Oklahoma football: What stood out from start of training camp media day?

Oklahoma coach Brent Venables speaks during a media day for the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) football team in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023.
Oklahoma coach Brent Venables speaks during a media day for the University of Oklahoma Sooners (OU) football team in Norman, Okla., Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. /

Fall training camp for 2023 Oklahoma football is underway, and on Tuesday head coach Brent Venables and the two Sooner coordinators addressed the media.

Generally speaking, there was plenty of optimism expressed by Venables and his two coaching lieutenants in looking ahead to the 2023 season, now exactly a month off. But it was also tempered with a fair amount of cautious expectation.

The real test, of course, in aligning expectation with reality will come with performance on the field, but there is a lot of reason to believe that the Sooners will be better in the second season of the Venables era.

Venables is very open in acknowledging that Oklahoma is not a finished product in terms of getting back to a championship level and contending for national championships, which has been the Sooners’ primary goal and aspiration each and every season. At several points in Tuesday’s media day press conference, the Oklahoma head coach described his team as being “under construction.”

It was abundantly clear throughout the question-and-answer session with the media that the Sooners have put last season in the rear-view mirror and are totally focused on getting better and turning things around in the coming season. As he has before, Venables pointed out that it isn’t just one or two areas that the Sooners need to improve. We need to get better in every single area and continue to improve, he said.

The Sooners were successful in the 2023 recruiting cycle in bringing in a lot of highly talented and widely touted freshman recruits as part of a class ranked in the top five in the country and supplemented that with 16 transfers to fill critical areas of need and add valuable experience and leadership in the building effort. As a result, the 2023 edition of Sooner football is much deeper and stronger.

In fact, if I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it numerous times this offseason, Venables using the term competitive depth in talking about one of the big differences between last year’s squad and this year’s OU team.

With over 40 newcomers who weren’t a part of the Oklahoma roster a year ago, there are still bound to be some growing pains. “We’ve got a lot of work to do. A lot,” Venables said. “But our guys are putting the work in, and we’ll be there if they keep their head down and us as a staff continue to be honest with ourselves and find ways constantly get better.”

This is a much different team than it was a year ago. Venables alluded to the fact that the roster will be younger in spots, but there’s also a good chance they’ll be stronger in those spots. According to the Sooner head coach, 76 percent of the team’s scholarship players are in their first or second year.

Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby talked about how the offensive line continues to evolve. Every year, it seems, the Sooners tend to lose two to three starters on the offensive line. This season, for example, Oklahoma is having to replace three offensive line starters. Three of the offensive linemen who are likely to be in the starting lineup in the season opener started their career at another school.

Walter Rouse, a transfer from Stanford will headline the O-line group, manning the left tackle spot vacated by Anton Harrison, who is now in the NFL. Tyler Guyton, who began his career at TCU, will be at the other tackle spot, according to Lebby. Guyton had an outstanding game in OU’s loss last season to Florida State in the Cheez-It Bowl.

Andrew Raym, is a return starter at center, and McKade Mettaur, who transferred from the University of California prior to last season, will start at right guard. There is camp competition for the left guard position.

There was also discussion about who will step up in the deep but widely unproven Oklahoma receiving corps this season. Marvin Mims and Theo Wease, two of the team’s leading receivers a year ago are both gone (Mims to the NFL and Wease transferred to Missouri).

While Jalil Farooq and Drake Stoops are expected to play lead receiving roles this season, the Sooners also expect big contributions from Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony, LV Bunkley-Shelton and sophomore Gavin Freeman as well as from TE Austin Stogner, who returns to Oklahoma after a season playing at South Carolina. Two newcomers to the receiving room who have separated themselves from the wide-open competition at receiver are freshman Jaquaize Pettaway and Texas transfer Brenen Thompson, both of whom possess electrifying speed.

All three Oklahoma coaches who addressed the media on Tuesday (defensive coordinator Ted Roof was the third), emphasized the importance of the Sooners being more efficient on third and fourth down this season, on both sides of the ball. The best way to do that is to put themselves in better position on first and second down, giving themselves a better chance of making plays on third down.

Lebby may have said it best from an offensive perspective: “The best way to be efficient on third down is to avoid the down altogether.”