OU spring practice report: Days 1, 2
“They’ve been one of our best groups, how they’ve worked, met the challenge every day and their attitude,” coach Bob Stoops said. “I’m pleased with where they’re at right now, at least to this point with the work they’ve done.”
Stoops was very critical of the the group at this time last year, calling out the line for its lack of work ethic and commitment to the team.
Apparently, the line, which hands down was OU’s weakest unit last season, is turning a corner.
Others reiterated Stoops’ words.
Said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson: “Well, the thing that we’ve had going through winter is the ability to understand responsibility and accountability to each other. We’ve done a really good job in our ability to work hard in the off season.”
Said line coach James Patton, “It’s a new year and a new spring, but we’ve still got a big challenge ahead of us. We made some dumb penalties last year and had some mistakes and that hurt us in some games. So the challenge is to play together as a group, play better as a group and stay consistent and stay healthy, which is a key But being more consistent is probably what coach Stoops is talking about. Having a mindset and being accountable as a unit. And through the winter, that’s been pretty good.”
As of now, the offensive line two-deep looks like this:
LT: Donald Stephenson/Eric Mensik
LG: Stephen Good/Bronson Irwin
C: Gabe Ikard/Brian Lepak/Austin Woods
RG: Tyler Evans/Tavaris Jeffries
RT: Cory Brandon/Josh Aladenoye
More good news from the line is that both Ben Habern and Jarvis Jones are expected to be back full go not long after spring break. Habern is coming off a broken fibula. Jones, a fractured heel. Their return will only strengthen the continuity of the interior of the line, though Jones could swing back to tackle. Look for Habern to return to center, though he could play some guard, too.
“It will be a bonus if those guys can get in some team drills by the end of the spring,” Patton said. “To be able to get back into playing would be great for those guys. You only get so many snaps, so the more you can get out there and play the better you are going to do.
“They’re working on it. Our medical and training staffs do a great job with these guys. So, they’re getting healed up. Drinking a lot of milk and doing good. It would be great if they can get back and get some team drills.
* The most interesting experiment of the spring might be Ikard playing center. However it’s an experiment the coaches feel very good about, if only after two practices.
“He’s a good blocker. He got some reps during the bowl practices. But again, he can also put a number 80 jersey on the block on the edge if we needed him to,” Patton said. “With Habern being down hopefully he’ll be able to do some reps after spring break. He was out there today running around and working out, so he looks pretty good. But Gabe is a good blocker, he’s smart, didn’t miss an assignment today. Smart football player.
“He can block the edge or block inside. He’s smart, he’s tough. He didn’t lose a competitive drill in the weight room during the off-season. He won every one. I like him.”
* Mossis Madu has made a return to the backfield after playing slot receiver last year. Madu is vying to be DeMarco Murray’s top backup at running back. In attempt to get him on the field last season, Madu was moved to the slot. But Madu being slow to pick up the new position combined with Ryan Broyles needing to be on the field for every play eliminated Madu from getting much playing time. Madu is a player, though, now with experience at both positions, that could rotate some from running back to receiver in OU’s fast past offense.
“As we get going after spring break he does have some more time to where he can be a move guy that could all of the sudden pop out and pop back in,” Wilson said. “He’s a running back today and we need to have him have a positive role. He’s a guy that has made some plays. He’s always been the best third-team running back but Mossis needs to have a more positive role and at receiver he was just a slight compliment. He needs to be a major compliment guy who takes some load at tailback and because he does have that receiver time maybe we do all of the sudden flex him out. But it’s because he’s done that more, it’s not that we’re making him a duel position. He’s going to be a tailback who maybe could move around some.”
* Running back Jermie Calhoun, who will be battling Madu for playing at running back along with Jonathan Miller this spring, missed the first day of practice with a head cold. He should be back at 100 percent after spring break.
* The X factor of the offense this spring is tight end, where the Sooners have a pair of talented prospects who have yet to display their full potential. Those players are James Hanna and Lane Johnson.
Hanna, who has been clocked at a 4.48 40-time, has athletic ability to burn for a tight end. But for him confidence and consistency have been the issues.
“He’s a young man that has a lot of talent but he lacks the confidence and the trust to play at a high level, to play fast and physical,” Wilson said. “He has flashes. When we test, he will test very well. But it’s taking that and making plays.”
Johnson, meanwhile, who redshirted last season, is still learning to play the position. A lifelong QB, Johnson was recruited out of Kilgore (Tyler, Texas) College to play tight end. At 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, with good speed, Johnson has all the tools of becoming an elite tight end.
“He’s still learning,” said Wilson, who in addition to being the team’s offensive coordinator is its tight ends coach. “I heard a great quote when I was watching the NFL Network last week. Marshall Faulk said, ‘The greatest way to inhibit speed is to make a man think.’ And he’s (Lane) thinking a lot because he’s still learning how to play tight end because he was a high school quarterback.
“He’s still learning our concepts and learning what to do. He’s tough, strong and fast. He’s got a lot of the right skill set but he’s still learning to play. He did a great deal of work today. He got more reps than he’s ever gotten and he’ll get them all spring. That tight end position really took a hit last year and it would be nice to have him step up and take a vital role this season.”
* Wide receiver was a position that a took a turn for the better late in the year, showing up big in a win over Stanford. Broyles had a huge game, but so did sophomore Dejuan Miller and freshman Jaz Reynolds. The wide receiving corps seems to be confident thanks to that performance going into the spring.
“We showed in the bowl game that we are a solid receiver corps,” Miller said. “2010 I feel is going to be a pretty good year.”
* This blog, among others, has been touting the young, talented safeties OU has stockpiled in recent years. Kevin Brent, Javon Harris, Marcus Trice, Joe Iblioye and Tony Jefferson are players that a lot of schools wanted.
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