|| Three Days In, One Goal
It's why elite talent comes to play at Oklahoma. It's why that same crop of Sooners was energetic through the first three practices despite being on the Oklahoma Rugby Fields prior to 7 a.m. for two of them. And it's one of the reasons why quarterback Landry Jones returned to Norman for his senior season.
It, of course, is the eighth national championship in school history, something that everyone in the program from top to bottom has their sights on.
"I'm excited about this group," head coach Bob Stoops said at Saturday's media day press conference. "I feel we've got a really good chance to be one of those teams where we're competing for Big 12 and National Championships. Hopefully, we can make some improvement on a year ago and get that done."
As evidenced by last week's No. 4 ranking in the preseason coaches poll released by USA Today, Oklahoma is recognized nationally as a team with one of the best chances to finish its season in Miami, Fla., the site of this season's national championship.
"In the end, you only stay there if you keep winning," Stoops said. "We still have to go do the work and really that's all we think about, is doing the work and preparation."
That work and preparation continued Sunday morning at OU's rugby fields with the Sooners' third preseason practice, marking the first in shoulder pads.
The Sooners open their 118th season of football on Saturday, Sept. 1, for a 9:30 p.m. CT kickoff at UTEP.
|| Landry's Last Go
Sooner fans didn't know what Landry Jones was going to do. Neither did his teammates or coaches. Jones himself didn't actually know.
But his decision to use his fourth year of eligibility and play his senior season at OU resulted in a calming sense of relief and excitement across the team he's led for three seasons.
"I was pretty excited," junior wide receiver Kenny Stills said of Jones' choice. "I didn't think he was going to leave but he didn't say anything about it and
we didn't talk about it. I thought that it was pretty cool that he sent me a text saying `Hey I'm staying, just thought I'd let you know. I hope you're working hard. I'm working hard and I'm excited for next year.'
"I wasn't really expecting to believe it, because he hadn't said anything
to us about it. I was really excited about it."
Jones went 'back and forth after the season,' with the NFL staring him in the face. With that behind him, Jones is of the same mindset as his head coach.
"I think for me it's going after that national championship," Jones said of his focus. "We've had some success around this place with me being a quarterback, but we haven't yet been able to get to that big game. That's a stepping
stone that I want to take and I want to be able to accomplish in my career."
Aside from the obvious advantages of Jones' returning talent and skill, familiarity within the offense has been crucial.
"You can tell Landry and some of the older guys that have been around have been helping (the younger guys) learn the system and learn what to do," Stoops said. "And really, for the first couple of days, those guys are out there
where they should be, running the correct routes. So you can tell that they've had a lot of work through the summer and an inexperienced quarterback would have a harder time doing that.
"Landry knows what he wants, what the system requires and where he wants the guys. You can tell he's been able to coach them up."
On the flip side, Jones has evolved in his own right, striving to get better as a quarterback.
"He [Landry Jones] has continued to grow, and continued to try and perfect his mechanics and what he is doing with his decision making
with the football," co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "Landry played extremely well for a lot of football games here.
"He would like to put 13 of them together and take us to the championship. That is the reason he came back and those are the things he is pushing for every day."
|| No "I" in Ikard?
After two years of playing time in a Sooner uniform, Gabe Ikard has racked up the individual honors, including All-Big 12 first team accolades (AP and coaches) in 2011 and a First Team All-American nod from Rivals in 2010.
There may not be a more selfless player on the team, however. Upon hearing the news that Ben Habern opted to conclude his playing career due to lingering injuries, it was Ikard that returned to the center position, a spot he played for seven games last year.
Although he's started 18 games at left guard, Ikard just wants to do what's best for OU.
"I came here and my attitude was I'll do what helps the team win," Ikard said. "That's going to continue to happen. Whatever they ask me to do, that's what I'm going to do. That's how I feel it is around here. Coach is going to put you in a good position to make the most impact that you can.
Wherever they stick me, that's what I'm going to do, whether it's center or guard."
With 25 starts and 27 total games played, Ikard's experience is at a premium. But it's his attitude that garnered high praise from Stoops.
