Oklahoma Sooners: Preseason Practice 2012
“He’s a hard worker,” fellow receiver Trey Metoyer said. “I know talent when I see it and I’ve been around him for a while. He can go, he’s got speed and he’s physical.”
The junior missed summer workouts in Norman but it hasn’t stopped him from earning a spot on the Sooners two-deep. He’s listed as the backup to Metoyer at one of OU’s three receiver spots.
“LaColtan is strong, fast and competitive,” receiver Kenny Stills said. “A lot of times a run play will go the opposite way and you’ll see him on film trying to take someone’s head off. He’s always being competitive and he’s added that to our bunch.”
“I've been playing against Brennan since we were yay-high,” Williams said. “It's great to be here playing with him and not against him.”
Williams didn’t even realize Bester had also transferred to OU, until he ran into him on campus.
“I was just like, ‘Oh, we played against you in the national championship,' ” Williams said. “It was great to see him come here, knowing that he's another great receiver added on.”
Bester and East Mississippi got the best of Williams and Arizona Western, 55-47.
“Every time I put my rings on, we joke about it,” Bester said. “He says he hopes I lose them or something.”
“I came in real raw and didn’t have much technique,” Phillips said. “Coach Shipp just drills technique. I somewhat have my technique down, and that’s helped me a lot to get in the rotation.”
Phillips said he started to get a feel for the technique and defense in the spring. As a result, he’s on the two-deep chart, backing up David King, who was shifted to tackle from end after Stacy McGee was suspended.
“Even before then, Coach (Bob) Stoops told me I need to get prepared and be ready to play this year,” Phillips said. “That just made me work harder I guess.”
Now, Phillips, who redshirted last season after arriving late to camp, is ready to make an impact in his debut this weekend at UTEP.
“I haven’t got that nervous yet,” he said. “Besides that, I feel like I’m mentally ready. I just gotta have my technique down to go out there and play.”
“Julian has been very good. He's gonna play a lot,” coach Bob Stoops said. “Whether he starts or not, he's gonna be rotation with those guys. We really like how he plays. He's done really well.”
Joseph Ibiloye, who has been a nickelback the past three years, is working at weakside linebacker with Corey Nelson. Tony Jefferson, who started nickelback most of last season, is now at free safety.
New defensive coordinator Mike Stoops described what he has looked for in the nickelback position.
"We want somebody that’s big, that’s long and can cover up slot receivers; be athletic enough to run with guys, and be physical to fit the run game," he said. "They need to possess all those types of skills. They’re a little bit of a hybrid between a safety and a corner. They’re a little more athletic than safeties, and maybe not quite as athletic as corners. But they hit like safeties, not like corners.
“I wasn’t very comfortable,” Stills said. “I felt like I was thrown in there. I was expected to be Ryan and I wasn’t. I wasn’t ready to be at the place Ryan was.”
With the season opener against UTEP on the horizon, Stills has moved into the slot permanently and is looking to redeem himself while providing a trustworthy receiving threat for quarterback Landry Jones.
“I feel like I’ve come a long way, hopefully I can make the plays Ryan was making,” Stills said. “It’s being on the same page with the quarterback, having the chemistry with the quarterback. I feel like Landry and I have got there now.”
OU is counting on Stills to be a mainstay in the slot. Nobody will replace Broyles production and consistency but Stills can bring great speed and playmaking ability to the slot with Justin Brown and Trey Metoyer on the outside.
The junior running back has been working at slot receiver for OU during preseason camp. And he’s getting more and more comfortable in the slot.
The Sooners are looking to have use Finch in different ways this season than they have in his first two years.
“They have a package for me this year,” Finch said. “I talked to Coach Norvell and he doesn’t want me to be a guy who just gets reverses, he wants me to be a complete player.”
Asked if it’s more 50-50 or 80-20 slot receiver to running back, for his potential time on the field, Finch said he expects to spend more time in the slot.
“I think it’s more 80-20,” he said. “We have Dom (Dominique Whaley) and Damien Williams, we have feature backs. I feel like they really want me to focus not the slot and get really good at it.”
Finch is a potential terror in the slot with his quickness and open field moves. If a team tries to cover him with a linebacker or safety, the Sooners should have the advantage in that matchup. The dynamic running back/slot receiver could emerge as an “X factor” for OU in 2012.
• Heading into the opener, Sooners offensive coordinator Josh Heupel doesn’t have a set goal for number of plays run by the OU offense on Saturday.
“It depends on the flow of the game, each one has it’s own identity,” Heupel said. “We try to push (tempo) but each one is different.”
The Sooners averaged 80.92 plays per game in 13 contests in 2011.
After Tuesday’s practice, Heupel was happy with the tempo of the offense.
“Today was a really good day, guys competed at a high level,” he said. “We challenged them yesterday to do that, you have to win on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday to give yourself a chance to win on Saturday.”
OU’s high tempo offense consistently creates problems for defenses as they struggle to line up, focus and matchup with the Sooners skill players. If the Sooners can approach their average play per game number from 2011, it could be a great sign for Saturday and beyond.
