Oklahoma Sooners: David Smith

Finding a running back isn’t a concern that immediately comes to mind when projecting the 2014 Sooners' offense, mainly because of the many options on the fingertips of running backs coach Cale Gundy.

Yet someone needs to step up and become the face of the running game.

“They’re doing a really good job of competing,” quarterback Trevor Knight said. “They come in every day working extremely hard. I’m really excited about them. I feel like everyone’s just got a little juice under them right now. It’s fun to work with guys like that.”

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford is one of many OU RBs competing for carries this spring.
Sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross spent the 2013 season in the shadows of OU’s three senior running backs, with Ford seeing limited action before fumble troubles returned him to the sideline. Ford took steps to correcting his fumble problems during Sugar Bowl preparations and is focused on ball security this spring.

“It’s just one of those learning curves for me,” Ford said. “It’s just one of those things adjusting to the college game style and the gameplay, and the speed and how everybody is bigger, faster and stronger than high school.”

Ford already got a small level of redemption with three carries for 15 yards in the Sugar Bowl after going five straight games without a carry after his fumble against Kansas.

“He didn’t fumble it in the bowl game, he’s taking care of it,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Keith is an excellent player.”

The Sooners are hopeful he’s not the only quality running back on the roster. OU has leaned on multiple backs for the past three seasons, so it would take someone running away with the job for OU to put the entire focus of its running game on one running back.

Thus, the competition for carries should be fierce and ongoing throughout the year.

“We’re all good backs,” Ford said. “We all work hard each day. We all have each other’s backs, we’re all competing and we’re all a family, and that’s the most important. We work hard every day and we just grind. That’s all we can do, take it day by day.”

This could be a do-or-die spring for Ross, who could watch multiple younger running backs rise by him on the depth chart if he doesn’t begin to fulfill his playmaking potential and remain healthy. His talent is not in question so he could be ready to finally have a breakout spring and set himself up to make an impact in his redshirt sophomore season.

“I believe he is,” Stoops said when asked if Ross could be ready to contribute. “He’s had a really good winter, he had good bowl practices. So, I believe he is ready for that to happen.”

David Smith and Daniel Brooks round out the spring competitors who are aiming to secure a role before ESPN 300 running backs Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine arrive in the summer.

“Those guys will have their opportunities, and a lot of them here through the spring,” said Stoops of the running back competition.

OU spring position battles: No. 1

February, 28, 2014
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Spring football provides the opportunity for players to put themselves in the driver’s seat when it comes to position battles. Several Oklahoma Sooners will have the chance to make a statement and make themselves the favorite to start or become a significant contributor during spring drills with several starting spots open heading into 2014. This week we reviewed the top five position battles to keep an eye on this spring. On Friday, we finish the series with the running back position.

No. 1: Running back

Why it’s important: It’s critical for the Sooners offense to be balanced. Lack of balance hampered OU’s offense in 2013 but Trevor Knight’s Sugar Bowl performance gives the passing game hope. Now it’s important to find a quality running back who can keep defenses honest.

Competitors

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford looks like the favorite to be the No. 1 RB, but he'll have plenty of competition this spring.
Sophomore Keith Ford: The Texas native started making a name for himself on special teams before carving out a role on offense early in Big 12 play. Fumble problems placed him in the doghouse but he finished his freshman season with 23 carries for 134 yards and one touchdown. He’s the favorite to sit atop the depth chart after spring.

Sophomore Alex Ross: He brings a terrific size/speed ratio at 6-foot-1, 209 pounds, but he needs to improve his performance in all aspects of the position. This spring is his opportunity to show he deserves some carries in 2014.

Sophomore David Smith: This spring is Smith’s opportunity to prove he can make an impact as a running back. With two top freshmen poised to join the program in the summer, it could be the most important spring of Smith’s career.

Summer arrivals

Freshman Joe Mixon: The ESPN 300 running back is extremely versatile and could end up being used a lot of different ways in the fall.

Freshman Samaje Perine: Another ESPN 300 running back, Perine will bring a physical, slashing style to the program in the summer.

Potential outcomes

Best-case scenario: Ford and Ross wage a competitive battle to sit atop the depth chart after the spring. The duo could complement each other well and this spring might be the first glimpse at their potential together. Ideally all three running backs show they can help the Sooners because you can never have too many running backs.

Worst-case scenario: Ford continues to fumble, Ross continues to struggle to be a complete running back and Smith doesn’t look like he can make an impact. That opens the door for Mixon and/or Perine to skyrocket up the depth chart in August.
Spring football is just over the horizon.

Oklahoma is coming off a banner 2013 campaign featuring an 11-win season and a Sugar Bowl win over SEC power Alabama. Yet, the Sooners have several position groups they need to address if they hope to make a national title run in 2014. This week, we’ll take a closer look at the top-five position groups that need to improve during OU’s spring practices. On Tuesday, we continue the series with the Sooners running backs at No. 4.

The breakdown

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiKeith Ford showed flashes of potential as a freshman and could be the favorite to become Oklahoma's featured back.
On campus: Keith Ford, So.; Alex Ross, So.; David Smith, So.

Summer arrivals: Joe Mixon, Fr.; Samaje Perine, Fr.

Summary: Oklahoma is replacing three departed seniors -- Damien Williams, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch -- who rushed for 4,824 yards during their careers in crimson and cream with a group full of sophomores and freshmen. The Sooners built their running game on the shoulders of the departed seniors for the past three seasons, a realization which brings concern and hope. The concern is about the lack of experience on the current roster, while the hope is from the understanding that Finch and Clay handled the burden of OU’s running game as sophomores.

Ford is the favorite to win the job after forcing himself into the lineup as a true freshman despite sitting alongside three veteran runners in the film room. Ford issues with fumbling the ball, but he averaged 5.8 yards per carry as a freshman and brings a tough, slashing running style to the table. Ford can prove his fumble troubles are behind him this spring and remove all doubt, while making himself the clear favorite to get the bulk of the carries in 2014.

Ross has a size/speed ratio that is difficult to match but has struggled with the miscellaneous duties of lining up at the running back position for the Sooners. If he ever begins to excel in his duties without the football, he’ll get more opportunities to show his special skills with the ball in his hands. And if it happens this spring, he could secure himself a role before elite recruits Mixon and Perine arrive in the summer.

Smith, who is well-liked by his teammates and respected for his commitment to the program, faces a long road to making a major impact in the backfield. This spring provides him the opportunity to change that.

Mixon will step on campus as the most versatile running back on the roster. He can run like an elite running back and catches the ball like a receiver. He could make an immediate impact.

Perine brings a tough, physical runner into the mix. He’s been quietly overlooked since committing to the Sooners last spring, but he joined Mixon in the ESPN 300 and could be the perfect complement to his fellow 2014 signee.

The list

No. 5: Tight ends
In the next few weeks leading into signing day it’s a great time to take a position-by-position glance at Oklahoma’s returning roster. This series, called State of the Position, will look at the playmakers, up-and-comers and current commitments or targets at each position for the Sooners as recruiting really heats up before signing day on Feb. 5. After kicking the series off with quarterbacks on Monday, we continue with running backs.

Starter/contributors: Keith Ford (sophomore)

The lone non-senior to see significant carries in OU’s backfield in 2013, Ford could have been a bigger contributor if he hadn’t suffered a case of fumblitis as he was starting to get into the rotation. He had at least five carries against Texas and Kansas and was emerging as a main threat at running back until his fumble against the Jayhawks. He never regained the coaches' trust until the Allstate Sugar Bowl when he resurfaced with the starters. He should be a main contributor in 2014 with his physical running style and decisive cuts. He had 23 carries for 134 yards and one touchdown.

On the cusp: Alex Ross (sophomore), David Smith (sophomore)

Ross is another talented youngster who could play a major role in OU’s backfield in 2014, although it’s clear Ford passed him on the depth chart last season. Ross brings a combination of size and speed that is hard to duplicate but he needs to bring consistency and gain the trust of the coaching staff before he becomes a guy the coaches can build a game plan around.

Smith didn’t have a carry as a redshirt freshman so he’ll have to take his game to another level to carve himself a role in the offense.

On the recruiting trail: Joe Mixon (Oakley, Calif./Freedom), Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson)

Mixon and Perine, two members of the ESPN 300, could become a nightmare duo for Big 12 defenses. Perine is a physical runner who will make defenders pay while running the ball and Mixon’s slippery running style and versatility could get him on the field alongside his fellow running backs. If both freshmen are ready to play -- meaning they’re ready to handle pass blocking responsibilities and everything outside of carrying the football -- the Sooners could have a deeply talented and young group.

Overall Grade: C

It’s going to be nice for running backs coach Cale Gundy to have a meeting room full of potential stars this fall. But none of them have accomplished anything as a Big 12 running back. Can they carry the load? Can they bring durability, dependability and versatility to OU’s offense? Can they make game-changing plays when the Sooners need a spark? Those questions are unanswered. Upside has never gained a first down … but it would be a surprise to watch the Sooners’ grade remain below a B at this time next year. There’s too much talent on the roster.
There’s a special distinction that comes with being the first commit. For Oklahoma’s 2013 class, that first commit also happened to be its top-rated recruit in running back Keith Ford.

