NORMAN — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops confirmed defensive lineman Chuka Ndulue and cornerback Cortez Johnson will miss the season opener against Louisiana-Monroe due to one-game suspensions.
Both pled guilty to misdemeanor charges stemming from offseason arrests. Both were projected starters on the two-deep depth chart the Sooners released Monday.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said redshirt freshman Zack Sanchez will start at the right cornerback spot. Defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery is weighing options at defensive tackle in the wake of Ndulue’s absence.
“Certainly that limits our rotation a little bit and we have to go a little bit deeper this weekend than we normally would,” he said. “That’s OK. It gives someone else an opportunity.”
Whether or not that opportunity falls to junior college transfer defensive tackle Quincy Russell hasn’t been decided. He’s only been practicing a little more than a week. Thus far, the coaches have been impressed with Russell’s performance. He start against ULM, but Stoops expects him to be on the field quickly.
“I think he’s just growing into the position and understanding what we’re doing,” Stoops said. “I think it’s going to take a while, but I’m hopeful we can get him 20 to 30 snaps Saturday night.”
Running back race? OU hasn’t named a starting running back. The depth chart released Monday listed senior Brennan Clay or senior Damien Williams at the top spot with Roy Finch at No. 2.
“I like what all of them are doing. So, it’s hard to please everybody out there who wants to see all different guys all the time,” Stoops said. “But (running backs coach Cale) Gundy has a good idea of how he wants to play them. It’s fair to say all those guys, through a long game, or through a, hopefully, 80- to 85-snap game, are going to have to be in there and help each other.”
Target practice: The season opener will be the first game under the NCAA rule in which players can be ejected for helmet-to-helmet hits on defenseless players.
Stoops believes the players are as informed about the rule as they can be.
“We’ve had two sessions of DVDs sent out from the league detailing what they look for, what is and isn’t targeting. We’ve had two 20-minute sessions reviewing that and talking about the severity of it and talking about the consequences,” Stoops said. “If you do it the second half of a game, you are out the first half of the next game. We talked about it with our Big 12 officials when they were here on campus in one of our scrimmages. We’ve done it as much as you can.”
Captains named: OU has named center Gabe Ikard, fullback Trey Millard, cornerback Aaron Colvin, linebacker Corey Nelson, deep snapper Austin Woods and kicker Michael Hunnicutt captains. The selections were made by a vote of the team and coaching staff.
Different feel: With the season beginning Saturday, OU has entered game-preparations for ULM. But there are other differences players notice.
“The whole atmosphere is different. It’s game week. You know that,” nickelback Julian Wilson said. “You feel it around campus. You hear fans coming by yelling ‘Boomer Sooner.’ Little things like that, you know the game is close.”
Tighter scrutiny: Colvin said one of the differences between this season and past seasons is the coaching staff has been a little edgier over the last month.
“I mean, in the past, you might’ve been able to get past some stuff if you slacked off or you did some things that you weren’t supposed to do. They might’ve let you slide. But right now, they’re catching everything and … you’re getting punished for it,” he said. “That’s what we needed. I can’t say I’m mad about it because I know that we needed it. It builds character, it builds toughness. It’s just given us our swagger back so we appreciate them for doing it.”
Follow me @john_shinn