Seniors rest as Oklahoma opens bowl practice

Updated: December 12, 2005, 4:17 PM ET
Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. -- Rhett Bomar knows exactly how important Oklahoma's bowl practices can be for the young players on the team.

A year ago, Bomar was finishing up his redshirt year, just waiting for an opportunity to play behind a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback and an experienced backup.

"This was my whole part of the year when I actually did something," Bomar said Thursday. "It kind of helped me for the spring because at the end of the season, I just sat there and learned mostly."

Bomar got some work in as the Sooners prepared to play in the Orange Bowl, and in the spring he found himself in a quarterback competition with Paul Thompson. He eventually emerged as the starter in Week 2.

Now, this year's freshmen are following in Bomar's shoes. Oklahoma (7-4) on Thursday held its first practice since learning it would play No. 6 Oregon (10-1) in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl on Dec. 29.

"These young guys get to jump in there these first few weeks while we're finishing up school and before we start our game plan," Bomar said.

"Last year, I was in that same situation -- learning the offense good and just getting used to the speed. It helped me out in spring ball."

Some of the youngest Sooners are in a different position from Bomar. Six first-year players started for the Sooners, and six others earned playing time.

On the offense, receivers Malcolm Kelly and Juaquin Iglesias earned starts, as did linemen Jon Cooper and Branndon Braxton. Receiver Manuel Johnson and lineman George "Duke" Robinson also got into games.

"Most of the young guys have played," Bomar said. "Especially on offense, we don't have that many young guys that haven't played. On defense, those guys are getting a little work."

Along with safeties Reggie Smith and Nic Harris, who each started during their freshman seasons, defensive backs Brian Jackson and Keenan Clayton are also getting more work leading up to the bowls.

"They're going to be playing, too," Smith said. "They're going to be part of next year. We're just all rotating in and all getting it down so we'll know it when spring ball comes around."

With coach Bob Stoops away recruiting, offensive coordinator Chuck Long and defensive coordinator Brent Venables were running practice, emphasizing why younger players should make the most of their practice time as seniors step aside for a couple weeks.

"It's extremely important in regards to not taking it for granted, not wasting reps, really zeroing in on the things that are going to help them become the players they want to be -- the focus and the intensity that you need to practice at, obviously the technique that it requires to be a great player and understanding the language," Venables said.

Bomar said the first bowl practice was more focused on basics -- "kind of like two-a-days" -- as new players got into the lineup.

"I know how that feels," he said. "I've been there. You've just got to take it slow with them and teach them, be patient, and they'll get it done."

And Bomar is the perfect example. A year after getting his first work in bowl practices, Bomar is now getting the lion's share of the snaps as the starting quarterback -- and that's just how he likes it.

"I'd rather be out there, just keep going and get started getting ready for the bowl game than just sitting over there and taking a break," Bomar said. "Those seniors have earned a break, but I'm still a young guy, so I need to get out there and get my reps."

Venables said Oklahoma's coaches have already begun scouting Oregon, and they'll begin implementing the game plan for the Ducks by the end of next week.

"I think the whole team's excited about the challenge ahead of us," Bomar said. "They're No. 5 in the BCS. [Let's] come out and make a statement heading into next year, finish strong and kind of build to next year and make next year our big year."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press