, Muskogee, OK

April 15, 2013

Stoops: Summer will tell more about his team

By John Shinn

— NORMAN — One spring practice remains, but the grunt work of Oklahoma’s spring practice ended with Saturday’s Red/White game. However, the game didn’t serve as a finale. It was more of very early term test to gauge where the team is at four months before the season begins.

OU coach Bob Stoops certainly didn’t see a finished product at Owen Field.

“I don’t know that a coach is ever satisfied. You always want more. But I think the coaches have done a really good job working with these guys and we’ve made a lot — we’ve taken a lot of good strides in places we needed to,” he said.

“In 14 practices, that’s not enough. They need to have a really big summer. I believe our players are aware of that. If they do, then we’ll build on it in the summer. But the big part will be their commitment here through the rest of spring and in the summer, are they going to make the gains they need to in the out of season?”

This offseason workouts are going to be critical for the Sooners in many areas. Junior quarterback Blake Bell certainly looked like the most poised signal-caller during Saturday’s scrimmage. However, this is going to be his first offseason as the leader of an offense that is changing to adapt to his strengths and that of sophomore quarterback Kendal Thompson and freshman Trevor Knight.

Bell admitted what OU displayed this spring wasn’t the well-oiled machine it needs to be. It lacked the chemistry that comes from hot summer days running pass drills on the practice fields south of Owen Field.

“We have a lot of guys that are hurt up front and we’re kinda dinged up this spring and there’s some guys sitting out and not playing,” Bell said. “As we go through the summer and we got our timing down with routes with all the guys and keep working, I think we’ll get there. Right now, no. That’s not bad, but we have to keep making strides.”

The Sooners have some bona fide playmakers at their disposal. Wide receiver Jalen Saunders, running backs Damien Williams and Brennan Clay and fullback Trey Millard — in many capacities — have shown they can play winning football.

Nevertheless, more have to be developed. The offensive line needs to get healthy and continue to develop. Receivers Sterling Shepard, Durron Neal, Lacoltan Bester and Trey Metoyer have all shown big-play potential, but that potential must be defined.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said the Sooners are still searching for the talent they need to play at a national championship level.

The quarterback who does the most to raise the level of those around him is going to be the starter in 2013. Bell looked the guy Saturday, but there’s still several months of work to put on the final résumé.

“We have an idea of what we can and can’t do. That’s not a final grade on any one of those guys,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “We’ll look and see what happens in June, July and then early in fall camp. Whoever we feel has earned the right to play and play at a high level will be the guys that we play with.”

Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops likened his situation to that of a talent scout. He’s still waiting for some younger players to wow him.

“We have a ways to go,” he said. “We’re not a real deep team, we’re trying to develop some depth and some quality depth will be key for us as we move into the fall and how much we lean on some of these younger players. I think they’re going to have to come in and help us at some positions.”

It’s no secret the Sooners’ defensive line play must improve. Defensive tackles Jordan Phillips and Chuka Ndulue showed some potential Saturday, but OU believes eight quality defensive linemen are needed to play at the desired level. They’re not there yet.

The linebackers and secondary have more experience, but they still have issues that need to be addressed. One that irked Stoops was the move to a 4-2-5 scheme for the spring that didn’t halt the run the way it needs to. The Sooners still might change to a 3-4 scheme by August.

No matter what the system eventually comes, it has the same goal.

“We still have a ways to go in figuring out how we’re going to commit to the run and still be good against the pass,” he said. “It’s a continuous battle.”

The battles will go on a little break after this week’s final practice, but they’re nowhere near complete.