NORMAN — Oklahoma's football players wore full pads in practice Monday — the first such practice of the 2013 preseason — and anyone who's played football or been around the game knows what happens that day each fall.
The Oklahoma Drill.
A blocker and a defender square off in a small area, confined by tackling dummies. A running back tries to sprint through the open space as the defender works to shed his blocker. The exercise is designed to teach — and test — toughness.
Oklahoma practices are closed to the public and media, but an OU athletic department staffer tweeted a five-second clip of Monday's action.
Depending on your perspective, the video of true freshman running back Keith Ford, junior offensive guard Dionte Savage and sophomore defensive tackle Jordan Phillips is cause for celebration, or a dreary reminder of the Sooners' inexperienced defensive line entering the 2013 season.
Phillips sheds Savage's block before Ford (5-foot-11, 205 pounds) lowers his shoulder and crashes into Phillips (6-6, 324 pounds), knocking him on his back as Ford easily skips past the two fallen linemen.
“It's a one-on-one drill and the poor D-lineman has a 350-pound lineman hanging onto him while Keith's putting his head down and running him over,” OU coach Bob Stoops said after practice. “Let's not get carried away.”
Of course a definitive verdict on anyone can't be reached based purely on one short clip, but watching a freshman running back plow through a veteran defensive tackle — particularly a former four-star prospect and projected 2013 starter like Phillips — can't make Sooner fans feel much better about a unit widely viewed as Oklahoma's weakest.
Nearly all of OU's regular contributors on the defensive line last year were seniors, and that group struggled to consistently get pressure on opposing quarterbacks and be much help in run defense.
Longtime defensive line coach Jackie Shipp was fired and replaced by the young, energetic Jerry Montgomery in February.
The Sooners had only three defensive tackles on the roster before spring practices began, causing coaches to move junior defensive end Chuka Ndulue inside to tackle. He and Phillips started the spring game.
A few weeks before the spring game, Phillips told reporters that, under Montgomery, the defensive line was “attacking and playing knock-'em-back football,” a style he said was “completely changed” from 2012.
Still, Phillips admitted that with a new coach, he felt he'd regressed a bit.
“I'm having to learn everything again,” Phillips said. “I'm starting to get back there, but I'm not where I was last season.”
Asked about the defensive line's inexperience at OU's media day Saturday, Stoops expressed optimism about the unit, comparing it to the wide receiver corps at this time last season.
Just before fall camp began last year, the Sooners' receiver unit appeared depleted before transfers Justin Brown (Penn State) and Jalen Saunders (Fresno State) arrived and were granted immediate eligibility.
“You watched the spring game, didn't you?” Stoops said. “The spring game, all those same guys were in there and played really well against a very experienced offensive line.”
Reminded that Oklahoma also had veteran receiver Kenny Stills returning a year ago, Stoops said, “We feel we have some guys that are capable of being like that. Is there Gerald McCoy? No. That's not going to happen every year either.”
Oklahoma added freshmen defensive tackles Charles Walker and Matt Romar in its 2013 recruiting class, and is still waiting on junior-college transfer Quincy Russell, whose arrival has been held up by academic issues.
Stoops said he expected Russell's last class to be completed soon.
Junior offensive tackle Tyrus Thompson, one of only two Sooners who spoke with the media after Monday's practice, said he had a “pretty good” view of the Ford-Phillips collision.
“That was a hit right there,” Thompson said with a laugh. “I haven't seen a running back hit someone like that in a long time.”
Watch the play: