Practice report: WRs 'need to make plays'

In their first game as a unit, Oklahoma’s wide receivers had their ups. But also plenty of downs. Penn State transfer Justin Brown was the only receiver to grade out in the 90s with a 90 out of 100. Kenny Stills was second with an 84. Position coach Jay Norvell conceded that his unit could have played much better in El Paso.

“Lot of things we could do better,” he said. “Depth on our routes, knowing where we are on the field. Trey (Metoyer) had a couple of go balls where he was too close to the boundary. But Trey hadn’t played a real game in two year.

“There are the things that sometimes happen when you have a lot of young guys. But we’ve got to play with more precision, execution.”

Norvell also noted the receivers struggled with their perimeter on bubble screens and runs to the outside. He was also disappointed with the unit’s yards after catch, which were minimal.

“We need to make more plays,” Norvell said. “And all get on the same page, and we will. That’s what good teams do, they get better. We’ve got a lot of good players, and we’ll improve in the coming weeks.”

Dominique Whaley forged his career last season as a running back that wouldn’t put the ball on the ground. But in his first game back from the broken ankle, Whaley fumbled late in the second quarter with the game tied 7-7. Fortunately for Whaley and the Sooners the ball rolled out of bounds.

Center Gabe Ikard said as a captain he considered talking the fumble over with Whaley. Then on Monday, he saw Whaley working on his ball security by carrying a ball with his arm strapped to a bungee cord.

“I was like, ‘Eh, I don’t think I’m going to say anything,” Ikard said. “He knows. That happens sometimes, but Dom Whaley will get that taken care of.”

• Tight end Brannon Green confessed that his heart almost stopped when Landry Jones threw the ball his way during the fourth quarter at UTEP.

“It was pounding,” he said. “Kind of like a blur.”

Despite the nerves, Green snagged the pass for an 18-yard touchdown that put the Sooners ahead 17-7.

“The good thing was I didn’t even have to move by hands,” Green said. “The ball hit me right in the chest.”

It will be interesting to see how the tight end rotation works out going forward. Green played very well in his OU debut, but projected starter Geneo Grissom returns this week after serving out a one-game suspension. The Sooners also played true freshman Taylor McNamara in El Paso. Green, however, said he’s looking forward to Grissom rejoining the rotation.

“We’re all getting reps,” Green said. “I’m glad Geneo is back. If he gets a touchdown, I’m going to be just as happy for him.”

• Since the moment he stepped on campus, Sterling Shepard had a goal for his freshman season: to play in OU’s season opener against UTEP. The true freshman accomplished that goal on Sept. 1, playing limited action behind slot receiver Stills in his first collegiate game.

“I knew I could play at this level,” Shepard said during Tuesday’s media session. “I wanted to test myself and show that I could. In practice, I just tried to show myself in every practice and it paid off.”

Shepard was one of the stars of OU’s summer workouts and could carve an important role with the Sooners offense this season as he gets more comfortable with the demands of college football.

The 5-foot-10, 188 pound receiver has been praised by his teammates for his playmaking ability during fall camp.

• Even though the Sooners know they have to play better if they hope to compete for a national championship this season, at least one positive can be taken by OU’s offensive line, which was playing without three starters from last season including Ben Habern (quit football) and Tyler Evans (knee injury) who were lost in the weeks leading up to the season opener.

“It’s good because you could tell they knew what they were supposed to do but maybe just had a technique error,” guard Bronson Irwin said of some of the mistakes made by the Sooners offensive line. “That’s encouraging that there wasn’t major missed assignments up front. Just small things that can be easily corrected but you still have to go in, work hard and get them fixed.”

Last season, mental mistakes and assignment busts plagued the Sooners throughout much of September, particularly in short yardage and goal-line situations. Those mistakes weren’t as prevalent against UTEP.