NORMAN — Donning shoulder pads for the first time in training camp, Wednesday marked the third day of practice for the 2017 Oklahoma football team. To see how camp is progressing, we spoke with assistant defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks, redshirt junior tight end Mark Andrews, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Neville Gallimore and junior offensive lineman Ben Powers for the first installment of the new series, "The Hurry-Up."
Assistant Coach Kerry CooksWhat are your impressions of camp through three practices?
"I think the one thing that jumps out is the guys came back in tremendous shape. The competition level seems to be elevated, and the guys are really working and busting their tail competing. We have a lot of young guys out there who are fighting for spots."
With openings at corner and safety, what will it take for someone to win those jobs?
"The biggest things we're looking for are guys who are going to step out there and play with some confidence, guys who are going to be dependable and reliable and be able to communicate, and guys who are going to help make plays. You can't just be out there and be in position; we want guys who are going to be playmakers at both of those positions, whoever it ends up being."
Knowing you have those two openings, how important are guys like Jordan Thomas and Steven Parker this year with the leadership they provide on and off the field?
"I think when you have some things that are unsettled, like those two spots we're referring to, it's good to have guys who have played a lot of ball and have experience, because they show you leadership. They make sure they're always in the front of the drills and doing things off the field the right way to give the young guys something to aspire to, as far as an example of what they should become."
Last year your defense allowed the lowest opponent completion percentage in the Big 12 and was particularly strong in the second half of the year. How do you carry that play and momentum into this season?
"I felt like we didn't have our mindset right going into the beginning of last season. It took a while for us to get going and understanding that consistency is what I tell these guys is the mark of greatness. Having that right mindset day in and day out; it doesn't matter how hot it is or how many calls we've got going in or bumps and bruises that you feel. Everyone feels that. You've got to have a mindset and a determined focus each and every play that you come out here to be able to dominate. That's what we're trying to carry into this season."
Junior TE Mark AndrewsHow has your leadership role developed over the last few seasons?
"It's grown a lot, from the beginning until now. I've had a lot of good guys in front of me like Sterling Shepard and people I have been able to learn from. I'm definitely one of the oldest in the group, and I'm just trying to show them how it's done and show them the Oklahoma way."
With the change from Coach Stoops to Coach Riley, what has been different about this year's camp so far?
"I think any time there is a change, especially when there hasn't been that much change at Oklahoma in a long time, it's exciting. It brings some energy. The last couple of days we have had some really great practices. Everyone is out here to work, and it's been a good camp so far."
What was your main focus of improving this offseason?
"I gotten a lot bigger and stronger. I have worked on my routes, but getting bigger and stronger and trying to become that true tight end is the main thing I have worked on."
Sophomore DT Neville GallimoreHow is this year's camp different for you than previous camps?
"It's different now because I understand the level of expectation. I've been here and got an opportunity to play last year. Just like the seniors, the young guys coming in are looking up to me. I know what it is like to be in their shoes and knowing how tough fall camp is. It's my job to help motivate them and do my part. I need to be a leader any way I can and help guide these guys to reach their full potential like I am trying to right now."
What has Coach Ruffin McNeil brought to the position so far in his first season?
"He's a great coach. He's very intense on the field. The guys really respect him because we understand that he wants what is best for us. His level of expectation is so high, and every day we try to match that on and off the field. Having him here, and having the experience he has coaching for 37 years, that's huge for us, especially for the guys who have been here long enough and have aspirations of playing at the next level, and for the guys who are still new to the level of expectations and what it means to play OU football. Having him here is going to help. The guys are hungry. We love the information he is giving us and we want to learn more and more. He's a coach who stresses holding each other accountable."
What is it like to go against one of the best offensive lines in the country every day?
"I wouldn't have it any other way. The thing I love about this offensive line is every one of them is capable. Every one of them is a top O-lineman. We have All-Big 12 nominees and All-Americans and all that. Getting out there with them in the summer was big for us. Going to work with these guys every day and having the opportunity to go against them, we're making them better and they are definitely making us better. You want to make it as hard for them as they do for us, so going up against them makes it easier for us when the season comes."
Junior OL Ben PowersHow do you think camp has gone so far?
"Just have to keep improving every day. Every day we have to come out ready to work. You wake up every morning and say, 'Today is another day to get better.' We only have, give or take, 30 of these before our first game, so it's time to go. We've had our offseason and now we're back in the swing of things and are ready to go."
Last year you entered camp as a junior college transfer but then started the final 10 games of the year. How different is camp for you this year compared to last year?
"A lot of the emphasis last year was getting my plays down and all that stuff, but now this year a lot of it is that I know my plays, but I need to know everything that is going to happen during the plays. There are so many different things that could happen for a single play, so a lot of it is that. Bringing the intensity and practicing hard, I know what I'm supposed to do so I have to go execute it the best I can and learn."
Knowing how deep the offensive line is this year, how much competition does that generate knowing someone has the ability to take a starting spot?
"There's competition all across the O-line and that's going to bring out the best in us. When you have competition, everyone is going to come out every single day ready to practice to the best of their ability. You can't take any days off so that's going to be the driving factor in making this O-line not just great, but the best."
In what areas are you hoping to improve your game during fall camp?
"You always have to perfect your technique. No matter how good of an o-lineman you are you can always perfect something. I'm not sure how to say this, but as an O-lineman perfection is almost never there. There's always footwork technique, fundamentals, work ethic, so many different little things that add up to being great. Someone like Joe Thomas (of the Cleveland Browns), however many Pro Bowls he's made, I'm sure every day he has something to work on."