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August 18, 2014

Notebook: Punt returns, Obo and IPads

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Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell believes the addition of the zone read has helped make the Sooners' offensive attack more potent. No holes in that theory.

The Sooners rushed for more than 300 yards multiple times last season. Using the quarterback as a runner helped OU control the clock and ride out the run-game to wins last season.

"I think it adds a whole other dimension that people have to defend," Norvell said. "We basically are running very much the same offense that we've always run. We've added that element, and it just gives the defense something else to deal with."


Junior wide out Sterling Shepard believes Trevor Knight gives the Sooners an edge not only because defenses have to account for another set of feet but because Knight is uniquely gifted at the quarterback position.

"I definitely put him as one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation," Shepard said. "That's always a positive whenever you've got a guy that can throw and a guy that can do it on the ground too. It just adds some variety to the offense."


Senior Blake Bell's move to tight end has simplified his role for the Sooners. He's gone from having to know all the progressions of every receiver in the offense to just having one single focus.

But you can't shake all that quarterback knowledge overnight, and he's done his best to use it to make himself and the men in his meeting room better.

"I try to help those guys out sometimes," Bell said. "Just seeing different coverages as a quarterback, you do get different coverages. That's all I did. We studied different coverages to see where guys are going, where they're going to be on the field. As I get certain routes, I kind of know what's going on and I can help guys out."


Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops mentioned redshirt freshman Ogbonnia "Obo" Okoronkwo as a linebacker that could help the defense this season. Sophomore Jordan Evans concurs.

"Well have you seen him lately? He's huge!" Evans said. "I think it's his focus. He's really been focused. At night there's times that he asks me to quiz him, and he does extra work off the field. You see a drive in him where he wants to play, and on the field he's producing. He's making a ton of plays here and there with sacks, tackles-for-loss, all that stuff."


Shepard has waited his turn to become OU's next punt returner.

First he watched former Sooner Justin Brown come straight into camp from Penn State, win the job and the show why he won 2012. Then he watched former Sooner Jalen Saunders see spot duty as a junior and then take ownership of the punt returner position as a senior.

Each one of those men had his own unique strengths, and Shepard has spent the last two years gleaning what he can, preparing to step into the role just as soon as OU coach Bob Stoops and his staff ask him to.

"I'm looking forward to doing that this year. I've set behind in that for a little longer than I'd like," Shepard said. "It's my turn now, so I'm gonna try to step up and do that. We've had some great punt returners in the past in Justin Brown and Jalen Saunders, and I'm just gonna try to do something back there."


The 6-foot-6 frame of freshman wide receiver Jeffery Mead hasn't gone unnoticed at OU's preseason camp. Though he's gained weight since he's arrived in Norman -- up to 184 pounds -- he's still has a ways to go to fill out.

"He's a big guy. He's gonna go up and get the ball every time, and I don't think I've seen him drop a ball yet, and if I have it was maybe one or two the whole camp," Shepard said. "He's just great at using his body and getting off the line."

Norvell said he'd never coached a player as tall as Mead in his life.

"He is extremely gifted, agility-wise," Norvell said. "He's becoming a very good route runner already, and he really studies the game. He has the type of mind where he's really going to understand what we ask him to do. He asks the right questions, and he's improving very quickly."


In a nod toward OU's decision to keep up with the times, the Sooners were issued iPads this year instead of traditional playbooks. The playbooks are said to have each of the players' diagramed plays and responsibilities as well as video on them.

And while the Sooners will look a lot fresher walking around campus with an iPad instead of gaudy binder, they'll also have educate their older coaches from time to time.

"Coach Jay [Norvell] has some technology problems," Shepard said. "So we try to help him out sometimes. He's always asking questions, 'Hey, what do you do?' 'Coach Jay, all you gotta do is hit the X. It'll take you out.' He's getting the hang of it though. You gotta help them old guys out a little bit."

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