He committed at OU’s second junior day and never entertained the thought of looking elsewhere. Other schools tried to make a push, but Ford remained solid to the Sooners.

OU is solid at running back for 2013, but Ford has fans salivating for what can be in the future and believe he might even be good enough to see the field in the fall.

Prior to his arrival on campus, Ford spoke to SoonerNation one more time to discuss his expectations.

[+] EnlargeKeith Ford
Miller Safrit/ESPN.comFour-star RB signee Keith Ford has high expectations for his time at OU.
SoonerNation: You talk running backs and OU, you talk No. 28 with Adrian Peterson. What’s your number going to be?

Keith Ford: No. 21. They gave me 21, 27, 31 and 35, so I picked the lowest number I could.

SN: Who is your roommate going to be?

Ford: Austin Bennett. I actually played against him last year in the playoffs. I didn’t really know who he was during the season. But then we played against each other and went on the official visit at the same time and got to know each other a lot. We call each other a lot.

SN: What have you been working on since the end of your senior season?

Ford: I run a lot. Working out five days a week and eating the right foods. My mom is not going to be able to cook for me in college so I’m teaching myself now. Most of the time I’m cooking my own meals and learning to eat right. Nutrition is important.

SN: When did you know in your heart OU was the place for you?

Ford: I felt comfortable there. My parents felt comfortable. I love the coaching staff. Coach [Cale]Gundy sold me on more than the team and the school. He sold me on the people.

SN: What have the coaches told you about your potential role this season?

Ford: I don’t really talk about that. For me, it all starts with discipline. I never ask the coaches about playing time. My goal is to play next year as a true freshman, but it’s up to me to make that happen.

SN: What’s the biggest difference of going from high school to college?

Ford: The speed of the game. It’s going to be a lot of faster. You have to make real quick decisions. I feel like I have a good feel of what it’s going to be like.

SN: You met Class of 2014 running back commit Samaje Perine at the spring game. What was that like?

Ford: It was great. He’s huge. We text from time to time. He’s another Texas running back coming here, too. Like him, I’m just ready to play football in that stadium. Not too many people get that chance.

SN: Who are some of the players you’ve been talking to the most on the team?

Ford: Sooner Dave [David Smith]. I talk to him a lot. I talk to Alex Ross and Roy Finch, too, and Kendal Thompson. I feel very comfortable with all of them.

SN: When you leave OU, what do you want your legacy to be?

Ford: To be the best running back to ever come out of OU. That’s what I’m striving for. I won’t accept anything else.
You’ve seen them while prepping your fantasy football team. Or reading ESPN Insider Chad Ford while getting ready for the NBA Draft. The “tier system” is an effective way of making sense, differentiating and analyzing a cluster of players. Everyone from pro sport general managers to college coaches out on the trail recruiting employ this method.

With this is mind, SoonerNation has parsed out Oklahoma’s roster into 10 separate tiers. Here they are:

Tier 1: The Elite (Guys who could play for almost anyone)


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The last several days, ESPN Insider Phil Steele has been rolling out the rankings of his top individual position units in the country. In that vein, SoonerNation has ranked OU’s position units for the upcoming season, from best to worst:


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During the summer months, SoonerNation will take a closer look at each player on Oklahoma’s roster in our Crimson Countdown series. Each day, we will analyze each player’s impact on the program since arriving on campus, his potential impact this fall and his long-term impact. Starting with No. 1 Kendal Thompson, the series will follow the roster numerically through our final analysis of No. 99 Chaz Nelson.

David Smith
Running back, 5-foot-10, 206 pounds, redshirt freshman



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NORMAN, Okla. -- One look at Oklahoma’s offense in 2008, the year of the Sooners’ last BCS title game appearance, provides a revealing look at that squad’s success.

St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford triggered the offense with Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham of the Cincinnati Bengals and three NFL draft picks (Ryan Broyles, Juaquin Iglesias and Manuel Johnson) at receiver. Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray lined up alongside Bradford with Pro Bowl offensive lineman Trent Williams and Minnesota Vikings tackle Phil Loadholt up front. The defense, meanwhile, was led by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy of Tampa Bay and Detroit Lions linebacker Travis Lewis.


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Oklahoma running backs coach Cale Gundy has done it again. While OU coach Bob Stoops felt a change in his coaching staff was necessary for the 2013 season, Gundy was never on the chopping block.

