The long wait between seasons for Oklahoma football fans — which this time around atypically started out with anguish but quickly evolved through acceptance into anticipation — is almost over.
Like most college teams, Oklahoma football is back on the field this week and engaging in its final preparations for the start of the 2022 season. Fall training camp for the Sooners officially got underway on Friday.
As anyone with an ounce of Boomer or Sooner, or both, coursing through their bloodstream is acutely aware, this has been a highly unusual offseason for the OU football program. Yet the Sooners seemingly have come through all the chaos and changes with a new culture based on the values of toughness, passion and discipline along with the mindset that “how you do how you do anything is how you do everything and everything matters.”
Not since the 1999 season, when Bob Stoops arrived on the season tasked with returning Oklahoma football to national relevance and respectability, have the Sooners undergone an offseason like this one. Ironically, new head coach Brent Venables was part of that transition, as well.
As the Sooners open up fall training camp, you get the impression that the team is brimming with confidence and a renewed sense of direction and purpose. Much of what the OU players are experiencing is new, compounded by the fact that nearly 40 percent of the 2022 roster is comprised of players (incoming recruits and transfers mostly, but also returning Sooner players) who have not played a single down in a Sooner uniform.
Despite all the newness and the natural uncertainty associated with it, you get the distinct feeling that the Oklahoma football program is going to come out of this better off and more resilient than it was before. And were talking about better than Sooner teams that went a combined 32-6 over the past three seasons.
Through spring practice and into the summer months, the team has gone through and intense learning process, putting in a new offensive scheme and a brand-new defense.
“I think, in the spring, going through each install and going in-depth and setting the foundation — and then getting to June and resetting it again in July and kind of looking it over one more time — I felt like a lot of guys were extremely comfortable with it,” said quarterback Dillon Gabriel during the team’s press conference earlier this week,
“Now we go into fall camp,” he said, “knowing everything and getting some pre-camp installs to where there are newer things that he (offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby) can pre-load onto us because we’re really comfortable with where we have been already.”
Sooner defensive coordinator Ted Roof has been impressed with the process thus far and the amount of learning the players have absorbed in a relatively short period of time and how hard they have worked to become comfortable with and put into practice what they’ve learned.
“Yeah, there is a newness,” Roof said when he and others met with reporters on Tuesday. “Every day gets a little better. But you know what? You’re always learning. If you’re not learning and getting better, you’re falling behind.
“I see an improved football IQ,” said the new OU defensive coordinator. “You can tell the guys have been working hard because of that. Details like that allow you to play fast and allow you not to have to think and process as opposed to react.”
Asked this week what he wanted to accomplish over the next few weeks at fall camp, Venables told reporters this week:
We want a confident, physical, tough, blue-collar work ethic-type team coming out of fall camp,” the new head coach said. Venables added that he wanted the Sooner players to be incredibly comfortable and confident through the work they’ve put in over the last several months.
“Certainly, fall camp is a huge part of that,” he said.
On Friday, the Sooners enter the final phase of their broad preparation and season-opening game plans for the new college football season. It all gets very real from this point on.