OU: Spring Football WrapupPosted: April 24, 2007
Quarterbacks were in the spotlight, and justifiably so. The Sooners return four starters on the offensive line, their top four wide receivers, three tight ends and six of the seven running backs / fullbacks who played last year. In three public scrimmages, junior Joey Halzle and redshirt freshman Sam Bradford got the most work with the No. 1 offense, while first-year freshman Keith Nichol worked primarily with backups. Bradford posted better statistics than Halzle, but star receiver Malcolm Kelly — who sat out the spring after knee surgery — said he thinks Halzle has a little bit better grasp of the entire offensive package.
Coach Bob Stoops shut down practices to the public and the media and limited media access to players in postpractice interview settings, so there are fewer opinions on the Sooners as there have been in past springs. The quarterback derby was the primary reason for that.
Finding the right position for certain players was also a priority during the spring, and that was accomplished in the offensive and defensive backfields.
DeMarco Murray: Suddenly, there are thoughts of a running back controversy. Murray, a redshirt freshman, was exceptional in the three public scrimmages, rushing for 327 yards and four TDs and averaging 11.3 yards per rush.
DeMarcus Granger: On a team with few stars on the defensive line, Granger, a sophomore, was consistently in the offensive backfield, creating havoc on both rushing and passing plays.
Reggie Smith: The junior starred at strong safety in 2005, and was on his way to starring at corner last season until inconsistency at safety forced coaches to move him back. So he switched again this spring to corner, and looked better than ever.
D.J. Wolfe: Here’s a guy who came to OU as a running back, became a solid cornerback, then lost his confidence and his job. Now a senior, he’s playing safety and, coaches say, looks comfortable.
Dominique Franks: Another lifelong corner who moved to safety this spring and impressed the coaching staff with his acumen for picking up the nuances of the most mentally challenging position in a very complex defense.
Auston English: This sophomore played sparingly his rookie season, then redshirted last year. Since then, he’s added strength, weight and an attitude that caught the eyes of coaches.
Brody Eldridge: In the Red / White game, the sophomore tight end sustained what coaches described as a sprain of the medial collateral ligament. Eldridge is expected to be near full speed by the start of training camp.
Ryan Reynolds: After successfully rehabbing a torn ACL from last spring, Reynolds had made up ground and was expected to vie for a starting linebacker job. But midway through the spring he sustained a slight tear in a different ligament and is expected to be healthy by August.
Phil Loadholt: Try to imagine being 6-foot-9 and 350 pounds and having a sore toe. Loadholt, the junior college All-American expected to start at left tackle, sat out the second half of spring drills to recover from turf toe.
WAIT AND SEE
Keith Nichol: Is clearly behind Sam Bradford and Joey Halzle when it comes to the playbook, but is clearly ahead of both when it comes to throwing a football or making something happen with his feet. Some of his receivers think Nichol’s arm may be better than Rhett Bomar’s.
Mike Reed: By the Red / White Game, Reed was in a comfort zone. His quickness and size combine with a unique ability to deliver a pop, and he showcased those talents in three scrimmages. Twice he hit ballcarriers so hard, they couldn’t hold onto the football.
Was progress made at QB? Yes. Sam Bradford and Joey Halzle started out and maintained their status as No. 1 and 1A (in no particular order) as Keith Nichol spent the spring learning the playbook and acclimating himself to the speed of the game. Now, Nichol can complicate things with a productive summer.
Will the starters who sat out the spring with injuries be set back? In most cases, no. Wide receiver Malcolm Kelly’s job is safe. Free safety Darien Williams’ job is virtually safe. Right guard Brandon Walker, though a returning starter, has more competition at his spot, however, and will have to peak to get back his job from Brian Simmons and Sherrone Moore.
How will Sooner coaches handle the running back situation? With a new QB, expect a lot of plays to go to the talented running backs. Senior Allen Patrick runs hard and has uncommon toughness, and will likely get most of the carries early. Sophomore Chris Brown simply has an innate lean, but his lack of speed and big-game experience could keep him in the backup role. Redshirt freshman DeMarco Murray is fast, shifty and strong, plus he catches the ball well.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
“Quarterback competition has been a staple of Stoops’ coaching tenure.”
Coaches are looking heavily at how the summer goes for all three QB candidates. Do their teammates rally around them? Do their wideouts give honest reports on talking the QB talk and walking the QB walk? Do they organize the workouts themselves, or do they rely on others? Halzle and Bradford have both shown this quality; Nichol will try to develop it.