sumlin gave him the news, but since when do the Sooners care if Barnett is happy or not?
Sumlin played linebacker at Purdue and coached wide receivers at Wyoming, Minnesota, Purdue and Texas A&M. He has never coached the tight end position before, but he doesn't feel it will be a problem.
"Coaching tight ends is going to be a little bit of a change for me," said Sumlin. "There is some technique that is specific to the position that will be different and it is a lot more physical position. That is especially true with what has happened here in the last year to year-and-a-half with OU's ability to run the football. I am really looking forward to it. I have had a chance to meet all the guys, and what a great bunch of guys they are."
The security blanket is gone with Smith graduating, but plenty of talent remains. Senior Lance Donley has played some major minutes for the Sooners, while James ‘Bubba' Moses and Chris Chester have already displayed big play potential.
"Whenever you lose a great one there is always that first little dip where people are always trying to find themselves," said Coach Sumlin. "There is an opportunity for someone to step up and fill that role. Looking at tape, watching the guys on tape and just watching them move around a little bit, it appears to me that there is going to somebody that will step up and fill that role."
If Hayes was still at Oklahoma there is no question that Donley would be the starter going into spring. However, with a new coach on board the competition is wide open.
"I really don't have any order right now because I haven't been on the job long enough to know the guys real well," said Sumlin. "I have talked to the other coaches a little bit about personnel, but overall Donley has already played a lot. Bubba Moses also has a little experience and that is a positive for us. I think it is going to be a heck of a spring, and that is why you have spring ball so that guys will develop, work in a system and hopefully somebody will emerge."
To get a real feel of what life after Smith might be we turn to Coach Hayes, who left a pretty good corp of tight ends behind.
"You bet there are some good tight ends still at OU. We recruited too good to let the well run dry," said Coach Hayes from his office with the Cincinnati Bengals. "The remaining tight ends have developed some good fundamentals and they have a good foundation to work with, which will help them grow and go out and be competitive. Now it is up to them to show they want to go to out and step up to the next level."
"Lance Donley has been solid for us for four years at OU," Hayes continued. "He is going into his fourth year and has shown that he can do everything that is required of a tight end pretty well. He has made some outstanding catches during practice and games, and he has good hands. Bubba Moses and Chris Chester are guys who have lots of potential and a lot of up-side, but they have to keep pushing themselves to grow and tap into that."
Smith has also watched his understudies work over the past year or so and he weighs in with his opinion who might replace him next year.
"I started for several years so those guys behind me had a great chance to develop under Coach Hayes," said Smith. "While I was out on the field they had a chance to learn the ropes very slowly and I think it paid off for all of them. Lance is a senior and you would always like to see a senior get the nod. I love Bubba and I love Chris Chester, but Lance is one of the hardest working guys on the team and you have never met anybody that worked harder. He has great hands and great attitude. Lance is another one of those guys that grew up loving the Sooners just like me. He is one of the Oklahoma kids that all Oklahoman's should be proud to see on the field."
"Bubba Moses has a ton of talent," Smith continued. "He has kind of figured out how to work hard. He is a guy that when he came in I wasn't real sure about, but I have really grown to like Bubba. He is a great guy."
"Chris Chester is actually living at my house right now with me and Nate (Hybl). Chris and Chris Bush's house burned down while we were at the Rose Bowl, so they moved in with us. I can remember when Lance and I were watching Chris's highlight film when we were recruiting him out of California. We pretty much figured we were going to lose our jobs, because his highlight film was incredible. The guy was fast and he had moves. A lot of Oklahoma fans haven't had a chance to see his shiftiness yet, but he has the very rare ability for a tight end to make people miss him. He is just a great athlete and he is one of the most laid-back, fun-loving guys that you will ever meet."
The odds favor Donley, but Moses and Chester are more talented. Moses is slightly ahead of Chester for the number two spot, but now that Chester feels he has a chance to start watch him pick up the pace at practice. Willie Roberts will join the group in the fall, so the battle to replace Smith at tight end won't be settled until the Sooners kick-off the 2003 season.
Spring Position Preview: Tight End
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