Oklahoma is halfway through its spring practice, which means Brent Venables gave us a 24-minute update on how things are going two weeks before the spring game on April 22.
Here are the highlights of Venables’ media availability on Wednesday:
Injury updates: Barnes, Spears-Jennings
Unfortunately, we have to start with some injury notes. They’ve built up a bit, but nothing that should leave anyone out in the fall, according to Venables.
sophomore runner Jovantae Barnes he was seen in a boot and on a scooter at practice Monday and will miss the rest of spring practice after undergoing foot surgery. Venables said they hope he can participate in some capacity this summer, which would indicate he shouldn’t miss the start of next season.
“He had a little surgery, a high school thing that just bugged him,” Venables said. “He was wrestling his first year or so here. I just thought this would be a good time to clean that up and he showed it – we practiced it the first few practices and we wanted to get the summer started from a healing standpoint.”
The other player who will miss the rest of the spring is the second-year safety. Robert Spears Jennings, who underwent shoulder surgery on Tuesday. Spears-Jennings has been battling the injury for a week and was practicing Monday wearing a brace. The hope is that he will be ready before fall camp.
“It got so annoying that I had to do it now,” Venables said. “I was having a very strong spring.”
Some others dealing with injuries include wide receiver junior redshirt JJ Hester, who was seen wearing a boot Wednesday and Venables said he has missed several practices; senior wide receiver dj graham, who has missed four practices with a strained quadriceps; freshman running back daylan smothers, who has been dealing with a hamstring problem; and freshman cornerback Jasaiah Wagoner, who strained his hip flexor – Venables wouldn’t say if Wagoner or Smothers missed any practice. senior cornerbacks jade davis and red shirt sophomore Kanai Walker they have also missed time with undisclosed injuries.
There’s good injury news, with senior left tackle transferring from Stanford rose walter starting to participate in individual exercises a bit, after having surgery on my shoulder in December. He is often the last player on the field at every practice working on technique.
“He was unable to run for several weeks after surgery,” Venables said. “But she has a big, hungry, tough mentality. Very good attitude, and he connects perfectly with his teammates effortlessly.”
And sophomore cornerback gentry williams he has returned to practice after his episode during winter training, in which he was taken to the hospital.
“It looks good,” Venables said. “He spent a bit on Monday and he spent more today. So I’ll have to look at some of the good stuff he did today. He’ll be fine. It’s like riding a bike for him. He’ll get back to where he was quickly and we hope he’ll really make that group better as well.”
Team gathered around Bowen
True freshman security Peyton Bowen he has missed some practices this spring after his sister tragically passed away in March. Bowen has practiced again this week, with his teammates trying to pick him up.
Multiple players and coaches attended Bowen’s sister’s funeral in Dallas last week.
“Peyton was missing for a while, a terrible deal with death in the family that his family has had to deal with,” Venables said. “It’s not like a thing where, OK, now it’s over, and he can come back. No, it’s life. So helping him continue to manage that. Our guys have done a great job loving him, cheering him on and being there for him.”
Bowen, a five-star prospect out of Denton Guyer High School, could compete for a contributing role in his first season with the Sooners. And so far, he has impressed Venables in practice.
“He has a very good natural feel to the game,” Venables said. “He can play multiple places. You don’t normally want to do that. He not only has the skill set, but football doesn’t overwhelm him. He wants to make sure that he, too, can be precise and detailed. We have very good competition there in security.”
Venables working on details with linebackers
You know where you can find Venables in practice: linebackers.
Venables spends most of his time with the linebackers during one-on-one periods, often guiding them through drills and teaching techniques. Last year, the linebacking group was inconsistent and lacked experience defending Venables. This year, Venables said linebackers have improved a lot, with junior danny stusmansecond year student jaren kanak and red shirt freshman kobie mckenzie leading the way.
“I’m just trying to create as much of the gaming experience for those guys in the best possible way — stress them out and teach them,” Venables said. “It’s a really hungry bunch of guys and fantastic in the meeting room. The depth of our knowledge, even with guys who haven’t played a big part, is really good. I have been satisfied with that. I don’t think it can be better than what it is today. Now, he has to move to the field”.
For Venables, he’s harping on the details with linebackers, which was often a problem last season. Whether it was from not understanding the assignments or not filling the correct running slots, linebackers struggled with the “little things.”
