Brent Venables and his staff have been building toward this for the past eight months. Now they are in the home stretch of preparations to begin a new season and a new era of Oklahoma football.
Just a couple of days before the start of OU fall training camp and just 29 days away from kicking off the 2022 college football season, Venables and several assistants met with representatives of the media on Tuesday to talk about the team’s development and progress in the offseason and preview the coming season.
Not surprisingly, the subject of defensive improvement drew a lot of attention in this press conference, as well. Todd Batesassistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator, addressed the questions in that area.
“We want to play physical, and violent,” Bates said, and strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt will have a lot to do with that.
“He (Schmidt) infuses toughness, and he doesn’t walk by it,” Bates said. “He’ll seek out weakness, and he will go and attack it and make it a strength.”
Many of Oklahoma’s best defensive units were carried largely by one superstar, or “Superman,” as some of defensive stars of the past — aka safety Roy Williams in the early 2000s – were referred to.
“It goes back to the fundamentals and technique, not trying to do too much,” Bates said. “That’s the biggest thing. We don’t need anybody to be Superman in our offense.
“This defense will feed you. If you are a guy trying to go out there and be ultra productive, and just trying to make plays, sometimes you will come out of your gap and the cadence of the defense breaks down. So, if you just do your 1/11th and fit your piece of the puzzle, that’s when the defense is a thing of beauty. That’s when it becomes a Picasso.”
There were plenty of questions from reporters centered around how the players were handling the changes and adjustments that naturally come from a coaching change and all that comes with it, the physical and mental health of the team heading into fall camp as well as Venables’ thoughts about the team overall and the new season.
The players not only have bought in to where the new coaching staff wants to take the program and what it is asking of them, Venables said, but are hungry and working hard both on the field and in strength workouts to make it all happen.
Venables stressed that he was proud and pleased with the progress the team has made through spring ball and into the summer months. He likes the way the players have accepted and bought in to the vision and direction that the new OU head coach and his staff want to take the program as well as the process and commitment that it takes to get there.
The Sooner head coach noted that three things must happen before any change can take place. You must first have awareness (of not only what but, importantly, the why), then a plan of action for how you’re going to accomplish the desired change, followed by accountability. The relationships and trust that he and the staff have been building with the players from the very first day on the job, Venables said, have been a major catalyst in facilitating the change process at Oklahoma this offseason.
Asked the biggest thing he wants to accomplish between now and the start of the season to be ready to go play, Venables said: “Continuing to build on the momentum (established) through spring ball and in the course of the summer.
“We want to continue to work with the guys in building their confidence, assuredness and aggressiveness through the work we put in,” he said, “Again, a daily focus on improvement more than anything else.
“To be at our best we have to create a vision for what we want the season to look like…positionally, as a unit and as a football team. We want a confident, physical, tough, blue-collar work ethic-type team coming out of fall camp,” he said.
Venables pointed out that the one thing the Sooners have working against them is lack of experience in a good part of the roster. Forty percent of the OU roster, he noted, have never taken a snap in an Oklahoma uniform. The schemes are new to them, for some college football is new and, of course, football at OU is new. “We’ve been working hard to bridge that gap and create a level of comfort,” he said.
Asked how he felt about the Oklahoma team heading into the 2022 season, Venables said he was pleased and impressed with where the players are mentally, emotionally and physically.