Oklahoma co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell is encouraged by what he's seen from the Sooner offense so far through spring training.
Norvell believes having OU quarterback Trevor Knight under center has helped steady the team while other players -- particularly on the offensive line -- continue to take the spring months to heal up for summer camp and others learn entirely new positions.
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The absence and shuffling of some Sooners has predictably given OU's second and third string players more snaps, nurtured competition and forced more physical play.
"Our skill kids are all competing, and it's going to be hard to really tell where we're at until we get into more competitive situations," Norvell said. "We always talk about building up a competitive callus, and that's kind of what spring is."
"It's just working every day, grinding every day and trying to get better and making yourself push through the struggles of it. A lot of times it's not pretty, but we're getting better for sure."
YOUNG AND CAVIL
Redshirt freshman Dannon Cavil has shown Norvell he could help the Sooners at times. Other times, he can seem like a liability.
"Dannon is really a talented young player, and he's flashes at times and then he takes a step back," Norvell said. He's a really exciting kid. He takes explosive steps up the field. He can run really well."
It's those attributes that wowed Norvell during his recruitment of the San Antonio (Texas) native. But he needs to seen Cavil put it all together with consistency.
"Made some big plays, and he's made some plays that aren't so good," Norvell said. "We're fighting for consistency with him and being competitive every snaps, and he's trying to learn how to play at that speed. When he gets there, he's got a chance to be really good."
Redshirt freshman K.J. Young has an opportunity to showcase his skills during the 2014 season, too.
At 6-foot, 175 pounds with speed, Young could earn playing time by cutting through the middle of defenses and turning short routes into long yardage plays.
"K.J.'s had a good spring," Norvell said. "Really smart kid, really athletic, very similar to some of our slot players that we've had. Just kind of got a feel and understanding for space and real competitive for a not very big guy.
"He's got a great example in Jalen Saunders to emulate and got a chance to watch him for a year, and now it's his turn and he's done really well in the slot for us."
BIGGER IS BETTER
One of the traits the Sooner coaching staff emphasized throughout 2013 was the need for more physical play on both sides of the ball.
After a season that ended with a dull thud for the Sooners and loud cheers for Johnny Football in the Cotton Bowl, OU's coordinators committed to reinventing how Sooner football is played.
Norvell and co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel shifted their finesse, pass happy offense into a run-centric one that depended on the swift feet and quick decision-making from inexperienced quarterbacks and battle tested running backs. The results seemed mixed until the final weeks of November when the Sooners finished strong.
"I think that we found that that really helps us in tough competitive games," Norvell said. "That physicality is important. We might have lost a little of that before last year, but we've kind of gotten back to more of that. It certainly helped us at the end of the year last year."
The task has been to carry that play into the spring. Finding out who will block on the edges, who is willing to put a defensive back's nose in the dirt without Jalen Saunders on the outside is a priority for Norvell.
"The great thing that Jalen left behind was he it wasn't about his numbers," Norvell said. "There are other receivers that maybe had more catches, but nobody played harder than Jalen. I don't care what game your turn on, and that's what he leaves. That's the legacy he leaves here."
That's the legacy the youngest of OU's wide outs are contending with this spring.
It has been made clear to them that they can't simply catch passes during the spring and expect to play during the regular season. They'll have to be complete in their blocking, route running and catching ability.
"I just got done talking to the guys," said Norvell on Wednesday evening. "We've been pretty good around here for really one reason, and that's playing hard and playing tough. We expect that level of effort from all of our guys on offense especially, and we haven't got it all the time this spring."