“Maybe I step on the wrong foot, a false step. I still made the play — it gained four yards, but if you step on the right foot, you’re playing behind your guards and it’s a one-yard gain,” Venables said. “And that’s the difference, as we know, we got punished last year, that’s the difference between winning and losing games. That is a very, very small margin of error. Our guys have fundamentally improved from where we were a year ago and our football IQ as a linebacker has been really good.”
Venables added that he still doesn’t like depth at linebacker, but then proceeded to speak highly of his young linebackers: redshirt freshman McKenzie. kip lewistrue freshman Phil Picciotti and junior red shirt shane white.
“Phil Picciotti, he has played very well behind the ball. He is learning to control his body,” Venables said. “It was a runaway train the first few days of mat exercises and out of control. He has a big and old body. And now he is, again not where he will be anytime soon. But he’s in a much different place than he was when we started in January. Very excited about the big and athletic body of him.
“And we also have some young guys at linebacker. Kobie has really made some improvements in all the ways you have to. And Kip Lewis as well, we have to keep putting weight on him. Shane Whitter, we’re working him more and more at linebacker. I might not go full throttle with him and take a chance, you know, but he’s really done a good job of getting back closer to health.”
Skaliski helping teach defense
One person helping Venables with linebackers is graduate assistant James Skalski, who played linebacker for Venables at Clemson from 2016-2021. Skalski joined the staff this spring and has been heavily involved in practices, often sticking to Venables’s waist.
“He knows it from a player’s point of view. So he can be the good cop non-stop,” Venables said. “And maybe sometimes when you receive from Coach Skalski, he is received even better. I’m just throwing this out, but maybe it’s more fatalistic when it comes from me, but when it comes from (Skalski), it’s a different perspective, a different tone from a player’s point of view.
Skalski wasn’t one of Venable’s most athletic linebackers at Clemson, but he was one of his most reliable. He won two national titles with Clemson and was an All-ACC selection his junior and senior seasons, totaling 258 tackles in his career.
Venables said he’s one of the smartest players he’s coached in his career and someone who can help teach his defense, which can be beneficial not only this spring but also next fall on Saturdays.
“I don’t even know what he’s saying, but I know what he’s saying is correct,” Venables said. “You don’t have to train him. He is literally another coach on the field. He is three and four steps ahead at all times. So he’s something really invaluable just because of the deep experience of him and our language and then the system and then how the guys learn, the guys really trust him.”
Arnold impressing and learning
Jackson Arnold already started turning heads in spring practice, including Venables, who had high praise for the true rookie quarterback on Wednesday.
“Jackson has had a very good first couple of weeks. Really good,” Venables said. “He has had some great pitches. There’s a lot of learning right now and looks and pressure and a lot of guys coming after him from different angles and all of that, the coverage that he’s seeing. I’ve been very happy with him.”
Arnold is expected to compete for the backup job behind senior Dillon Gabriel. But Venables knows Arnold is the future at the job and has seen him experience growing pains this spring and show his high ceiling.
“He has left the guys open. It’s released early. You have made good decisions. He’s made some tough decisions, some bad decisions that he’s also had to learn and grow from. But I love where it is. It is beyond the learning curve when it comes to the mental side. Football is very easy for him, even at this level. There are some things from a learning standpoint that sometimes paralyze young players, it hasn’t with him yet. You just have to put it all together.”
Skirmishes with other schools in spring?
A hot topic around college football this spring has been the idea of potentially engaging other schools during spring practice, rather than a spring game. Auburn head coach Hugh Freeze, as well as other SEC coaches, have floated the idea recently, with Freeze wanting to play UAB.
The NCAA doesn’t currently allow it, but if it were, is that something Venables would be interested in?
“I mean, if everyone is doing it, we would do it. Hell, we have to learn to stop each other,” Venables said. “But that would be kind of fun, I guess if everyone was doing it. Our interest in Oklahoma: our fans will show up. If I opened practice, that stadium would be packed. We’d fill that damn thing. We do it for the spring game, but if we filled it up on a weekend, a Saturday, an aimless Saturday, it would fill up. People would be excited to see our guys compete no matter what.
“But that’s the talk? Maybe we can get the Cowboys, the Dallas Cowboys would come here.”
The Cowboys probably won’t be coming to Norman anytime soon, but an intra-team fight, similar to NFL joint practices during training camp, is a fun concept for the future.
For now, Oklahoma will have to settle for scrimmage practice, which it will do on Thursday.