The Sooners held a 102-play scrimmage Saturday, which Bob Stoops addressed after Tuesday’s practice. Stoops said he was pleased with the way the offense limited penalties and turnovers, and the way the defense tackled in the open field. Stoops also said the first-team defense did not give up any big plays -- a good sign, considering that was the unit’s Achilles’ heel in 2011.
Stoops really praised Penn State transfer Justin Brown and noted how “wonderful he’s fit in. He’s really made [the WRs] a solid group.” The other star of the scrimmage was Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders, who reeled in a pair of touchdowns. Stoops said Saunders is still waiting to hear from the NCAA to see if he’ll be granted a waiver to play this season. Wide receivers coach Jay Norvell said Saunders, in addition to a change of coach at Fresno State, had additional issues, both personal and medical, which could impact the NCAA’s decision. Norvell declined to elaborate on the issues.
The starting unit at the moment is Trey Metoyer and Brown on the outside, with Kenny Stills working in the slot. Should Saunders gain eligibility, he would probably be OU’s fourth or fifth option at receiver, along with LaColtan Bester and Sterling Shepard.
• Stoops dodged the question a week ago, but wide receivers coach Jay Norvell revealed that OU did in fact make the first contact with Brown.
“Justin was a kid we reached out to because we needed a mature, experienced WR that’s played,” Norvell said. “And he was interested in the opportunity here. The more we talked, the more we felt like it was a good fit. He did come out here and visit us, but we didn’t go out to see him because we didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do.”
• Running back Dominique Whaley was held out of the scrimmage, but only for precautionary reasons. Stoops said, “Dom has looked really good. He really looks to be pretty close to where he was.”
The Sooners have been careful with Whaley so far in contact drills, but look for them to ramp up his activity as the season gets closer.
• Blake Bell had maybe his best scrimmage yet as a quarterback, tossing a pair of TDs to Saunders. Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel says a decision on the No. 2 quarterback will be made in the next few days. He went on to explain that “the next few days” meant days or one week or two weeks or three weeks.
• One of the things to watch on the offense has been the interior of the offensive line, with the injuries to Ben Habern and Tyler Evans. But Stoops remains optimistic about the line because of the development of guards Adam Shead and Bronson Irwin.
Stoops said Shead was as good as any offensive lineman the Sooners had the second half of last season, and said Irwin “is really ready to play. He had a great winter, spring, really prepared himself.” Stoops noted that he really began to notice Irwin in the offseason, when he was beating the other linemen in track sprints.
While the Sooners might have two guys ready to fill the shoes of Habern and Evans, Stoops conceded that the unit is nowhere deep as it once was.
“We’re thin,” he said. “Hopefully we can keep everyone healthy.”
Nila Kasitati, who had a heart condition that required a procedure three weeks ago, has been back at practice the last week. Stoops indicated that Kasitati could emerge as the backup to Gabe Ikard at center. With the injuries to Evans and Habern, the Sooners could really use a healthy Kasitati.
• Among the names Stoops threw out for kick return: Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Sterling Shepard and Damien Williams. Stoops singled out Williams as someone who’s really come on in the backfield behind Clay and Whaley. “Damien really looks good,” Stoops said. “Powerful. He’s picking things up.”
With Finch working almost exclusively in the slot, the junior-college transfer is the favorite to be OU’s third running back behind Whaley and Clay.
Finch, who is only working with the running backs only at the very beginning of practice, said reading coverages is something he’s struggled with, but continues to pick it up with every practice.
• Tackles/tight ends coach Bruce Kittle says the left tackle spot is “50-50” between Lane Johnson and Tyrus Thompson. Expect that battle to last deep into preseason camp. Johnson is working to be OU’s swing tackle, which means he could see snaps at left and right tackle this fall.
That means Daryl Williams has essentially locked down the right tackle spot. Williams could have the biggest upside of any player on the offensive line and possibly the entire roster. It also means Thompson has stepped up since his redshirt freshman season and the coaching staff would feel comfortable with him playing a significant role. Johnson is the lone returning starter at tackle but has not secured a starting spot. OU appears to have three solid tackles.
• Kittle said none of the tight ends have separated themselves, with Brannon Green, Taylor McNamara and Geneo Grissom splitting reps at the position. Green could be used in blocking situations, McNamara could be a receiving threat and Grissom, as one of the best athletes on the squad, could make an impact if he picks up the nuances of the position quickly.
Grissom is having to learn blocking assignments, route-running and all the requirements of the position, so it could be asking a lot to expect him to make an impact in 2012.
• Center Austin Woods, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma this spring and has been undergoing chemotherapy treatments, spoke to the media for the first time since his diagnosis. We'll have more on him soon.