Striker Named Preseason All-American by Sports Illustrated
Sports Illustrated announced its 2014 Preseason All-America Team and on its first team is junior linebacker Eric Striker. The publication labeled Striker a ‘premier blitzer’ and cited his monster game against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl as a reason for his inclusion on the list. In case you missed it, Striker set a career high with 3.0 sacks against the Crimson Tide
This is the latest honor in a long line of preseason accolades for the junior linebacker. Striker has also been placed on the Nagurski, Bednarik, Butkus and Lombardi preseason watch lists entering the 2014 season.
Stoops’ Office Featured in ESPN the Magazine
A one-page article filled with pictures and facts of head coach Bob Stoops’ office at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium appears in the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine.
The publication features many unique items from his office including various game balls, a cartoon sketch from Jim Lange, an autographed picture from Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and a collection of postseason rings and watches.
The feature can be found on page 102 of the College Football Preview issue that hits newsstands on Friday. ESPN’s Jake Trotter conducted the interview with Coach Stoops earlier this summer. To download the cover that features Oklahoma as the projected No. 3 seed in the inaugural College Football Playoff, visit: http://bit.ly/XEb0X8. Other coaches featured in this photo essay included Steve Spurrier (South Carolina), Stoops’ former boss at the University of Florida.
With the departure of an All-Big 12 First Team cornerback in Aaron Colvin, the Sooners are looking for someone to step up and fill the void across the field from Zack Sanchez, who earned Freshman All-America honors a year ago. Two players who have stepped up this fall are converted safety Julian Wilson and true freshman Jordan Thomas.
Coach Stoops has been very impressed with the way Wilson has looked at the corner position and believes his on-field experience at safety has been a big benefit to the senior.
[Wilson] looks fabulous. I am elated about him. He has natural great speed and his is long and tall with great range.
Head Coach Bob Stoops
“[Wilson] looks fabulous,” OU’s head coach indicated. “I am elated about him. He has natural great speed and his is long and tall with great range. He was recruited to be corner. It is working out great for him. He is so intelligent. He has played for two years and he can anticipate what is coming. He gets the game and he is physical in tackling. He has been great.”
The other player who has stood out at the cornerback spot has been Thomas, the incoming freshman. Stoops believes he is one of the best players he has ever recruited at the position.
“He [Thomas] and Steven Parker are as good of players at corner and safety as we have every recruited,” said Stoops. “It is obvious though this number of practices how strong they are and how they are physically in a position to play and to handle it. They are intelligent and it is natural for them. You usually don’t get that all in one.”
Cornerback isn’t the only position in the secondary where there is a heated competition brewing. While senior Quentin Hayes returns as the incumbent at strong safety, defensive coordinator Mike Stoops indicates that he has four very talented safeties vying for the free safety spot in Ahmad Thomas, Steven Parker and Hatari Byrd.
“We’re trying to see who will start at free safety,” said OU’s defensive coordinator. “That’s kind of up in the air right now. Those guys are battling. They all do good things. They all need to learn to be better positioned and playmakers, and that’s just through youthful inexperience and finding the football, and that’s just something we have to continue to improve. There’s a lot of pressure out there that I put on those guys and we’ll see who can step up and be the guy.”
Too Close to Call
It’s no secret that Trevor Knight has a firm grasp on the Sooners’ starting quarterback position. With Baker Mayfield’s eligibility for 2014 still in limbo due to the NCAA’s transfer policy, the current battle between redshirt freshman Cody Thomas and true freshman Justice Hansen is in full swing.
Neither of the two signal callers have any in-game experience at the collegiate level. However, Thomas gained valuable experience spending the 2013 season as the scout team quarterback and Hansen got an early jump on learning the offense by enrolling in classes at OU early in the 2014 spring semester.
Knight, who is no stranger to being embroiled in a quarterback competition, thinks both Thomas and Hansen are performing well through the first full week of camp.
“They’re doing really good,” said Knight. “They’re working really hard and competing every day, not just against each other or against me, but against themselves, as well. They’ve progressed throughout camp and have gotten better every day.”
Co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Josh Heupel thinks both quarterbacks have been progressing, but also believes they each have areas that need improvement before either is ready for the big stage.
“They have done some positive things in the scrimmage the other day, at the same time as a quarterback they made some mistakes that you can’t make and that are going to get you beat,” said Heupel. “They compete hard, they want to be better and they push for it every single day.
“The next week and a half is going to be critical for both those guys to make the strides that we need them to be ready to play.”
Deep and Wide
Coaches and players alike have been singing the praises of the offensive line entering the second full week of training camp. This season’s offensive line boasts not only great players but a tremendous amount of depth compared to years past.
Coach Heupel is among the coaches who is excited about all the big bodies at OU’s disposal for the 2014 season.
We have that big, strong, physical foundation with depth. We can roll people and keep pounding on people. That allows our skill guys to do what we need to do to win.
Co-Offensive Coordinator Jay Norvell
“When we’re healthy we have more depth than we’ve had in a long time,” said Heupel. “The guys that have come back from injury, Adam Shead, Tyler Evans along with the guys that finished out the year. We have more depth, especially on the interior, and all those guys have the ability to play at a high level and they’ve all shown that they’ve done that.
“So we want to keep them all healthy. You’ll see us probably rotate a lot. We’ve continued to progress through camp and we feel good about our guys.”
Co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell also heaped praise on the unit, specifically the guards. The co-offensive coordinator knows how much easier his job is when having a potent offensive line to work behind.
“We have so much depth inside with our guards,” said Norvell. “They are big and they are physical. That gives us that foundation that you can lean on and you don’t always have that every year.
“That is the thing that gives us the most excitement offensively. We have that big, strong, physical foundation with depth. We can roll people and keep pounding on people. That allows our skill guys to do what we need to do to win.”
Senior guard Dionte Savage acknowledged that the unit is progressing well through camp and mentioned the strong mindset of the group as a whole.
“I feel like we’re getting a lot better, playing harder and more physical as a whole group,” said Savage. “I feel like we’re a whole lot better as a whole group. We know our role and we know we have to step up. We know how to get the job done. We just have to go out there every day and execute.”
From NCAA record-setters like Antonio Perkins to Ryan Broyles to more recently, Jalen Saunders, Oklahoma has built a reputation under head coach Bob Stoops for their strong punt return game.
This year should be no different, as junior wide receiver Sterling Shepard appears to be a leading candidate to take the reins as a punt returner.
“It’s my turn now and I am going to try to step up and do that,” said Shepard. “We have had some great punt returners in the past with Justin Brown and, of course, Jalen Saunders. I am just trying to do something back there.”
Coach Stoops believes Shepard has all the physical tools necessary to excel as a punt returner.
“He is similar to some of the guys that we’ve had in that he has great speed and great elusiveness,” said Stoops. “He is stronger than Jalen (Saunders) and can run through some arm tackles. We are hopeful that he can give us some big plays that we are used to having.”
Shepard has been waiting for this opportunity for some time now, as the playmaker has watched and studied Saunders while waiting for his time to shine.
“I was with Jalen for two years so I got to sit back and watch how he does things,” said Shepard. “I still watch film of him every day. The way he gets a hold on the ball and then what he does afterwards is just all instincts. I think I have that part down. I just have to get to it and catch it.”
With the punt return being one of the most chaotic plays in football, Shepard looks forward to the thrill of the challenge and wants to do whatever it takes to give the team its best chance of winning.
“I like the adrenaline rush. I’ve seen a lot of great wide receivers do it and I have seen some great defensive backs. It is just another way to help out the team and I am always looking for ways to help out the team.”