NORMAN, Okla. -- A short amount of time can provide a valuable opportunity and a glimpse at the future.
Oklahoma spent the first few practices of its bowl preparation giving its younger players most of the repetitions, allowing guys like quarterback Cody Thomas the opportunity to start to carve out their futures in the program.
“We wanted to use these first three days of practice to really give our young guys a look, and it’s been great,” co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jay Norvell said. “As coaches, it gives us a chance to see what next year’s team is going to look like and it’s given them a chance to get coached hard and get a feel for the competition while the older guys are watching. It’s been a spirited couple of days and fun to watch the young guys compete, and they did some good things. It gives us a good picture and those kids a chance to compete and give you a look at the spring.”
For the freshmen and sophomores, it’s an opportunity to send the message that they could be impact players in 2014. Defensive tackle Jordan Wade, cornerback Zack Sanchez and quarterback Trevor Knight are just a few of the contributors to their 10-2 season who had not played a down of college football at this time a year ago.
Several Sooners have seized the opportunity, but K.J. Young is a name that has continually come up as an impressive performer during practices. The redshirting receiver made a great impression when he arrived on campus and has continued to impress during the short bowl prep period.
“Man, K.J.’s got stick 'ems, he’s got some hands,” linebacker Eric Striker said. “Good hands, good routes, too. He doesn’t drop the ball. K.J. has been doing it all season so it’s not a surprise.”
Said safety Gabe Lynn: “He’s nice at receiver. He goes up and gets the ball at its highest point.”
Young, a three-star signee from Perris, Calif., had some ups-and-downs during his redshirting season but is setting himself up to make an impact on the Sooners’ offense next season, which would be ideal with senior slot receiver Jalen Saunders completing his eligibility in the Sugar Bowl.
“It’s hard when kids are away from home their freshman year,” Norvell said. “He’s made some mistakes but I think, of late, he can kind of see the light. He’s away from home but he’s gotten a chance the last few days in practice to make some plays and he’s really stepping up. We’re really excited about him next year.”
Jordan Smallwood could be another young receiver to keep an eye on. At 6-foot-2, 202 pounds, he brings terrific size to the position. He returned to practice this week after missing the regular season due to a Lisfranc (foot) injury.
“He just got cleared, so he’s been out there running around and anxious to make plays,” Norvell said. “Smallwood gives us a different body type than we’ve ever had. He’s just so big, so physical and so strong for a young guy and he really creates matchup problems.”
Thomas also could be putting himself into position to throw his name into the mix as the Sooners continue to search for their quarterback of the future heading into 2014. Knight was in the same position as Thomas a year ago, yet eight months later, Knight was named OU’s starter for the season opener, proof of how valuable taking advantage of every opportunity can be.
“Cody is doing a great job and throwing the ball around really well,” Knight said. “I’m excited for him to get a bunch of reps because this is an exciting time for him. I remember when I was there last year and I can’t believe it’s only been a year, it seems like it was forever ago. But it’s just the starting spot to becoming a really good player.”