NORMAN — Ronnell Lewis was first man up in the Oklahoma Drill.
No surprise there.
The big hitter nicknamed The Hammer jumped into the famed drill right away at the end of practice Monday. He went against Daryl Williams, giving up four inches and nearly 70 pounds, but he shed the mountainous offensive lineman, snagged the running back and made the tackle.
Never mind that Lewis lost his helmet in the process.
The Sooners want more of that this season.
Will Lewis be able to oblige?
No one knows. Not Bob Stoops. Not Brent Venables. Not even Lewis himself. The Oklahoma defensive end needed to pass some hours this summer to be eligible this season, and while classes concluded Friday, grades have yet to be posted.
The drama is the only dark cloud hanging over a lovefest of a preseason for these Sooners. Coaches love these guys, picking them as the top-ranked team in all the land in their preseason poll. Media types love them, too, choosing them as the top team in the conference and dubbing Sooners as the Big 12's preseason offensive and defensive players of the year.
But what about The Hammer?
“I don't really want to get into that conversation,” Lewis said Saturday during the team's media day. “It's not up to me right now. It's in others' hands.
“I just have to wait for the outcome.”
Losing Lewis would be a blow to the Sooners. He looks like a star in the making, a hard-hitting, ball-hawking guy who made everybody's preseason first-team all-conference squad despite starting only four games last season.
Sooner coaches wanted him on the field so badly last season that they created a hybrid position for him. Lewis couldn't quite figure out everything at linebacker, but once he moved to a spot that was a defensive end/linebacker combo, he flourished.
He had a career-high eight tackles at Oklahoma State, then seven against Nebraska in the Big 12 championship game.
But truth be told, if Lewis is ineligible this season, the Sooners might miss him more on special teams than they will on defense.
Part of that is because of how good Lewis is on special teams. He is a terror on kicks and punts. His see-ball, crush-ball carrier mentality makes him a superstar on the coverage teams.
Sooner fans have been known to stay until the end of blowouts just to watch him blow up returners.
Lewis is a one-man wrecking crew on special teams. Take him out of the equation, and there's no obvious replacement. Remove him from the coverage teams, and things could go downhill fast.
But take him out of the defense, and the hole doesn't look as difficult to fill. If Lewis played another position — defensive tackle or middle linebacker, perhaps — losing him would be a much bigger deal. The Sooners are thin at those positions.
Not so much.
Asked what he would do if Lewis was ruled ineligible, Stoops seemed unfazed by the prospect.
“David King has looked just great the last couple of days,” he said. “I look at David as a starter just as much as Frank (Alexander) and Ronnell.”
Anyone who watched the Oklahoma Drill would be hard pressed to disagree. At one point, King shed a would-be, offensive-lineman blocker and stood up the oncoming running back.
It brought down the house.
Geneo Grissom is another defensive end who is pushing for playing time.
“He's not there yet,” Stoops said, “but he's getting there.”
Ditto for fellow redshirt freshman Chuka Ndulue.
“Two young guys who have really been coming on, Geneo and Chuka,” Stoops said. “They're making a lot of strides, too.”
No doubt the Sooners don't want to push King, Grissom or Ndulue into service — nowhere is depth more important than the defensive line — and they're preparing as though Lewis will be eligible. Not only is he practicing with the first-team defense but he is also getting a bunch of snaps. If Stoops and Co. suspected Lewis was going to be sidelined, they'd be giving those backups more snaps.
But still, no one can be sure of Lewis's availability until those final grades are posted.
In a season when the Sooners expect to contend for a national championship, losing a returning starter and a big-time contributor before the first kickoff would be a serious blow.
Having to drop The Hammer would hurt.