The Oklahoma Sooners were certainly fired up to get on the field and play on Saturday in the annual Red-White game to close out spring practice. The Sooners' enthusiasm was about the only thing that was fired up on a cold and rainy April Saturday in Norman.
More than 16,000 fans braved the cold, wind, and rain to get a first look at the 2010 Sooners, a team trying to move forward from a very disappointing 2009 season. Due to the weather and the stinginess with which the OU Athletic Department hands out media passes, I left at halftime, but walked away very assured and impressed with the performance on the field.
The first thing was the play of quarterback Landry Jones. Jones went 17-34 for 211 yards and two touchdowns. He made very smart decisions with the football and did not try to force passes that weren't there.
Through three spring scrimmages, Jones only threw one interception, a definite sign of maturity according to Bob Stoops.
The most impressive part of Jones' performance Saturday was his mobility. He was constantly moving around in the pocket to avoid the rush, making plays happen with his feet. On several occasions when he ran the ball himself, he showed better than expected speed on the perimeter.
Jones is solidly entrenched as the Sooners' starter for the 2010 season and Saturday's game only helped him assure fans that he has grown a lot in the past year.
The second impressive part was the play of the offensive line. With the teams split evenly between Red and White, the probably starting five were not all playing together, but both lines still performed well which I consider a VERY good thing.
Both Jones and Drew Allen had lots of time to throw and the running backs also had solid running lanes to run in. There is still work to be done on unit chemistry, but overall, the offensive line looks to be a very improved unit and are ready to get back to being a very dominant part of this football team.
The defense looked fantastic as well. Outside of the defensive line, defensive coordinator Brent Venables is going to have some issues simply trying to get everyone on the field. There is so much depth at linebacker and in the secondary for the Sooners. Up front, there isn't as much depth, but there are some standouts.
Senior Jeremy Beal had five sacks on the day and senior Pryce Macon had two. Both teams combined to account for 15 sacks, which is a little skewed since the quarterbacks were not allowed to be tackled.
The defense has the potential to be just as good as last year's unit. There are many solid players ready to step into the holes vacated by members of last year's unit. JaMarkus McFarland is going to be a great fill in for departed All-American Gerald McCoy at defensive tackle. Tom Wort, Ronnell Lewis, and Joseph Ibiloye are all ready to step up at linebacker. Jonathan Nelson, Gabe Lynn, Demontre Hurst, and highly touted freshman Tony Jefferson are ready to be lockdown secondary players.
Some standouts from Saturday's game included redshirt freshman fullback Marshall Musil who toted the ball for the White team. Musil ran for 92 yards on 29 carries on the day and got the touches because sophomore Jermie Calhoun has been banged up. Musil could provide a solid smash option to senior DeMarco Murray's dash.
Freshman wide receiver Kenny Stills also showed the crowd of good things to come, hauling in six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown. Stills, a native of San Diego, made several leaping catches on the day including one that was heavily underthrown from Jones.
The Sooners looked far from perfect on Saturday, but they looked good. Really good. Jones looked comfortable in the pocket, had time to throw, the running backs had room to run, receivers made great catches, and the defense made lots of plays.
It is still very early in preparation for the 2010 season. With summer workouts and practice still to come, all chemistry issues should be resolved by the time the Sooners start the season September 4th against Utah State in Norman.
Oklahoma is looking to reassert itself on the national stage in 2010 and they took a huge first step in the right direction on Saturday.