Wednesday afternoon is evidence of why that is, as ESPN Watch List running back Samaje Perine (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) became the first running back commit for OU’s 2014 class.


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OU commits hope Treadwell joins class 

December, 17, 2012
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It took more than eight months after he was initially supposed to visit campus, but it was worth the wait for Oklahoma and ESPN’s No. 1-ranked wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee).

Treadwell, who is No. 20 in the ESPN 150, was the top-ranked visitor at OU for the Sooners’ banquet weekend.

[+] EnlargeLaQuon Treadwell
Chantel Jennings/ESPN.comTop receiver Laquon Treadwell is taking an official visit to Oklahoma State in January.
And with a number of OU commits in the house, it made for a great weekend even if it didn’t end with a Sooners commitment for Treadwell.

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NORMAN, Okla. -- Through two games, the Sooners have played nine true freshmen: wide receivers Trey Metoyer, Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal, tight end Taylor McNamara, center Ty Darlington, defensive ends Mike Onuoha and Charles Tapper, linebacker Eric Striker and cornerback Gary Simon. With the cupcake portion of the schedule over and one with, it appears the rest of the true freshmen will redshirt this season.

SoonerNation breaks down the rest of the freshman class, from those most likely to least likely to make an impact in 2013:

[+] EnlargeTrey Metoyer
Richard Rowe/US PresswireReceiver Trey Metoyer is one of nine true freshmen who have played this season for the Sooners.
1. Alex Ross, running back: The Sooners could have an opening in the backfield for Ross with Dominique Whaley due to graduate. Damien Williams figures to be projected starter, and then there’s Brennan Clay and Roy Finch. But Ross nearly avoided this redshirt this season with an even more crowded backfield. Ross’ future is bright.

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Bob Stoops named his five captains for this season, as voted on by the players. The offensive captains are Landry Jones and Gabe Ikard; David King is the defensive captain; and Tress Way is the special teams captain. Fullback Trey Millard, who also got votes for special teams, is the fifth captain.

Both Jones and Way were captains last season, along with Ben Habern, Travis Lewis and Ryan Broyles.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bell
AP Photo/Ross D. FranklinLane Johnson (left) started at right tackle in 2011, but has the edge in the left tackle competition this season.
• Offensive tackle/tight ends coach Bruce Kittle revealed that Lane Johnson has the “nod” at the moment for the starting job at left tackle. Johnson and Tyrus Thompson have been battling since the spring. Thompson actually started the spring game over Johnson.

Kittle said he plans to use Johnson also at right tackle, where he played last season, to spell Daryl Williams at times. When that happens, Thompson will be in at left tackle.

“To be able to do that with Lane is huge,” Kittle said.

Williams, who had one of the best springs of any Sooner, has continued that into the fall, solidifying the starting job at right tackle. Williams started one game there last season, before losing the job to Johnson after an ankle sprain.

Asked what his mindset is in 2012, Williams said: “Keep starting.”

“He’s very consistent,” Kittle said of Williams. “Strong in pass protection.”

For the moment, the tackle position remains a three-man rotation with Johnson, Thompson and Williams. The fourth in the pecking order, redshirt freshman Derek Farniok, is “not quite in that three-man rotation,” said Kittle, who believes Farniok’s future is at right tackle.

• Guard/center Nila Kasitati said he’s feeling good since underdoing a procedure three weeks ago to correct an arrhythmia. Kasitati said he’s been dealing with it for years, but didn’t understand what it was and figured it wasn’t serious. Kasitati said his heart rate would get really fast, and he’d have to relax to slow it down. One day this summer, he woke up and couldn’t slow it down. He had to step out of a workout, and figured it was time to see a doctor.

“It hit me when I woke up,” he said. “Before I didn’t really think much about it.”

Kasitati has since returned to the practice field, and is currently OU’s top reserve at either guard spot and center. He admitted he still needs a few more days of practice to get his conditioning up, but said he should be good by opener at UTEP.

• Once again, Bob Stoops was quizzed about the health of running back Dominique Whaley.

“Is he 100 percent? He sure looks it,” Stoops said.

Running backs coach Cale Gundy said Whaley hasn’t had “an episode where he’s had to come out.

“He’s healthy," Gundy said.

• Gundy discussed at length his thoughts on OU’s running backs. Gundy said Whaley, Brennan Clay and junior college transfer Damien Williams are the top three backs and most likely to see the bulk of the playing time. That leaves freshmen Alex Ross and David Smith on the outside looking in.

