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August 14, 2004

Kurt Smith's notes & thoughts

Randy McEachern's son has walked on at quarterback to the Oklahoma Sooner football team. McEachern started at signal-caller for Texas way back when Earl Campbell was on his way to a Heisman in 1977 and he has since stayed in close contact with the football program.

So how in the world has his son ended up walking on for Bob Stoops? The answer is Chuck Long's expertise.

Long has built quite a reputation as a quarterback developer. In the last four years, he's coached a Heisman winner, a Heisman runner-up, and a Rose Bowl MVP/NFL quarterback.

It can be argued that Mack Brown's staff has enjoyed just as much talent during the same period, and it's certainly true that each of the signal-callers that has suited up for Texas has come in with much better high school credentials than those OU award winners.

Bottom line?

"Chuck Long can get a walk-on quarterback a scholarship somewhere else in one year of training if the young man is willing to work," says the father of another quarterback who has walked on under Long's tutelage. "He's a quarterback guru."


Speaking of quarterbacks, we all see where Brent Rawls has washed out at Louisiana Tech. Rawls struggled with all the same problems evidenced at OU: poor academic effort, irresponsible social life, and goofy fluke injuries.

Some blame Rawls, some blame his parents, some blame Shreveport Evangel for letting him slide because he was a BMOC in high school - but none can blame his coaches at OU.

Rawls had a brief shining moment at OU back in the spring of 2003. He had apparently re-committed himself just before the Rose Bowl, jumped in Nate Hybl's back pocket, started working harder in classes, and on the field he started to play up to his potential. He finished the spring 2003 scrimmages with better statistics than any other Sooner quarterback.

About two months later, though, he had reverted to his former self. Skipped classes, lazy afternoons by the pool while his teammates worked - Rawls went back to his old college life and Jason White was named the starter on June 20, 2003.

Coaches were questioned, Rawls was peeved, and White took the ball and ran with it to a Heisman ceremony six months later.

One year later, we know how everything has worked out and the coaches have been proven to have tremendous foresight. Meanwhile, Rawls is free to kick around without those apparently overwhelming responsibilities of attending classes and lifting weights.


Sometimes it can be tough to tell by watching practice exactly why a player is running third team when he appears to be good enough to be further up the depth chart. For instance, Chijioke Onyenegecha is currently running at third team wideside cornerback, apparently because he's not up to snuff conditioning-wise. Moe Dampeer is third team for the same reasons.

Yet Onyenegecha and, especially, Dampeer sometimes makes some pretty darn good plays on the field. So are they just not achieving to their talent and coaches need to light a fire? Or are they really just not as good as the guys in front of them?

With many other coaching staffs around the nation, the point might be debated, but not this staff. Bob Stoops and his staff play the best players. Whoever performs at the highest level is on the field (provided they follow team rules).

So, rest assured, if Onyenegecha is running number three, it's because Antonio Perkins and Jowahn Poteat are better wideside cornerbacks than he is. If Dampeer is working with the scrub team that means Lynn McGruder and Steven Coleman are better players right now.

Stoops doesn't play head games with his players. He's straightforward and honest and he expects them to take care of business.

Obviously, that approach works well.


Let's face it, there are a slew of undersized, undertalented walk-on receivers that come through the OU program every year.

This year is a little different, though, because the Sooners have three keepers - Mark Bradley, David Robinson and Jarron Hardison.

Bradley has already starred for the Sooners as a big-play man, and his role will be expanded even more this season as the placekick holder. He's also been awarded a full scholarship. Robinson is similar in many ways to Mark Clayton. Good hands, great elusiveness, great burst of speed. He's a redshirt freshman who has worked his way into the second rotation at receiver and, coming back in 2005, he should have a scholarship and a spot in the primary rotation.

Same with Hardison, who is a Midwest City native. Hardison has the size that teams covet (6-3) and he's a well-conditioned athlete with good speed. He's already worked himself into repetitions with the second team
offense after less than one week of practices. He's a player to keep an eye on, no doubt.


Is there any difference in this year's fall camp with Bo Pelini in place of Mike Stoops?

Well, yes, actually there is.

Not so much in schemes or in performance, of course. They've only tweaked a few things here and there and it's still the same aggressive, zone-based defense we've seen for five seasons. No, the difference is the volume. Pelini's voice is rarely heard over everyone else's the way Stoops' was. Now, Pelini can yell with the best of them, but it's rare.

Pelini simply has a different teaching style than Stoops. He's still as focused and, to a point, intense as Stoops was at OU, but he teaches more one-on-one instruction with a conversational voice rather than a
yell.

Better?

Who knows?

Probably not.

Just different.



Who has stood out, in this reporter's opinion, so far in fall camp?

The names are numerous: Dusty Dvoracek, White, Kejuan Jones, Travis Wilson, Wes Sims, Jammal Brown, Davin Joseph, Brandon Jones, Adrian Peterson, D.J. Wolfe, J.D. Runnels, Russell Dennison, Dan Cody, Lance Mitchell, Clint Ingram, Jowahn Poteat, Donte Nicholson, Brodney Pool, Blake Ferguson andTrey DiCarlo. Yes, that's quite a list, and there are others who deserve credit, too.

But the guy that has been really impressive is Clayton. White is the reigning player of the year, but Clayton could be more talented, and that's saying something. There are a lot of times where he looks like OU's best player.

Trying to take nothing away from several other All-Americans on the team, Clayton could be the MVP this season. OU has a great group of receivers, the best Sooner receiving corps ever, and Clayton is
head-and-shoulders the best among them.

If people really take that Sports Illustrated cover jinx seriously and the believe Frank Gore, Skyler Green, David Greene, Matt Leinert and White will be out of the Heisman running because of it, well then pencil in Clayton for front-runner (with apologies to Darren Sproles).

I believe Mark Clayton is the best college football player in America just the way I believed Roy Williams was the best college football player in American before the 2001 season (with apologies given, back
then, to Rocky Calmus). Clayton just doesn't get enough recognition, not near as much as he deserves.


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