• For the first time this preseason, junior-college transfer running back Damien Williams met reporters. What kind of game does he bring to the offense?
“I like running inside,” Williams said. “But I can run outside, catch the ball – I can do everything.”
Teammates, however, have raved about Williams’ inside running the most.
“He’s really physical,” Finch said. “He can really move the pile.”
Williams said running backs coach Cale Gundy hasn’t disclosed how he’ll rotate in with Dominique Whaley and Brennan Clay. But don’t be surprised if Brennan Clay is used as the third-down while Williams the power back behind starter Dominiue Whaley.
• Offensive line coach James Patton broke down the interior offensive line rotation going into the opener. Nila Kasitati is Patton’s top reserve at either guard position, although Kasitati has been getting his reps at left guard. True freshman
Ty Darlington, meanwhile, is Gabe Ikard’s backup at center. Patton said he has been impressed with Darlington’s “smarts and toughness” all preseason. Patton is hoping for opportunities to get Kasitati, Darlington and Austin Woods – who is the third option at guard or center – some work during the early part of the season.
“It’s all about game experience,” Patton said. “Ben Habern, Tyler Evans, those guys played a lot of football. It’s about getting game experience. Nothing like game feel.”
• The month of August has been a whirlwind for Penn State transfer Justin Brown. Tuesday, Brown said one of most important factors in transferring to another school was that he could still graduate with a Penn State degree.
“I wasn’t going to come down here if I couldn’t graduate from Penn State,” Brown said. “I spent three-and-a-half years there. It was important to me.”
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SoonerNation writer Jake Trotter chatted with readers on Monday about Oklahoma football and recruiting. Here's the full transcript. If you didn't get your question answered, send it to the SoonerNation mailbag.
Here are a few highlights from the chat:
Derrikk (AR.): Do you ever see Roy Finch ever playing RB again for the Sooners?
Jake Trotter: That's interesting. I think he could still get spot carries at RB this season. If there's an injury to Whaley, they'll likely move Finch back. But they've clearly been frustrated with him in protecting the QB, something OU values in its RBs. I could see Finch ending up back at RB, but they want this slot experiment to work out. It's a chance to get Finch on the field, get the ball in his hands in the open field, without the pass protecting responsibilities.
John (Grandfield, OK): Stoops mention some freshman that WILL play. Does that mean the others are all redshirted? I had heard some good things about Alex Ross from Jenks, and him potentially returning kick offs.
Jake Trotter: Alex Ross is the only one Stoops didn't mention that I think could still avoid redshirt. That said, where would he play? Dom Whaley, Brennan Clay and Damien Williams along with Trey Millard and Blake Bell are going to eat up all of the carries. If Ross didn't redshirt, all he'd be getting would be mop-up time. Is that worth pulling his redshirt? That's something the coaches will deliberate on.
tim (bastrop, tx): what are the chances that we have a dominating front 4 on the defensive line?
Jake Trotter: I don't see this as being a dominating defensive line. You usually need a Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy or Tommie Harris to have a dominating defensive line. But if the veterans play like they can, this could be a very solid defensive line.
Derrin (Plano, TX): I've heard some so-called experts remark that Landry Jones doesn't move or throw well outside the pocket. Do you agree? And how realistic is it to expect him to improve with his unorthodox throwing motion?
Jake Trotter: Yes, I agree. Landry would agree, too. That's why he spent two weeks with QB guru George Whitfield, to improve his footwork and playmaking outside the pocket. It's been noticeably better this preseason. We'll find out Saturday if it's noticeably better in games, too.
The sophomore earned a starting spot as a redshirt freshman but an ankle injury hampered him throughout the season and allowed Lane Johnson to take his job at right tackle. Williams never regained his starting position.
“It was very frustrating,” Williams said. “As a redshirt freshman, I had a huge opportunity to do good and start, be an asset to the team. It just didn’t work out.”
So what did Williams learn?
“Stay starting,” he said. “Work hard and keep my spot. It helped me last year to know how important it is to be starting. My whole mindset has changed.”
Williams could have the highest upside of any offensive lineman on the roster. His strong base combined with his athleticism could make him an anchor on OU’s offensive front for the next few seasons.
“I knew I could play at this level," Williams said. “I think it was just I had to get stronger. I gained a lot of weight and I think that helped me out.”
While he knew he could compete at OU, he surprised himself with how quickly he made an impact.
“It kind of was surprised,” he said of starting his first game after a redshirt season. “I didn’t expect it to be like that.”
Even though he earned a starting spot, he didn’t gain the belief in himself until recently.
“I’ll be honest, the confidence came this year,” Williams said.
While Johnson and Tyrus Thompson battled to start at left tackle, Williams’ job at right tackle has never been in question since spring football. He has seized the job and he doesn’t look like he will relinquish it anytime soon. Expect him to be a key member of the offense in 2012.
That doesn’t mean they’re become difference-makers quite yet.
“The more they play, the better they’re going to get,” defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright said following Monday’s practice in preparation for OU’s opener against UTEP on Saturday. “They’re like newborn colts, running around out there, legs going everywhere, they look like they just hit ground. The more they get to play, the more they get to see it, they’re going to be good players.”
