It was presumed that Oklahoma's spring game would be a crucial opportunity for running back Alex Ross. With the progression of Keith Ford, and the arrivals of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine this summer, it was believed that Ross would need to make a significant impression through the spring and then shine in the Red/White game to mark his spot in the hunt to be a significant player in Oklahoma's run game this fall.
The problem is that he only touched the ball three times in the spring game, tallying up just six rushing yards. At the onset (Disclaimer: I was guilty of this!) it looked as if Ross was in significant trouble when it comes to playing time this fall. However, upon further examination, the fact that Ross carried the ball fewer times than any of the other backs doesn't necessarily spell doom for the former Jenks standout.
The two names that everyone was keeping up with during the spring were Ross and Ford and, according to offensive coordinator Josh Heuple, they both had a solid spring. "I feel like both of those guys have progressed a long way this spring," Heupel said after the Red/White game. "They're both capable of getting into the open field and going the distance. They're both strong, physical runners. They've both caught the ball extremely well. They've made some strides during spring ball."
There you have it! Oklahoma's offensive coordinator has been pleased with the progress of the running backs, including Ross, this spring and said that he's improved. So why only three carries then? I've changed my opinion now to believe that it has nothing to do with the running back competition, understanding schemes and assignments, or where he is mentally. Instead it was all about the personnel on the field.
Guards Adam Shead and Nila Kasitati and tackle Tyrus Thompson all sat out the spring game, leaving a group of inexperienced and up and comers to go up against a defensive line that was dominant at the end of last season. My thought is that the coaches already knew what they had in Ross and that they weren't going to gain any new insights during the spring game. Thus Ross had the limited carries, with Ford and getting the feature role and Daniel Brooks and David Smith getting the opportunity to get knocked around by the defense.
Nothing really makes perfect sense in deciphering the Oklahoma running backs situation but this theory has merit and makes a lot more sense than Ross is just done and out of the competition. Bob Stoops even gave some validation to this theory when he was asked if any of the running backs separated themselves from the group in the spring game. "No, not today," Stoops replied. "Again, it's hard to in that we have so many linemen out right now. Bottom line, we are going to play two or three of them regardless. They're all going to play, that's just how we do it. For sure, two of them at our pace and the number of snaps we get to have to play. Anyway, those guys will keep progressing."
The battle for reps and significant time will start in June when players get involved in their summer conditioning workouts. Leadership is always built through the summer months, and so is the competitive edge. The Sooners like to run their backs in rotation and 2014 won't be an exception. If Alex Ross isn't involved in that then it will most likely have more to do with the summer competition than anything that happened in the spring.