NORMAN, Okla. — After missing six games last season and sitting out spring practice due to concussions, Oklahoma safety Will Johnson is reacquainting his body to the rigors of football.
“The things that were challenging were getting back in shape, which came when I went through winter and summer and workouts,” he said following the Sooners’ practice on Wednesday. “I felt like I did that and I’m completely back now. My knowledge of the game is still there and my feel for the game is still there.”
The Sooners need Johnson’s expertise. He is penciled in as their starting free safety this season. For Johnson, it’s his third position switch.
— John Shinn (@john_shinn) August 9, 2017
Oklahoma recruited him as a cornerback when he was at Monroe (N.Y.) Community College. Johnson made the move to nickel back in 2015 and he played when healthy in 2016. This season, the Sooners have asked him to move deeper in the secondary.
Johnson said the biggest adjustment he’s had to make is tackling. He’s been more cognizant of using his shoulders rather than his head because of concussion issues. But he pointed out another difference playing safety.
“The biggest thing about free safety is the angle of tackling,” he said. “Normally, I’m on the side of the ball. I’m normally tracking one side of a runner. When you’re at safety and it’s a downhill run, there are two ways to go. I would say that’s the biggest difference.”
The Sooners finished No. 111 in the nation in passing yards allowed in 2016. The 269.4 yards per game allowed marked the second time since 2014 that Oklahoma has allowed more than 260 per game.
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops said he has seen positive changes with his unit through the first nine practices.
“I’ve just been pleased with our coverage,” he said. “I think our coverage is as good as it’s been in camp for a long time. That’s a good thing. We’re making the quarterback hold the ball longer and making more plays. I can tell that’s gotten better so we’re moving in a positive direction.”
— John Shinn (@john_shinn) August 9, 2017
The Sooners went 11-2 in 2016 despite giving up more than 40 points in four games. They went 3-1 in those games.
The best accounts of how players are performing usually comes from those tasked with beating them. When asked about Oklahoma’s receivers, Will Johnson gave some geographical insight about Jeff Badet and Marquise Brown.
“In the [defensive backs] room, we know whenever you see one of the Florida guys in front of you — I’m speaking about Marquise Brown and Jeff Badet — speed is coming,” Johnson said.
Badet is a senior transfer from Kentucky. He is from Orlando, Fla. Brown is a junior college transfer who hails from Hollywood, Fla.
Depth chart talk
The Sooners haven’t released a depth chart. Defensive tackles coach Ruffin McNeill said there’s no immediate pressure to construct one. Coach Lincoln Riley has held only one staff meeting about the topic.
“We’re going to take our time,” McNeill said. “Coach Riley does that with all of us. He meets with all of us and talks personnel each weekend after the week is done Sunday. We go (over) every personnel. Special teams personnel as well. So we have time.
“For me up front, if we have the depth, I prefer to roll, if possible, and keep guys fresh. Same with offense. When you’re playing 100 plays a game, you need guys who can rotate and roll. I want to keep them fresh.”
Wednesday marked the Sooners’ ninth practice since the preseason began July 31.
Precaution with Rodney Anderson
Running back Rodney Anderson did not talk to reporters this week. He was seen wearing a green non-contact jersey during Wednesday’s practice.
Anderson, who suffered season-ending injuries in 2015 and 2016, is expected to be the Sooners’ No. 1 running back this season.
Freshman Kenneth Murray is getting lots of practice reps as the No. 1 middle linebacker. He’s battling redshirt freshman Jon Michael Terry for the spot.
“We’re seeing a lot of different looks from our offense. It’s a learning curve and his arrow points up,” Stoops said. “He’s not perfect, he’s got a long way to go, but there’s no one that works harder on his game than he does. He’s a quick learner and that bodes well for his success.”
Terry wasn’t in pads Wednesday. Stoops said the Sooners have experienced some bruises throughout the first two weeks, but nothing major.
“We’ve got guys nicked up but nothing long term, which is good for us defensively,” he said. “We’ve got guys that are banged up, but with nine practices in we’re in pretty good health.”