• Wright updated the status of P.L. Lindley (high ankle sprain) and Chaz Nelson (MCL injury) on Monday.
“Those guys won’t be ready this week,” Wright said. “Hopefully we’ll get PL Lindley back next week. And Chaz, I’m going to guess, would be after the open date, Kansas State maybe. That’s just a guess. If he’s back before that, that would be great from a depth standpoint.”
With those two players out, Tapper, Onuoha and Rashod Favors will backup Chuka Ndulue and R.J. Washington at defensive end.
• Even though defensive tackle Stacy McGee’s suspension changed things on OU’s defensive line, particularly with the move of David King to defensive tackle, it didn’t change things for everyone.
“Even before then Coach Stoops told me, I need to be ready to play this year,” defensive tackle Jordan Phillips said.
There are high hopes for Phillips, who could be the most athletic defensive lineman on the squad. The redshirt freshman said he is nervous for his first game in crimson and cream but teammates have told him just to study film and be prepared because knowing what he’s doing will lessen the nerves come Saturday night.
• Early in preseason camp, cornerback Aaron Colvin wasn’t happy with his play. Coach Bob Stoops and defensive coordinator Mike Stoops had lauded his efforts but the junior said he needed to “step it up” at the time.
On Monday, Colvin said he’s ready.
“I feel like I’m doing the things I want to do,” he said. “I want to over-exaggerate everything I’m doing this year and I feel like I wasn’t doing that at first, maybe because I wasn’t as comfortable. I’m comfortable now in the defense and in the schemes.
“I’ve been doing the things I need to do to be that great corner I need to be.”
During Bob Stoops weekly press conference on Monday afternoon, the OU coach said he’d put Colvin up against Jamell Fleming, who was a third-round draft pick in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals, noting he didn’t feel like the Sooners lost much with Colvin stepping into Fleming’s starting cornerback spot.
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The Sooners will never forget, though. Receiver Kenny Stills continues to wear a rubber bracelet to honor his fallen teammate, who died in May 2011.
“It says always in the heart, Austin Box,” Stills said. “It’s funny. I’ve had plenty of these, and this is the only one that’s never broken.
“It means something to me.”
Tight end Taylor McNamara, center Ty Darlington, defensive ends Charles Tapper and Mike Onuoha, linebacker Eric Striker, cornerback Gary Simon and receivers Durron Neal, Trey Metoyer and Sterling Shepard will all avoid redshirt. Stoops added that cornerback Zack Sanchez “probably” will play. And though Stoops didn’t mention Alex Ross, the freshman running back fro Jenks, Okla., has also impressed this preseason.
No one, however, has impressed more than Metoyer and Shepard, both of whom Stoops saved most of his praise for Monday. Metoyer will start this weekend opposite Penn State transfer Justin Brown at wideout.
“Trey continues to be one of the best athletes we have,” Stoops said. “He makes as competitive a catch as anyone we’ve had. He has those really strong hands.”
Shepard, meanwhile, is backing up Kenny Stills in the slot. Stoops didn’t hesitate comparing Shepard to former OU All-American slot receiver Ryan Broyles.
“Sterling really has a special feel there,” Stoops said. “He’s kind of a sturdier Ryan Broyles. He has that quickness and those inside moves. He’s just so much strong body-wise.”
Quarterback Landry Jones also praised the incoming freshman class Monday. He compared it to the class of 2010, which had a dozen play as true freshmen, including Stills.
“It’s similar, as far as talent wise,” Jones said. “A lot of freshman that are going to play who are going to be great football players.”
Kenny Stills, junior
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"Eric Striker is a big mouth," cornerback Demontre Hurst said. “He’s loud, he’s up-tempo every minute, he reminds you of Travis [Lewis] a little bit. A lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm, just a fun guy to be around. Great personality and he’s a baller out there on the field, too. And Striker, the name is kind of catchy, too.”
Striker should make a early impact on special teams and could eventually carve out a role in OU’s defense this fall.
“Striker is a young gun, fiery kid,” linebacker Tom Wort said. “He wants to learn, wants to get better. He’s a hard-working kid with a lot of drive.”
His aggressiveness, explosiveness and pass-rush abilities will be difficult to keep off the field if he earns the trust of the coaching staff as the season progresses.
With Frank Alexander and David King coming up the middle and Ronnell Lewis and R.J. Washington breaking around the edge, the set was a handful for offenses to deal with.
But with Alexander and Lewis now in the NFL, ends coach Bobby Jack Wright said the Sooners are not in a position at the moment to use the set.
Only King has made a career start at defensive end, and he’s been moved inside to tackle to compensate for the suspension to Stacy McGee. Defensive end starters Washington and sophomore Chuka Ndulue will be making their first starts against UTEP.
Wright, however, didn’t close the door on OU installing it sometime later this season thanks to the rapid development of converted linebacker Rashod Favors and true freshmen Charles Tapper and Michael Onuoha.
“We had four guys that could really rush the quarterback, so that was good,” Wright said. “But who knows? Before conference play, we’ve got [several] days plus two games. By that time we may have those young pups ready to go.”