“Everyone knows I like to play 2-3 guys,” Gundy said. “But I don’t want to play 4-5.”

Gundy said the reason Williams has separated from the two freshmen is because “he’s learned the system faster.”

But Gundy had plenty of praise for Ross and Smith.

“When they have known what they’re doing, they have looked really good,” Gundy said. “They don’t look like most freshmen that way.

“They break tackles, outrun people, and they don’t get caught.”

It will be interesting to see if the Sooners redshirt either back.

• Even though much of the media discussion has focused on others, Clay said he doesn’t feel overlooked – even though he opened the 2011 season as the starter and yet his name rarely is mentioned when talk of the Sooners running backs comes up. Clay doesn’t worry about what people think of him or his ability because he knows he’ll have the opportunity to prove himself on the field.

Clay was highly regarded when he stepped on campus but injuries have hampered his first two seasons. Gundy likens him to former Sooner Chris Brown in terms of his dependability with OU’s offensive attack.

“He’s a guy you can count on,” Gundy said. “When you put him out there, you know what you’re going to get out of him.”

Geneo Grissom spoke for the first time since being declared the Sooners’ starting tight end by Bob Stoops. The former defensive end said he went up to Stoops shortly after spring ball, to ask if he could give tight end a shot. Grissom said he was “surprised” Stoops was as open to it as he was.

Grissom thought the opportunity was there for playing time at tight end, considering the Sooners had no returning letter winners at the position.

“I felt like that could be to my advantage,” he said.

Since, Grissom has beaten out both Brannon Green and Taylor McNamara to be the starter.

“I’m still learning,” said Grissom, who admitted he was surprised he has risen to the top of the depth chart so quickly.

Grissom said one of his favorite athletes has been Jermaine Gresham, and he’s trying to model his game after the former OU All-American tight end.

“I love catching the ball,” he said. “Who doesn’t love scoring touchdowns?”


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On paper, the Sooners appeared deep and strong at running back in August of last year. Then Jermie Calhoun and Jonathon Miller quit. Then Dominique Whaley broke an ankle and Brandon Williams caught fumbilitis. Suddenly the Sooners were left with a banged-up Brennan Clay and Roy Finch in the Insight Bowl.

[+] EnlargeBrennan Clay
Mark D. Smith/US PresswireBrennan Clay rushed for 274 yards for the Sooners last season.
Clay, however, likes what he sees out of the rotation this season. Williams transferred to Texas A&M in the offseason. But Whaley is back and healthy. Clay is feeling good, too. The Sooners also added junior-college transfer Damien Williams and blue-chip freshman Alex Ross. Illinois native David Smith was added to the recruiting class a few weeks before signing day, too.

"I love the competition," Clay said. "It only makes me play harder."

Clay has been impressed with the newcomers, especially Ross, who is playing his way out of a redshirt.

"They all have raw talent. Alex is a speedster. You guys have probably already heard that," Clay said. "David Smith is a hard worker. Always finishes to the whistle."

Clay sees Damien Williams making an instant impact, too.

"My boy Damien Williams, I played against him (in high school)," Clay said. "He was my rival. I know him pretty well. I know he can play. I'm excited to see what he can do."

The Sooners feel so good about their depth at running back now, they’ve tinkered with using Finch in the slot. Finch played some jetback last season before the injuries to the other backs.

“Roy has such good hands and quickness there in the slot, just to work some at the inside receiver. He’s a talented guy,” coach Bob Stoops said. “You think about the screens and the short routes underneath, you can throw it to him and let him run with it. It’s looked good.”
Every weekday morning, a member of the SoonerNation gives his take on three things happening in the Sooner sports world.

1. OU fans have every reason to be excited about running back Dominique Whaley being cleared to do everything. His health was a major concern for fans heading into the 2012 season. With Whaley back, the question is what will OU do with 2012 running back signees Alex Ross (Jenks, Okla./Jenks) and David Smith (Midlothian, Ill./Bremen)? Obviously junior college running back Damien Williams will have to suit up. But Whaley’s return doesn’t make it 100 percent necessary for Smith and/or Ross to see the field in 2012 and gives the team some options. If they earn that right, though, clearly they will see some time.

2. Another popular topic from Monday has been fans wondering if OU should target Penn State commits. This is purely my opinion, but I think it's a resounding 'No'. All of PSU’s commits are from the East Coast and only one of them even had an OU offer. It’s not like the Sooners missed out on head-to-head battles like against schools such as Texas or USC. OU isn’t really recruiting the northeast, and the Sooners can find the answers to their 2013 class in other regions.

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