Venables: Now the real grind begins
Five practices are in the books for Oklahoma. Head coach Brent Venables is incredibly encouraged by what he has seen, but he laid it out clear. The hardest part is about to come.
As good as OU might be feeling through the first week of camp, this next section is where you start to find out about the true makeup of the program.
“I finished with them on the practice field, I’m sorry, there’s no other way for us to make this easier,” said Venables on Wednesday night. “These next 10 days should be the hardest 10 days of the whole season. Nothing compares to it. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally it's going to be tough.
“We should like it. We should embrace it. Because that's when you know you're putting in the work and the things that it takes so you have a chance to have the kind of season that you want to have. Just lock up and have a good season. This is grind-it-up time right here.”
Venables feels like his team is ready for the challenge. There are a lot of reasons to have that confidence when you look around and see the transformation from multiple players because of the strength and conditioning success in the summer with Jerry Schmidt running the show.
It’s not false bravado. It’s been earned, but it must continue.
“Guys feel confident because of the work they’ve put in,” Venables said. “That’s kind of where you get your swag and your edge is, by the work you put in. Not because of people talking about you. Guys have genuine edge to them right now. They’re hungry. I love the engagement of this group of players.”
The engagement has been great, but the one thing that has been readily apparent in even the brief time the media has been able to view practice has been the physicality.
No matter what, you hear coaches echo the same thing about being physical and violent. Doing everything with a purpose.
“Physicality's got to be at an all-time high, as good as it’s ever been on a practice field in Norman,” Venables said. “That’s what it’s going to take, to have a true, deep-seated championship strain to them with everything.
“That’s sleep, that’s recovery, that’s film, that’s meeting, that’s practice field, how you respond in very intense, emotional moments, multiple of those a day, the camaraderie, the cohesion, the chemistry — all those things that it takes.”
And we’re going old school now. After the first five days of using the practice fields, it’s time to hit the rugby fields. There is just something different about practicing in that environment.
Venables can’t wait.
“It’s hotter down there. You’re not as insulated down there,” Venables said. “The ground’s harder. When you fall, it feels different. The smell of the grass is different. It’s hard to get there. It’s hard to get back. Nothing’s easy. Nothing’s convenient. We’re going to go down there and grind it up. and really see what we’re about and test out mettle and see if we can continue to strain one day at a time.”
The push is going to come. Venables and the rest of the coaches are going to ask a lot and see who has what it takes.
That’s the fun part, said Venables.
“I love getting the best out of somebody. I love seeing guys play beyond their ability,” he said. “I love guys to love what they do, to really like love it, to be intense about it, be passionate about it, be competitive like it matters to win this next play, to do well this next play. If that’s bag drill, if that’s walk-through whatever that is.
“That’s literally what all of us as a staff we’re trying to develop and the players have bought into it for eight months. There’s been a maturation within that culture.”
Harrington making most of second chance
A new season, new attitude and maybe new (and better) results for defensive back Justin Harrington.
Harrington played in limited action in the first few games last season before clearing out his locker and hitting the transfer portal.
He wanted back at OU, and Venables gave him that opportunity in the spring to work his way back up from being a walk-on and showing how much he wants it.
It’s working so far.
“I love his versatility. He’s big. He’s long. He’s athletic,” Venables said. “Got good instincts, sudden, explosive, he’s rangy. He can play man. Can play zone. Football’s easy for him. Got a big strong live body. And so we’re gonna look at multiple positions.
“Not everybody can do that and still play at a pretty high level. So we’re trying to develop depth and diversity within the scheme. And he’s one of those players we feel like is going to be able to give us some position flexibility.”
Redmond with a setback
You have to knock on wood with defensive lineman Jalen Redmond. He said last week it was the first time in a long time where he was able to go through a spring and summer without any injuries or issues.
The first week of camp, though, has sidelined Redmond. At least temporarily.
“He's at the best version of himself right now,” Venables said. “And he got banged up a little. Slight concussion a couple of days ago. But he'll be fine. Maybe yesterday. And so we tried to kind of protect him a little bit today. But he's been doing well. He's progressed, he's improved.”
Redmond has talked about how hard he has worked physically and mentally to be at the best place possible. He mentioned how becoming a father recently was another light bulb moment for him to get everything together.
Provided the concussion issue doesn’t linger, Venables knows Redmond is on track for something special in 2022.
“His mindset is where it needs to be, is much improved," Venables said. "He’d be the first one to tell you that, you know, (he) just had a lot of growing up to do, and maturing and love for the game and love for the grind. Can't just play the game. You got to do the grinding, too. That's required. That's part of that formula.”