"Gabe is the best," Stoops said. "Believe me, if we needed a tackle, he would play tackle. He's talented enough to do that, a converted tight end. The guy is incredibly bright in that he can play (multiple) positions and know what to do at them all.
"He's another one of those guys that loves to be on the field, loves to come to practice. He does it all and he's a great leader for us."
Junior DB Tony Jefferson
"You want to go into the season and improve. I think that's what we are doing right now, just trying to improve the mistakes we made last year. That's all part of being focused and having a different attitude. Coming off a three-loss season when you felt you should have been undefeated, that hurts you inside. It gives you perspective on what you want to change."
Junior WR Kenny Stills
"Sterling [Shepard] is just a natural playmaker I feel like. There are a lot of things that he does that I feel like when I came in, I still hadn't learned, like setting people up on their routes and hand positioning. Just different things that he does recognize come very natural to him compared to some other newcomers. I feel like that's what separates him from all the other guys."
Coach Jay Norvell
"We have good athletes. We wouldn't have brought them here if we didn't think they were. The kids are kind of what we expected. We like our young skilled players. The receivers are running fast and are especially strong and fast and that is exciting. Especially with the way we play, if we can integrate them into our system and have them they will help us this fall. That speed is showing. It is hard to say until we get a little bit deeper into training camp. The first couple days of camp is about reintroducing our offense and teaching some of the new players. Then we will start to see their strengths and weaknesses and put that into a system that we can play against people in the fall."
Coach Mike Stoops
"It's good to be back and starting. Getting through the spring and going through the process of feeling each other out and getting back, it's much more comfortable. With the newness of the staff and the newness of the defense, I think our players have done a really good job over the summer."
Coach Josh Heupel
"I think the signs of what has happened in the first few days is the guys are understanding conceptually what we are trying to run. Not doing it perfectly, but having the idea of where we want to get them and how we want to run a certain technique. Getting lined up, you can tell they have paid attention and that they have studied. We are nowhere near where we need to be, but I like the competitiveness, I like the toughness and I like the attention to detail -- the way they watch and approach everything every day. If they continue on that path then they will have a chance to be successful and we certainly need them to."
Senior QB Landry Jones
"(The young receivers) have a lot of ability, a lot of athletic ability. It's a natural catch for most of them. I'm excited to see them progress through camp with our coaches being there and them really getting into the offense and getting hit, getting banged around a little bit with pads coming on in a couple of days."
Junior OL Gabe Ikard
"[Dominique Whaley] is always going to run hard no matter what. He looks great. He looks like he's really recovering well. That was a nasty break. He's a hardworking guy. I know he'll put his pads on guys like he always does. He's a tough runner. It'll be fun to watch him run again."
PRACTICE 3 COVERAGE
Oklahoma practiced for the third time this preseason, debuting shells for the first time. Content below:
Head-To-Head: DBs v. WRs
D-Tackles Work Positioning
QBs Reiterate Mechanics
Running Backs & Receivers
WRs Work On Getting Open
Practice 3 Gallery (102 Pics)
MEET THE SOONERS
Saturday, Aug. 4, was the 2012 Meet The Sooners Day at Gaylord Family - Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. OU fans were able to bring their kids, interact with the team and receive autographs from their favorite players. Check out behind-the-scenes coverage below.
Meet the Sooners: Video
Meet the Sooners: Photo Gallery
Following Meet The Sooners Day, members of the OU football team took part in the annual preseason media day. Head coach Bob Stoops, select assistants and players were made available to the media. Here's what they had to say:
Head Coach Bob Stoops
Def. Coordinator Mike Stoops
Co-Off. Coordinator Josh Heupel
Co-Off. Coordinator Jay Norvell
Senior Quarterback Landry Jones
Junior Wide Receiver Kenny Stills
Junior Center Gabe Ikard
Junior DB Tony Jefferson
SoonerVision Blooper Reel
FOLLOWING THE SOONERS
Want the latest scoop on OU football as fast as you can get it? SoonerSports.com has you covered 24/7. To catch up on the 2012 preseason, check out the links below and follow us on Twitter.
Preseason Practice Central
Sooner Football Notebook