Brent Venables had a smile on his face this week when he met with reporters. The grin was almost ear-to-ear. His mood reflected the early goings of spring practice for the Oklahoma defense.
Its coordinator could afford to relax a little.
“Our guys have retained things well. In the few meetings that we’ve been able to have over the course of the winter has been beneficial to them,” Venables said. “I think it’s been good, particularly with the first unit of guys. We have a lot of guys that haven’t played in the second unit right now but in time we feel they will be quality players. It’s been a good couple of days.”
This spring is a 180-degree turn for the Sooners. Last spring, they were scrambling to identify playmakers. So many starters to replace at linebacker and secondary made some spring practices stressful experience.
The Sooners aren’t going through those defensive growing pains this spring.
Linebacker Travis Lewis had a breakout season in 2008 and it’s carried over to the spring.
“Confidence,” Lewis said is the difference between then and now. “Confidence to make calls. Confidence in my coach to tell me something and believe that I know what he’s talking about. Confidence to know what the other positions are doing and where they’re supposed to be. In a word: Knowledge.”
There are a lot of players like Lewis. The defense has nine starters back for next season. Ten if you count safety Quinton Carter, who started two games last season.
The experience makes a difference. Venables said the offseason workouts in January and February were much smoother. The retention his players have brought into the spring more vast.
Some are getting the spring off to recover from lingering injuries. Defensive end Auston English, defensive tackle DeMarcus Granger and linebackers Austin Box and Ryan Reynolds are all recovering from surgeries.
Lewis, however, still gets giddy when he talks about those lining up around him.
“You know you’re going to be good when Auston English (an all-Big 12 player) is competing for a starting spot. That tells you how good we’re going to be,” he said.
Venables won’t go that far. To him, there will never be a finished product. There are always things that need to get better.
“These other guys have to continue to mature, and improve their fundamentals and technique, their understanding and consistency and their playmaking,” he said. “They’re all light years away. And that’s what this time of the year is for, for you to take time to improve your skill set, improve your fundamentals. We want to create some strengths and attack the weaknesses. And believe me, most of them have plenty of weaknesses to improve on.”
Every spring will be that way. It’s a time of renewal.
But for the Sooner defense, it’s a time to build more confidence instead of trying to create it from scratch.
Lewis was asked how the first two practices had gone against OU’s record-setting offense.
“We’re stopping them,” he said.
That has to build confidence.