NORMAN — Walking into Bob Stoops' office just before summer, Geneo Grissom didn't know what to expect.
But with regard to the depth chart at defensive end? The sophomore saw the writing on the wall.
Seniors R.J. Washington and David King, sophomore Chuka Ndulue, converted linebacker Rashod Favors and junior-college transfer Chaz Nelson all practiced through the spring, while Grissom spent most of it healing up a second stress fracture in his foot; the first, in his other foot, forced him to redshirt as a true freshman.
And with talented freshmen Michael Onuoha and Charles Tapper entering the fray, Grissom figured playing time at defensive end might be hard to come by.
“I just knew we had a lot of D-ends that could play, and I knew we were ... I don't want to say lacking in tight end, but we were short in depth,” Grissom said.
Indeed, the Sooners lost James Hanna and Trent Ratterree to graduation, and Austin Haywood to transfer, leaving them with no experienced tight ends back in 2012.
“I knew I could play the position,” Grissom said.
One man had to approve the move, though, and Grissom just didn't know if Stoops would go for it.
“As you guys know, he's not a man of a lot of emotions,” Grissom said to reporters Monday. “I went up there and asked if I could make the switch, and he was like, ‘Yeah, we'll try it out and see what happens.'”
What has happened is Grissom has found himself in serious competition to be the Sooners' starter at his new position, just a couple short months after making the switch.
Stoops said last week that Grissom was atop the early depth chart, although Bruce Kittle, the position coach, tempered that notion a bit Monday, saying the competition was ongoing with junior Brannon Green and true freshman Taylor McNamara.
“We really haven't set a depth chart,” Kittle said. “They're all doing a good job and they all have different strengths and that kind of stuff.
“Coach hasn't said that to me ... but I think that's kind of a misunderstanding of what he was talking about.”
Still, Grissom has certainly made a strong first impression on the offensive side; Kittle said if he could combine all three of them into one tight end, that player's strengths — route running, catching, run blocking and blitz protection — would be perfect. But he did admit that Grissom, whose run blocking skills are still a work in progress, is “the guy you look at who could be close to the compete package.”
“He's the guy that blends, probably, most of them, most consistently,” Kittle said.
“To earn your bread and butter here at OU, you have to be able to block a 280-pound defensive end on a consistent basis. We're still looking for our guy that can do that every down.”
Grissom was the second tight end at Hutchinson (Kan.) High School, where his team employed a run-first offense. As such, he rarely caught passes or even had the opportunity to catch them until now.
“I love catching the ball,” Grissom said. “Who doesn't like to score touchdowns? My eyes light up every time I see the ball coming toward me.”
Grissom recalled one play from fall camp that stood out as a big confidence booster for him; he caught a pass from quarterback Landry Jones just a couple yards from the line of scrimmage, but took off down the field, stiff-arming one defender and running over another.
“It's all about the (yards after catch),” Grissom said with a smile.
He said he's learning from the competition with McNamara, who has strong route running skills, and Green, who's a big, strong blocker.
“We're not only playing for position on the depth chart; we're playing for reps,” Grissom said.
“They're fun guys to be around. Hard workers. They love the game just as much as I do. It's a great environment to be around.”
Starter or not, Grissom certainly looks like a player who will see the field and have opportunities, which he's not sure he would've had on defense.
“It's an honor,” Grissom said. “I had a feeling that I might be able to do this. I appreciate Coach Stoops giving me the opportunity to make the switch.”