MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

OU

March 9, 2014

Energy obvious as OU starts spring drills

NORMAN — There is not an opponent to prepare for within the next six months, and even the smallest impact of an impressive recruiting class cannot be gauged until August.

Yet, Oklahoma began spring practice Saturday with an energy that wasn’t necessarily absent in the last few years, just more apparent.

OU coach Bob Stoops admits the way the 2013 season ended — the road conference wins against Kansas State and Oklahoma State and the Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama — galvanized the program. Recruiting energized in January for the coaches. The returning team thrilled the strength and conditioning staff with their focus since mid January.

A coach that has won a national championship, eight Big 12 championships and every BCS bowl game before that era of college football closed last season, said the spring brings a charge like no other time of year.

“You get to see the young guys that we’ve been seeing in practice now in more competitive situations fighting for jobs and making those plays and not everybody in the outside world gets to see it, but you as a coach get to see it,” Stoops said. “When we go good against good (starter vs. starter) and you see them make those types of plays, it’s exciting to see young guys really figure it out and become ready to play.”

That is at the heart of today’s practice and the 13 more leading up to the April 12 spring game at Owen Field.

The Sooners, who went 11-2 last season, are not a team with a lot of holes. They finished at No. 6 in the final Associated Press Top 25 and still possess the bulk of that team, especially on defense where nine starters return.

Applying more polish to quarterback Trevor Knight, who played like a gleaming gem in the Sugar Bowl, will be an important aspect of spring practice.

Replenishing the receiver corps is a priority. Sterling Shepard, who had seven touchdowns catches last season, is the lone starting receiver still around from last season.

However, it’s that kind of scenario that stokes Stoops’ fire. This is the chance to see if receivers like juniors Durron Neal and Derrick Woods or freshman coming of out redshirt seasons like Dannon Cavil, Jordan Smallwood and K.J. Young are primed for major roles.

Stoops hopes the situation shakes out on a similar level to what OU’s defensive line did last season. It was a very young group going into the spring. By the end of 2013, it was the strength of a talented defense.

“It’s like last year, we didn’t have any defensive linemen. Well, we did,” he said. “Now we don’t have any receivers and now we do. These guys have been developing, training and ready to take over.”

There are other spots like that. Experienced offensive linemen Tyrus Thompson, Adam Shead and Tyler Evans won’t practice in the spring because of injuries. Neither will defensive tackle Jordan Phillips or nickleback Julian Wilson.

Those are all players who’ve proven they can play at a high level. Now is when players with less experience get a chance to showcase their talent.

“It’s always that way,” Stoops said. “Those guys that have played a little bit or haven’t played at all are really champing at the bit to get out and show they’re ready for it. It’s their time now. That’s why it’s always exciting.”

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