OU's Alex Ross has been impressive, but is it enough to play?
BY GUERIN EMIG World Sports Writer
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
8/22/12 at 6:16 AM
NORMAN – Drop Alex Ross' name around the Oklahoma football compound and the praise flies.
"He's a blazer," Brennan Clay said of his fellow running back. "He's on the field and he's running that 10.4 or 10.3. Serious."
"Alex Ross, he's hit some people in practice before, and it looks real nasty," said tackle Tyrus Thompson. "He runs the ball nasty."
"One time I said he kind of reminded me of Mike Gaddis, how he slashes and how smooth he is as a runner," running backs coach Cale Gundy said. "He takes strides and before you know it he's past you and you can't catch him."
Twenty years ago, Gundy saw plenty of that from Gaddis when the two shared an OU backfield. He has seen flashes of that from Ross, the Jenks freshman going through his first college preseason. Everyone has, it seems.
Bob Stoops emerged from the Sooners' most recent scrimmage saying: "Alex had a heck of a day, had some nice runs working with the second group. He made some people miss him, outran some people."
But is it enough to get Ross on the field when the games count?
"We're still working on that," Gundy cautioned. "You've got Damien Williams. You've got Dominique Whaley. You've got Brennan Clay. Everybody knows I like to play two or three guys, but I don't want to play four or five. There are only so many carries that can go around."
Whaley is OU's go-to running back, provided he stays healthy. Clay is the reliable backup, doing for Whaley what Chris Brown once did for Demarco Murray. Williams is the junior college All-American with a two-year head start against college competition, compared to Ross and David Smith, OU's other freshman back.
"At Arizona Western Damien was playing against better talent," Gundy said. "They're seeing more defensive schemes. They're seeing more blitzes, seeing more things out on the field than most of what they're seeing in high school."
It's not that Williams is any more talented a runner than Ross or Smith. It's just that he's better equipped to master the things you must if you want to carry the ball for the Sooners.
"You've got to be able to pass protect and keep people off of Landry Jones. And you've got to be able to take care of the football," Gundy said. "If you can't do one of those two things, I don't care how fast you are, you're not going to play on this team."
During a pass protection drill last week, Ross went one-on-one against linebackers.
"Move your feet! Move your feet! Move your feet!" Gundy instructed as freshman Eric Striker blew by Ross.
"Move your feet! Move your feet! Move your feet! Stay with him! Shuffle! Stay with him!" Gundy instructed as Jaydan Bird spun and eluded Ross.
His third go during the recorded portion of the drill, Ross withstood Bird.
"Good," remarked Gundy.
Consider it a three-minute sample of a freshman's growing pains.
"He's out there always making plays, but he's still learning the system," Clay said. "Our system is hard. His head is spinning right now, trying to slow the game down."
Clay was in the same place two years ago.
"I tell (Ross), 'Just let it come naturally,'" he said. "That's kind of what I did. That's the best thing you can do. Don't rush anything. Just let it flow."
It isn't easy. You go from being a big, bad man on your high school campus to tiptoeing around all of those trophies, and all of those seniors, in the Switzer Center.
One day, your position coach is comparing you to a 1,000-yard All-Big 8 tailback.
Another, he's all up in your facemask, the veins practically popping from his neck, yelling at you for quitting on a drill.
"When David and Alex know what they're doing, they look really good. They look better than most freshmen," Gundy allowed. "They play hard. They run through people.
They break arm tackles. They come out of tackles. They outrun people. That's impressive for an 18-year-old guy."
Impressive enough to avoid that redshirt? Stay tuned.
"I believe he's going to be good. It's just that he's young right now," Clay said of Ross. "I know he's flustered. Moving from high school to college, that's a big step."