It’s Football Time in Oklahoma
Thirty weeks: The amount of time between the last piece of confetti falling at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome after Oklahoma’s dominant 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl and today’s first practice of the 2014 season. Football season is finally here.
The summer workouts have made a huge difference... They are more strong and explosive with the eight weeks of training.
- Head Coach Bob Stoops
The Sooners got the season underway before the crack of dawn, with taping and a continental breakfast in the locker room at 4:45 a.m. on Thursday. The team took part in a 5:45 a.m. walk-through and then began the first official practice of camp at 6 a.m. Practices are scheduled early in the morning to beat the habitual Oklahoma summer heat even though the team practiced inside the Everest Indoor Training Facility for its opening practice due to wet field conditions.
Today marks the beginning of head coach Bob Stoops’ 16th season at the University of Oklahoma and the coach is eager to get things started. Stoops was pleased with what he saw after the first practice and credited the summer workout program for getting the guys in top form.
“[The summer workouts] have made a huge difference,” Stoops told Jessica Coody of Sooner Sports TV following practice. “They came in, they were in great shape. It will help them stay on the field and avoid injuries. They are more strong and explosive with the eight weeks of training in the summer, so they look good.”
As opposed to last season there are no ballyhooed headlines promoting a heated duel for the Sooners’ starting quarterback job. Redshirt sophomore Trevor Knight has earned that job, while former quarterback Blake Bell has made a successful transition to the tight end position. In fact, right now Knight is the only eligible quarterback on the OU roster with any collegiate experience at the position. Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield looked sharp in the spring, but is currently not eligible to participate in games this season, a situation that could be subject to change. A pair of talented youngsters in redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen will continue to take reps and gain experience.
Playing in a big game like (Alabama) and getting a win is a confidence builder, but you build confidence from playing week in and week out.
- QB Trevor Knight
While the ride wasn’t always smooth for Knight during the 2013 regular season, the San Antonio native put on a clinic with a stellar performance in the 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. The signal caller completed a Sugar Bowl-record 32 passes for a career-high 348 yards and four touchdowns. The Sooners hope that monster performance is a sign that OU’s signal caller can channel that type of play on a consistent basis in 2014.
“Playing in a big game like (Alabama) and getting a win is a confidence builder,” said Knight. “But you build confidence from playing week in and week out. At practice the more snaps you get the more comfortable you are going to feel. So just riding that confidence into each game this season is going to be huge for us.”
What a Difference a Year Makes
It was just a year ago that one of the biggest question marks surrounding the Sooners entering the season was the defensive line. Oh my, how things have changed. After a stellar 2013 campaign, OU’s defensive line comes into 2014 regarded as one of the strongest and deepest units in the country. The Sooners return standout defensive end Charles Tapper along with Jordan Wade and Chuka Ndulue, all starters last year. The Sooners enter camp with so much depth in the defensive front four, that the coaching staff decided to move former defensive end Geneo Grissom to linebacker this season.
OU’s defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery is trying to keep the guys motivated and focused on the season ahead.
We haven’t done anything this year. We still have to prove ourselves.
- DL Coach Jerry Montgomery
“I told my guys what we did last year is last year,” defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery said. “We haven’t done anything this year. We still have to prove ourselves. We’re going to have guys that didn’t play much last year that are going to play. We’ve got guys that played a bunch of ball last year. We’ve still got to go out and play the man in front of us. We’ve got to work well as a team. I don’t believe in the hype. It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish.”
The unit also welcomes back defensive tackle Jordan Phillips, who underwent back surgery a year ago. Phillips received a medical hardship for 2013 after missing nine games. Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops knows the impact a healthy Phillips can have on an already solid defense.
“We just want Jordan to play where he was a year ago, and hopefully, he’ll make a huge difference in our defense if we can keep him on the field and keep him healthy,” Mike Stoops said. “He feels great, so that’s a good sign. We instantly get better with him on the field.”
Truly Special Special Teams
Senior kicker Michael Hunnicutt is entering the final year of his storied Sooner career. With just 40 points this season, Hunnicutt can overtake current Dallas Cowboys’ Pro Bowl RB DeMarco Murray for most points in a Sooner career with 391. The senior currently holds the record for most field goals in a season (24; 2013), most field goals in a career (62), career points by a kicker (350), and career field goal percentage (.861).
Head coach Bob Stoops knows how important it is to be able to rely upon a kicker like Hunnicutt.
“Michael Hunnicutt is a true guy that has a chance to be a first‑team All‑American, and was definitely within an eyelash of being that a year ago,” said Stoops. “Very consistent, very strong leg.
“Michael's been a mainstay for us now going on three years and excited about he continues to get stronger every year. He really works hard in the out of season, so we're really expecting Michael to have a great, great year.”
Hunnicutt posted a social media gem on his Twitter account of @Hunnicutt08 on Wednesday, noting that the team received iPads for their playbooks and there was only one play loaded on his: “Kick the ball through the uprights.”
Another important cog in the special teams’ unit of OU is punter Jed Barnett. The senior played in every game last season, booming 65 punts for an average of 41.7 yards. Barnett is set to continue his punting duties for the Sooners in 2014.
While OU appears to be set at the kicker and punter position, it has a tall task trying to fill the void left by the trio of Jalen Saunders, Brennan Clay and Roy Finch in its return game. The three players combined for 932 yards and two touchdowns on kickoff and punt returns last year. Potential candidates for both of those positions will be auditioned throughout camp, Sterling Shepard is no doubt someone who has the ability to make big plays as a punt returner.
The Sooners are scheduled to be back on the practice field for another early-morning workout on Friday. OU has another morning practice on Saturday before conducting Meet the Sooners Day for fans 14 and under, followed by media day. For more details on Meet the Sooners Day, click here.