Norman, Okla. Bob Stoops paused at the door to the Switzer Center auditorium/meeting room Tuesday, turning back to members of the media assembled for the twice-weekly interview opportunity during Oklahoma spring training.
“I wanted to tell you that the offensive line looks significantly better than a year ago,” the Sooners’ coach unexpectedly offered to those awaiting post-practice player interviews. “They’ve made a big jump. That’s a good tidbit there.”
And Stoops did not back off that assessment during a Thursday afternoon conversation in his Switzer Center office. In fact, he took it up a notch when discussing the overall prospects for an improved running game next season.
“I’ve been incredibly pleased with our offensive line — tight ends, fullbacks — and what we’ve been doing running the football this spring,” he said. “We’re just much sharper in where we are, what we’re doing, our blocking technique — everything.
“It’s really improved us. I’m excited. It’s obvious to me that we’re going to be better running the ball.”
From my seat in the box, the lack of a consistently productive running attack that couldn’t get the got-to-have-them yards (see Texas A&M) was the one factor that kept the Sooners from elite status last season.
Rabid OU fans view breakaway scatback Roy Finch as The Answer. Personally, I don’t see Finch — who has some durability questions — as an every-down back. He doesn’t have to be.
Stoops said Finch and Brennan Clay have been “solid” this spring, but really got enthused over rehabbed Jonathan Miller and in-early freshman Brandon Williams.
“He’s really been exciting,” Stoops said of Williams, the five-star recruit. “You talk about a guy that has another gear to turn the corner and who hits the hole hard. He has a chance to be really good.”
When all is said and written come August, the Sooners should be firmly entrenched as college football’s consensus No. 1 approaching their Sept. 3 kickoff against Tulsa.
Solid returning nuclei on both sides of the ball from a 12-2 Fiesta Bowl-championship team add credence to that line of thought — as do a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback (Landry Jones), an All-American receiver (Ryan Broyles), the leader in tackles and verbosity (LB Travis Lewis) and the advancement in proficiency of the best freshman class in recent memory, soon to be sophomores.
But Stoops and others quickly note there’s more to be done.
“We’re optimistic,” Stoops said. “But there’s a lot of work to be done. What kind of summer you have usually dictates what kind of team you have.”
Still, there appears to be less concern about some key issues now than when spring training began.
That includes those about a defense that lost maybe the best defensive end of the Stoops era (Jeremy Beal), safeties Quinton Carter and Jonathan Nelson and (for the time being) cornerback Jamell Fleming.
Not to worry, the loquacious Lewis shrugged.
“This is Oklahoma,” he said. “Our coaches do a great job of recruiting. We restock with athletes and keep it rolling.”