Football: Sooners start first official spring practices
Amy Frost, The Oklahoma Daily
It’s that time of year when Sooner fans’ nostrils flare up in anticipation as the scent of the first day of spring football fills the air.
Head coach Bob Stoops held a pre-spring practice press conference Tuesday and said the players and staff are looking forward to getting back on the practice field.
“We’re excited to get going again,” Stoops said. “It seems like it’s fairly early, but in the end I like starting it early. I like getting a good number of practices in before we take spring break and then stretching it out and finishing April 11.”
Amy Frost, The Oklahoma Daily
Stoops said the coaching staff feels positive about the state of the team and the work done by players during winter practices and workouts.
“Coach [Jerry] Schmidt was really pleased with the overall work of our players, which is always a big indicator of what kind of team we have a chance to have,” Stoops said. “He was really, overall, very pleased with the progress of most all of our positions.”
One of the biggest standouts heading into spring practice has been the wide-receiving corps that lost its top three receivers to graduation.
“They’ve really had a good winter,” Stoops said. “So that really tells you their maturity or their want-to in recognizing that ‘Hey, maybe we’re a little inexperienced. Here’s some hard work and we can make it up.’”
Even though players have not been a part of any contact drills since the fall, Stoops is going to limit the amount of hits many of his veterans will take during the spring.
Players such as Heisman Trophy-winning sophomore quarterback Sam Bradford — who never takes hits in practice — junior running back Chris Brown and junior tight end Jermaine Gresham are among the veterans who will be limited in the contact drills to avoid any potential injury.
“Whether Sam is in there or not, he’s not going to be hit, but we do want to see the other young guys continue to develop,” Stoops said. “I think it’s important with Sam to continue to make improvement as well, and he will.”
Sophomore running back DeMarco Murray and junior defensive end Auston English won’t participate in spring team activities as they’ll be recovering from injuries they suffered during the 2008 season.
With the loss of four starters on the offensive line, the younger players have had to quickly adapt.
But Stoops said their progression is a little behind and they need to pick things up before the start of the season.
“[The offensive line] hasn’t had the winter everybody else has had,” he said. “They’re right now the weak link of the team and we’ll see if they can respond and have any kind of spring and summer to help us to be a team that can contend for a Big 12 championship. They’ve been very inconsistent in how they work and their toughness and discipline, so that’ll be something that we’ll just see as time goes [on].”
Probably the biggest Achilles’ heel for the Sooners last season was special teams. The coverage team allowed four kick returns for four touchdowns and the kickers totaled two touchbacks and missed five of 13 field goals.
“I do feel overall those positions [on special teams] will be improved for us,” Stoops said. “That’ll be a big plus.”
From what he’s seen during the winter workouts, Stoops feels the players are anxious and ready to put on the pads for the spring.
“I’ve never ever been disappointed in how our guys approach practice,” Stoops said. “They’re always very competitive, and they may say they’re not looking forward to it but their actions show that they are.”
-Jono Greco/The Daily
Offensive line a focus in spring
The loss of four starting offensive linemen has left junior Trent Williams as the only returning starter on what Stoops calls “the weak link of the team.”
“We’ll see if they can respond and have any kind of spring and summer to help us be a team that can contend for a Big 12 Championship,” Stoops said.
Several key players out for spring
Sophomore running back DeMarco Murray, junior linebacker Ryan Reynolds, junior defensive end Auston English, redshirt freshman linebacker Austin Box and junior defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger will not participate in the Sooners’ spring workouts while they recover from injuries. As a precaution, junior running back Chris Brown and junior tight end Brody Eldridge also will have limited participation.
“Fortunately, the ones that may be out, other than Austin [Box], have played a lot of football and are very experienced players,” Stoops said. “I don’t think it’s anything that will hold them back.”
Newest Sooners impressive so far
Five of OU’s 2009 recruits graduated early from high school and will participate in spring workouts. Head coach Bob Stoops said quarterback Drew Allen, defensive back Javon Harris and linebackers Jaydan Bird, Ronnell Lewis and Tom Wort had productive winter training.
“It shouldn’t be expected coming right out of high school to handle the levels that our guys work at and the tempo we go at,” Stoops said. “These guys really fought through it and were fabulous and really handled it well.”
— Claire Brandon/The Daily