OU is set to replace its leading rusher entering the 2022 college football season. Kennedy Brooks registered his third career 1,000-yard rushing season in 2021, finishing with 1,253 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns on 198 carries.
The Sooners return running back Eric Gray who rushed for 412 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 78 carries. Gray also caught 23 passes for 229 yards and two more touchdowns.
“I’m excited. I’m excited. Obviously, being led by Eric Gray and Marcus Major, and then adding a young guy like Jovantae Barnes, who brings a different kind of dimension to our room. And we’re extremely excited. Obviously, Gavin [Sawchuk] will be here later on. And then you’ve got Jaden Knowles, Todd Hudson. I’m excited just to get a full spring, full summer under my belt with these guys. And obviously the new offense, and those guys have picked it up very well, kind of holding their own meetings and being led by Eric Gray. So, it’s been awesome, and just to see their faces obviously after the Alamo Bowl and then getting back here and just having a fresh start on things. But it’s an exciting new time, ”Oklahoma running backs coach DeMarco Murray said of his group ahead of the spring slate.
Gray was lauded ahead of last season for his ability to familiarize himself quickly to Oklahoma’s offense. Murray said that the leadership of both Gray and Major has been pivotal to the offensive transition OU is currently undergoing as they transition into new offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby’s offense.
“It is. He’s done a terrific job, even last year coming to this new system. He picked it up within a week or two. And this offense now, we’re all learning it together, and he may know it better than I do right now. So, he’s a pro. He’s extremely sharp in what he does on and off the field, and he’s handling it the right way. Even Marcus. Marcus is doing a really good job at picking the offense right up. So, those two guys are doing it the right way on and off the field, and happy to have those guys back, ”Murray said.
Major has rushed for just 298 yards on 60 carries over the course of his career, but he has demonstrated plenty of promise with his bruising, downhill running style in his limited action. Admittedly, he’s also a player Murray finds himself pulling for.
“Yeah, Marcus, he’s a great kid. He he really is. And I guess I’ve been doing this going on my fourth year, but he’s probably one of the kids that I probably root for more than anyone just because of the kind of kid that he is and just knowing that what type of player he can be and what type of player he should be. But he’s had a really good offseason. Just continue to try to push him and really just make sure that he’s always giving his full effort and maximizing his opportunities. And he’s done that thus far, but he’s got to continue to obviously do that, build on that and compete, ”Murray said.
It’s been huge getting in Barnes as an early enrollee for the spring, too.
“It’s been ongoing for about three years. I was recruiting him at Arizona. I knew I didn’t have a chance there, but I tried. But he’s been an unbelievable kid, very smart. And just to have him here as a midyear has been extremely good just for him to obviously get stronger, bigger, faster. Get acclimated to the offense, to school, time management. A lot of things that young guys struggle with. But he’s done an unbelievable job, and just hearing from different coaches, different players just every single day, every single week, he’s improving. But I’m excited to have Jovantae here, really, really excited. I obviously can’t wait to start spring ball with him to kind of move to that phase, on the football field phase. But we’re excited to have him, ”Murray said.
There’s a lot of time between now and when carries start getting divvied up for real, but Murray likes where his group stands entering the spring.
“I think the biggest thing in our room that I want to have is competition. And those guys know nothing’s going to be given to them. No matter if you’re the starter here today, there’s no guarantees for tomorrow. Every single day — that’s the best thing about this place in our room ever since I’ve been here — no matter who you are, you’ve got to prove it and earn it every single day. So, I think those guys have a clear understanding of that. But as we all do, we all have to get better in every area of our game, and the best guy is going to play, ”Murray said.
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