The Sooners wrapped up their official slate of spring practices on Tuesday afternoon. After 14 practices sessions, as well as a spring game in front 43,500 fans on Owen Field on Saturday, we know more about Coach Stoops’ squad than we did at the outset of spring practice in March.
With the monumental Sugar Bowl win over Alabama, coupled with impressive late season roads wins at Kansas State and Oklahoma State, the Sooners have carried a wave of momentum into the offseason. The surge could be attributed to team chemistry as the Sooners seemed to gel during the last half of the season. Between Trevor Knight being in sync with his receivers and the defense playing well as a unit, the Sooners put together three great performances to close the year. With much of last year’s defensive unit returning and many young players getting reps in the spring, that positive energy surrounding the program has been apparent.
“I can say that through the winter, probably the positive energy that carried over according to Coach (Jerry) Schmidt, we had our best winter that we can remember as far as fewest misses and the energy and the way the players pushed each other,” Stoops said.
While there has undoubtedly been in a bounce in the Sooners’ steps this spring, QB Trevor Knight has echoed the sentiments of his head coach, who has stressed throughout the early months of 2014, that this is a new year.
“I have to step into that leadership role, not just in our meeting room but as a whole team, just getting the guys rallied around me and carrying that momentum from last year and working it into this season,” Knight observed.
In other words, it appears that the chip that was on the Sooners’ shoulders heading into the Sugar Bowl remains firmly there. Whether it’s Stoops, the coaching staff or key leaders like Knight, this team doesn’t appear satisfied and has performed with a sense of urgency most of the spring.
Explosiveness on Defense
One of the biggest stories of the spring has not only been the improvement on the defensive side of the ball, but also the potential for more explosive players in 2014. Mike Stoops and the defensive staff have been experimenting with different players at different spots. Whether it’s been Geneo Grissom working at outside linebacker or Eric Striker taking up residence at various positions, it’s been evident that the Sooners are willing to put players in positions that allow them to make plays. While Charles Tapper hasn’t moved around, he continues to excel at defensive end.
“I feel we are just scratching the surface, and again with the entire summer here to get stronger and even build more power, I know that we will be bigger and will be more physical,” head coach Bob Stoops observed.
Mike Stoops has indicated that feels like the defense is “light years” ahead of where it was at this juncture a year ago. Clearly, OU’s defensive coordinator is excited about the possibilities in 2014.
“I think this is the most complete defense we’ve had since we’ve been here,” he said. “When we get our players back and get our freshmen in here, I think we can be a very deep football team, deeper than we were in the past couple of years, for sure.”
Those inside the program have seen explosive plays from Grissom, Striker and Tapper all spring. A healthy Jordan Evans has shown the same propensity. Even safety Thaddeous LaGrone added some of those same qualities in the spring game.
“Eric (Striker) is very disruptive,” Mike Stoops added. “You don’t want to over-coach him. He has a scheme that he’s trying to execute, but there’s stuff that you can’t coach. Great football players you shouldn’t have to coach every inch on the football field. Eric has great instincts. He’s not only a great player, he has a great feel for the game, and that’s what great players do. They feel the game. He knows when to take his shots. We don’t want to limit his energy and his ability to make big plays.”
And don’t be surprised to see players like Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Devante Bond make an impact in 2014.
“He’s an outside backer or defensive end,” OU’s head coach said of Okoronkwo. “He can rush. He’s like Eric [Striker], he can be a jack (outside linebacker), and he can be a down guy when we want him to rush. Same with Devante Bond. He’s been really explosive doing that.”
Hunnicutt Has Been Solid
Michael Hunnicutt followed up a spectacular 2013 campaign with a big performance in the 2014 Spring Game. He connected on a 52-yard field goal with the wind at his back before nailing a 47-yarder into a stiff, southerly Oklahoma breeze. In 2013, Hunnicutt connected on 24 of his 27 field goal attempts and on 47 of his 48 extra point attempts. Based on his solid and consistent performance, it is no stretch that Hunnicutt could be one of the top kickers in the nation this season.
“Michael has been excellent all spring,” Bob Stoops commented. “He has been great and I think he is within an eyelash of being a First Team All-American a year ago. In fact, I know he was because I was on the voting deal listening to it. Anyway, he is set to have a big year.”
Daryl Williams is the Real Deal
Daryl Williams doesn’t make many headlines, nor does he make sensational plays in the open field. What he’s currently doing is becoming the leader of Oklahoma’s offensive line. He put together a solid junior campaign in which he started 12 games at right tackle before moving to left tackle for the Sugar Bowl. He was named All-Big 12 Second Team by the coaches and Phil Steele. Entering his fifth year, it’s become clear to with his play and attitude that Williams has taken ownership of the offensive line in the locker room. With several linemen not participating in spring drills, it became crucial for Williams to step up, something that hasn’t gone unnoticed by head coach Bob Stoops.
“Daryl [Williams] has been awesome with the whole team and offense and has really taken hold of that in the weight room and in our workouts and here at practice,” Stoops indicated earlier in the spring.
While we know much more about the Sooners than we did after OU’s initial spring practice on March 8, there are still plenty of questions to be answered before the season opener against Louisiana Tech on Aug. 30.
Stoops indicated that if everyone stays on schedule, the players who were dinged or who sat out the spring should be ready for fall camp. When the Sooners hit the practice field again, the competition for numerous positions should be fierce. Whether it’s at running back, wide receiver, cornerback or backup quarterback, those battles will likely continue. Coach Jay Boulware will also be auditioning players in the return game, an aspect of the OU arsenal that has helped change the course of several games the past two seasons.
“I don’t know that you ever get anything answered in 15 practices,” Stoops concluded. “What I feel like is there has been improvement. Players that haven’t had a ton of experience have more now. We’ll build on it.”