The Norman Transcript

April 6, 2014

Sooners expecting more physicality from bigger, taller backs and receivers

By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — All teams go through changes from season to season. The seeds of the one Oklahoma’s offense is going through, however, were planted much earlier.

Think back to the end of the 2012 season.

Most teams aren’t willing to acknowledge they’ve become a finesse team. The connotation means the ability to win through brute force is absent.

When a team flounders trying to convert a third-and-1, the proof is there.

OU had the problem two seasons ago and a couple seasons leading up to it. Base an offense off throwing to small receivers and it removes the brutish mentality.

Re-acquiring it was the goal as OU wrapped up the 2013 recruiting class and has continued since.

“In recruiting you have the ability to recruit different kinds of kids every year but we are a little bit bigger,” OU receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “I would say this class of kids coming in is definitely bigger, the running backs and the receivers especially, and with the tight ends coming in we’re definitely bigger.”

Those three spots are where the Sooners’ metamorphosis is most easily identified.

The Sooners relied on smaller running backs for years, but that has changed. Sophomores Keith Ford and Alex Ross can be described a lot of ways, but the trait they both share is the ability to run through tackles.

“We are all getting bigger. Alex Ross is 220 and I was 205 last year and now I’m 213,” Ford said. “We are all trying to get bigger, faster and stronger and more powerful because you know the style of running that we have, the downhill runs, you need a little bit of weight behind you to carry the load.”

The receivers are expanding as well. OU has received a ton of production from wideouts like Ryan Broyles and Jalen Saunders. Sterling Shepard, who stands just 5-foot-10, has the same kind of potential.

But with a recruiting class that includes Mark Andrews and Jeffrey Mead, who are both 6-foot-6, and the 6-5 Dallis Todd as well as other lanky receivers with frames ready to add girth, it’s easy to see where OU wants to go. The re-emphasis on the tight end position shows as well.

OU wants to become a team that can beat you up as well as blow by you.

“We’ve got a lot of big guys, a lot of physical guys and then we’ve also got our guys that can get out in space and win, so it’s exciting,” OU quarterback Trevor Knight said.

The shift started to take hold late last season during Knight’s second run as starting quarterback. Tight ends and fullbacks were on the field more. The ability to run between the tackles became top priority for running backs.

The long-term plan will be easier to see when the Sooners host the Red-White Game on Saturday at Owen Field.

“In good, tough, competitive games, that physicality is important,” Norvell said. “We might have lost a little of that before last year but we kind of gotten back to more of that and it certainly helped us at the end of the year last year.

“Our practices have been very physical. They’re not always pretty sometimes but ... we get tougher-minded from that, I think, and that’s going to help us in the future.”

How physical the Sooners are in their one public scrimmage is up to the coaching staff. The typical goal is to walk off the field as healthy as possible.

But don’t expect to see a lot of short passes and four-receiver sets. That offensive style is still prevalent in the Big 12 Conference but the Sooners have evolved.

John Shinn

Follow me @john_shinn

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