Oklahoma coach Brent Venables has spent much of the past few months building a new team culture.
But with the season opener against UTEP just 30 days away, the focus shifts primarily to building good habits on the field.
The Sooners open fall camp Friday after going through offseason workouts with strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt over the last few weeks. For Venables, a lot of focus for fall camp has been on building momentum from spring ball.
“We’ve… spent more time with the players more than I ever have,” Venables said Tuesday during local media day. “We chose to continue to educate and develop our guys with the Xs and Os and fundamentals, things of that nature. So we spent a little bit more time trying to continue to create momentum and confidence in those things trying to go into the season. It’s very simple in regards to expectations every day to put one foot in front of the other in a development standpoint.”
A key part of building that momentum is for players to continue learning Venables’ system on defense and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby’s system on offense. As Venables noted at Big 12 Media Days and on Tuesday, 40 percent of the Sooners’ roster consists of brand new players.
There will be a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the ball with the departures of Nik Bonitto, Brian Asamoah, Perrion Winfrey, Pat Fields and Delarrin Turner-Yell. However, the Sooners brought in several new transfer players that have experience, including Trey Morrison, Jonah Laulu, Jeffrey Johnson and T.D. Roof.
“The thing that we have going against us is this lack of experience in the new schemes…” Venables said. “What can we do to try to bridge that gap? We’re working hard to bridge that gap and create a level of comfort… We’re going to utilize that those guys do have a lot of experience playing college football. That was with the transfers that we brought in. How can we best utilize that experience? Those are things that we are trying accomplish.”
The Sooners don’t have a ton of continuity from last season on either side of the ball, particularly on offense. They return just 30 percent of their rushing production from last season and less than 50 percent of their receiving production. The offensive line lost key pieces in Tyrese Robinson and Marquis Hayes.
Continuing to install the offense, which began during spring ball, is key for Lebby.
“We’re applying pressure from an install standpoint,” Lebby said. “We want to make these guys strain as much mentally as physically while putting them in positions of success as well. It’s a fine line. We’ve got a smart football team. We’ve got guys that understand football and guys that love learning and love getting better when they’re not on the grass. That’s a huge part of it. It’s a credit to them that we are able to get into it as deep as we are as fast as we are.”
One positive for the Sooners is Lebby’s prior history with new starting quarterback Dillon Gabriel at Central Florida. Several players have praised Gabriel for helping teammates learn the new offense, and Gabriel credits his experience playing with Lebby for helping the transition.
While fall camp is another opportunity to help with the install, Gabriel is confident the Sooners made good progress during the spring they can build on.
“I think in season it’ll be week-to-week,” Gabriel said. “Obviously things change and things are set for those weeks. But 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… I felt like a lot of guys were extremely comfortable with it. Now we go into fall camp knowing everything, getting some pre-camp installs to where there are newer things that [Lebby] can pre-load onto us just because we’re really comfortable with where we have been already.
“Going into the season, I think things change, but I think we’re really good with our base stuff and really understand what we want to do and how fast we want to play, but also how aggressive we want to play.”
The ultimate goal for fall camp, Venables said, is daily improvement.
“Coming out of fall camp, I want our guys to be incredibly confident through the work that we put in over the last several months,” Venables said. “Certainly fall camp is a huge part of that. You continue to develop fundamentals and still maintain strength during fall camp with a good, detailed, organized schedule.
“Our job is to bring them out better prepared than when we went into fall camp. There’s a lot of intentionality that goes into that.”