Notebook: OU closer to full strength
Less than two weeks away from Oklahoma’s season opener, and everything is starting to come together, on and off the field.
On the field? Practices are crisper, sharper as players begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel with game week on the horizon.
Off the field? You’re never going to eliminate the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but OU is doing all it can to limit the negative impact. And all those players (17) who had been active cases just two weeks ago, that number is dwindling by the day.
“We've been able to get a lot of those guys back that were affected several weeks back, so it's been good to have a few more bodies out there,” said head coach Lincoln Riley on a Zoom call Tuesday afternoon. “Had a pretty successful last couple weeks, certainly, as far as the COVID, the procedures, the testing, all that.
“It's settled down and been an outstanding last couple of weeks. So certainly, gonna have to continue that as we've said before, it's gonna be a week-to-week deal.”
This has been a mock game week for the Sooners, but the college football world got a taste of real action last weekend with Central Arkansas and Austin Peay.
It was a positive sign indicating that just maybe things can get accomplished, maybe the play won’t be so substandard.
Riley definitely not going in with an excuse-making mindset about his group.
“I think the quality of ball will be very good. The one elephant in the room, the one question that you can't answer on that is what impact does COVID have as we go through this. All the sudden if you pop in there and lose a lot of people and still attempt to play a football game, then obviously the quality of ball is not going to be quite as high.
“Doesn't mean it's not playable, not doable, not still worth the competition, fun to watch, all that, but that's the one outlier. If we're able to not lose a mass of people, we're going to be able to play good football and I imagine a lot of people will be able to as well.”
What if… Riley goes down?
The main focus of the COVID-19 dilemma has been about the players. What happens if a position group gets wiped out, that line of reasoning stands out.
But then there’s the question of coaches. What if one of the coaches, or even Riley himself, tests positive for COVID-19 leading up to a game?
That procedure is still to be determined.
“Honestly, sadly, we are still waiting on that,” Riley said. “Nothing from the NCAA or from our conference on that. I couldn’t tell you. We’ve got contingencies in place for whatever they decide. I know there have been talks about do you allow a separate coaches’ box for anybody who has tested positive and still be able to coach.
“Past that, I can’t imagine anybody being able to be involved in game day operations. If it goes that way, we have a plan. If it goes to where myself or any other coach wasn’t there, we’ve got a plan for each and every one of them.”
Riley said he hopes to have some sort of ruling here soon and obviously, is hoping they never have to use any of the contingency plans because everybody will stay healthy.
Pledger setting the pace
Four scholarship running backs without a bunch of in-game experience. But when there is no clear-cut leader after the transfer of Trey Sermon and the opt-out by Kennedy Brooks, then it’s open season for anybody to start making their claim.
The early leader appears to T.J. Pledger.
“He’s really practiced well. He’s been our most consistent player. He’s in the best shape he’s been in here, healthy, just really doing some nice things,” Riley said. “Obviously, Rhamondre has some game experience and has some a very good skillset. No question he’s going to be a big factor.
“And then gaining a lot of confidence in Marcus Major and Seth McGowan. It’s a good group. It’s a talented group. They’re all getting a lot of reps. They’re all getting better quickly. You can certainly foresee scenarios where all those guys have not only a role but a big role on this football team.”
There was no update regarding the suspension with Stevenson (and Trejan Bridges and Ronnie Perkins), so it’s still assumed OU will only have Pledger, Major and McGowan for the first few weeks of the season.
Walker, Asamoah & more making waves
It’s going to be all hands on deck this season with eligibility being frozen for everybody. Nobody is redshirting, everybody is preparing like they’ve got an opportunity.
And they’re taking advantage of it.
“I would say this recruiting class a whole, talking about the new guys that just came in… I think one of the exciting things for us right now as you look at every single player, and some of them are at different points, but every single player has got a shot,” Riley said. “I mean, no doubt.
“You’ve got some that are ready to help this football team this year and have a chance to continue to press on and do very well. You’ve got some that may be a short time away. But I don’t feel like we’ve got anybody that’s a long, long ways away.”
In terms of other players making their moves after the two scrimmages and all the practices, Riley mentioned several names and some that OU fans have been waiting to make that next leap.
*Obi Obialo & Theo Howard
*Robert Barnes & Jamal Morris
*Nik Bonitto & Jon-Michael Terry
“I could darn near go through everybody on the roster and there's a level of excitement about the majority of a players, and now it's just continuing to take them through the progression,” Riley said. “So, certainly more excited about than not. But a lot of work yet to be done.”