All the snow and cold weather over the past few weeks have made it anything but spring, but spring football is right around the corner. Oklahoma will begin the process of rebounding from a disappointing 2014 season on Saturday when the Sooners begin spring practice in Norman. The Sooners will practice three days before spring break—Saturday, Monday and next Wednesday.
Thursday, OU coach Bob Stoops met with the media to discuss all that's transpired since the end of last season and what to expect in the spring. Here's a notebook from today's press conference.
The Sooners added four new coaches to the coaching staff and shifted around responsibilities as well. The result is a staff that boasts a lot of experience, especially on offense, where OU will be transitioning to a completely new offensive system. Stoops said the transition has gone well and that he's pleased with all the experience the offensive staff has in new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley's system.
On the defensive side, Stoops mentioned new defensive line coach Diron Reynolds' teaching style, a method the current Sooners on the roster are very familiar with. Stoops cited his communication skills and intelligence as reasons for his hire. “He had all the qualities we were looking for,” Stoops said.
As for the change in responsibilities, Mike Stoops' switch from safeties to outside linebackers will allow him to roam more on the practice field and see more of the entire defense and spend more time with the other position groups. Mike may move into the press box during game, but Bob said it would be awhile before a final decision was made on that front.
Cale Gundy also made a change, going from running backs to inside receivers. Stoops said the decision was ultimately his and his suggestion, but added Gundy had been considering a switch. As inside receivers coach, Gundy will also coach tight ends, while fullbacks will be with the running backs group.
Injuries, Position Changes, Dismissals
-Tight end Isaac Ijalana will be switching from tight end to defensive end after redshirting last season. Stoops said Ijalana played defensive end in high school and that it was the only position change.
-Linebacker Dominique Alexander will miss the spring with wrist surgery this past week. He injured the wrist last year and healed up, but winter workouts made surgery a necessity. Stoops said he should be good to go for the summer and fall.
-Offensive lineman Nila Kasitati will miss the first three practices with what Stoops called a “slight issue.”
-Redshirt freshman defensive tackle Courtney Garnett tore his ACL in winter conditioning and will be out for the foreseeable future. Stoops didn't rule him out for the entire season.
-Cornerback Cortez Johnson is no longer with the team.
-Finally, the Sooners won't have linebacker Frank Shannon for spring practice, but Stoops said he is expected to be back in late May after the end of his suspension.
After missing last season due to a suspension, the highly-touted running back will be participating in spring practices with the Sooners. However, as part of the initial terms of his suspension, Mixon will not play in the spring game. Mixon is listed as a redshirt freshman and No. 25 on the Sooners' spring roster.
Mixon has no shortage of talent and faced high expectations when he arrived on campus last year. However, his suspension cleared the way for Samaje Perine to steal the spotlight and be hailed as the next great running back at OU.
Stoops said Mixon's playing time would be determined just like everyone else's: who's playing the best, the smartest and who is making plays and not mental mistakes. One popular suggestion is Mixon moving to a slot receiver position. With such a crowded backfield, expect OU to experiment with a lot of different things this year.
The Sooners are making a return to the Air Raid offense this year under Lincoln Riley, an offense employed by Stoops early in his career. However, many worry the pass-happy offense will nullify the biggest strength of the OU roster, the running back position.
“We understand the positive parts of our offense,” Stoops said. “I believe with our ability to throw the football in a positive way, he (Perine) may have more ability to run the football.”
Stoops assured folks two wide receiver coaches won't affect players' ability to play both inside and outside. The hope is having two coaches will allow players to have more hands-on contact and develop more completely and quickly.
Then there's the quarterback position which will be an open competition leading up to the Sooners' season opener in the fall. Stoops said he has no plans to name a starter by the end of spring practice.
“I think competition through the summer and leading up to the season continues to push guys,” Stoops said.
Despite the three other quarterbacks on the roster having starting experience, Stoops said redshirt freshman Justice Hansen “absolutely” will be in the mix during the competition.
-Wide receivers Dallis Todd and Jordan Smallwood both had great winters.
-With no Dominique Alexander or Frank Shannon, Tay Evans and Curtis Bolton will get a lot of action at inside linebacker. PL Lindley can slide into the middle. Also, Stoops said they will experiment with Eric Striker in different places.
-Along the offensive line, Kenyon Frison has been really impressive and Josiah St. John is coming along well. JUCO transfer Jamal Danley has been good as well.
-Dede Westbrook and John Humphrey have been really impressive at wide receiver with their explosive speed.
-Freshman running back Rodney Anderson put on 10 pounds and has really handled the work well. Stoops even said he could see playing time in a crowded OU backfield. “We expect he'll play,” Stoops said. “That's how strong he's looked early.”
-Stoops said Ahmad Thomas and Steven Parker could see time at nickel. Meanwhile, cornerback Will Johnson has been impressive as well.