Sterling Shepard will be a great player in the NFL.
That’s the prediction Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made recently during a Big 12 Conference call among league coaches. The coaches talked about spring football and various other topics.
“I think he’s going to be fabulous,” Stoops said of Shepard. “He has all of the qualities of being a great pro. He’s mature, responsible, in every way. In the way he works and everything off the field. I know that he’s as competitive as any player I’ve had in 17 seasons. He’s going to compete. And he has the skills and abilities. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s great with his hands. He’s tough. He has all the qualities to be a great pro and an explosive player.”
Stoops has known Shepard since he was a little boy and he took a special interest after the death of Shepard’s father, a former OU player.
Shepard was an UnderArmor All-American who had 233 receptions for 3,482 yards in his four-year career at OU. As a senior, he had 86 catches for 1,288 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
The loss of Shepard, OU’s best receiver for the past few years, leaves a question mark about the Sooner receiving corps.
“I feel really good about them,” Stoops said. “I feel it will be a group of a lot more players who can contribute this year than there was a year ago. I feel that having been in our system now a second year, our offensive system, I think our receivers are such a natural part of it – with route adjustments and the way we try to play – because they are all in this system for another full year is going to really benefit us in that we will get more production and have more players with experience who are ready to play.”
The Big 12 coaches discussed the possibility of reinstating a league championship game. When the Big 12 dropped below 12 teams, the north and south divisions were combined and the championship game between the two division champs was abandoned.
“I don’t have a stance,” Stoops said. “I am always aligned with my president and athletic director and what they feel is best for our university and overall for the league.
“I would say, I don’t know how, with 10 teams, when you are playing everybody already that it would be that positive. For instance, a year ago, we went to Oklahoma State in the last game of the regular season and won by 35 points. And the way it was set up, had we played a championship game, we would have played them again the very next week. And I don’t know what the interest would be TV-wise and in the public for us to line up and play the same team the following week.
“With 10 teams, I don’t see it being that positive of an option. With 12 teams, of course it would be but that would mean you have to expand. We will see where that goes.”
Another topic was the transfer rule for players who have graduated at their schools. Former OU quarterback Trevor Knight has graduated with one year of football eligibility left. He transferred to Texas A&M because it was unlikely he could regain his starting slot from Baker Mayfield. This spring, Knight won the starting job with the Aggies.
“I think it’s really positive for some players who may have graduated in a backup role, in a position where they are not playing as much as they like to,” Stoops said. “Maybe a younger player came in and beat them out. It gives them an opportunity to go somewhere and finish their career and get on the field more. I think what has happened and its unintended consequence is that some people are in positions where they are playing and they decide to go to a different school, playing at a smaller school well and decide in their last year to go to a school in a Power Five Conference.
“I think there are some unintended consequences the way it has all worked. I think it’s unfortunate when someone’s been a strong member of a team and ends up leaving them in their last year to go somewhere else.”
In the past few years, OU has had two receivers from Penn State transfer without having to sit out one season due to transfer rules.
Stoops talked about a new rule restricting satellite camps. In those camps, colleges get to know high school players while offering instruction away from campus.
The ban has changed how Oklahoma will operate.
“We are talking about as a staff as possibly doing one later in the summer,” Stoops said. “That is something we are working through. Hopefully there is some attempt to reconsider because of the athletes who can’t get to camps away from home and reconsider just because of the athletes at the high school level – where the schools could come down to them. And with some regulation maybe. Still do the satellite camps with just a little more regulation.”
Before last season, Stoops fired offensive coordinator Josh Heupel and replaced him with Lincoln Riley from East Carolina University. Riley had a reputation as a rising star among coaching ranks.
“He’s been fabulous,” Stoops said of Riley. “It was a big boost, being able to not only win and be successful but the production, running the football as well as passing – all of it together – was a major positive. And what people don’t get, I also feel the added and overall production offensively has led to even better defense statistics. Because they are on the field longer scoring, putting pressure on other offenses, it changes the game.”
Years ago, Oklahoma would have an alumni versus varsity spring game. That was dropped in favor of a red/white game that was treated like a normal game in most respects. This year’s spring game departed from that structure, mostly in an effort to keep players healthy.
“Basically, it’s just another practice but we are aware that for some of the players who haven’t played a lot, they are on the field going live and it’s their opportunity – without a coach in their ear telling them what to do – to demonstrate that they are ready to play,” Stoops said. “It’s another practice with a little more emphasis for the guys who haven’t played a whole lot. We view that. We grade it. We watch it at little bit more to see who’s shown they are ready to play this coming year.”