Brent Venables wants OU football team to make plays on offense, 'not just the layups'

NORMAN — OU had numerous playmakers on offense last season.
Running back Eric Gray racked up 1,366 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Wide receiver Marvin Mims erupted for 1,083 receiving yards and six touchdowns. Tight end Brayden Willis posted career-highs of 514 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
But all three players are now in the NFL. And as OU began fall camp on Thursday, head coach Brent Venables is on the lookout for emerging playmakers.
"We're seeing guys make some plays, not just the layups," Venables said. "That goes without saying. The guys are making plays. ... We've got to get more guys that can make plays."
Venables went into detail on who has been making plays through OU's first two fall practices.
Sophomore wide receiver Jayden Gibson made a good catch in the end zone. Freshman wide receiver Jaquaize Pettaway and senior tight Austin Stogner each made an impressive back-shoulder snag. Freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold threw a few well-timed passes.
Those are all good signs for Venables, who knows the importance of having playmakers on his team.
"I love to see guys make plays because that's the game," Venables said. "If all things are equal, who's going to make a play? That's the name of the game."
The Sooners have other capable playmakers on the roster.
Jovantae Barnes participated in practice on Friday after missing a chunk of OU's spring practices due to foot surgery. The sophomore running back recorded 519 yards and five touchdowns on 116 carries last season, and he'll have a lead role following the departure of Gray.
The Sooners also added a pair of impactful wide receivers via the transfer portal.
Michigan transfer Andrel Anthony recorded seven catches for 80 yards and one touchdown last season. The junior is a twitchy receiver who can create chunk plays, which is exactly what OU needs after losing Mims.
Texas transfer Brenen Thompson also has big-play potential. The sophomore will miss the first few fall practices after having tonsil surgery, but he's a speedster who also ran track for the Longhorns.
"He’s fast, incredibly explosive and really competitive," Venables said of Thompson. "We really focused on trying to get faster as a football team. I don’t think our speed was great a year ago, and we need it to compete at the highest level. ... But he’s a guy that jumps in there and makes you faster immediately."
Sophomore wide receiver Gavin Freeman could also be in store for a breakout campaign.
The former Heritage Hall standout walked onto OU last season and converted 10 catches/carries into 117 total yards and one touchdown. Now on scholarship, he's expected to be a playmaker in the slot.
"He’s one of the fastest guys on the team," Venables said. "My man is wide open. He wins everything. ... He’s got all that stuff."
Of course, there's also Dillon Gabriel. The redshirt senior will be OU's starting quarterback once again after transferring from UCF prior to last season.
Gabriel threw for 3,168 yards and 25 touchdowns in his debut year with the Sooners, which earned him the Big 12's Offensive Newcomer of the Year award.
Still, OU needs Gabriel to make more plays on third and fourth down this season. The Sooners only converted 40.5% of their attempts in that department last season, which ranked second-to-last in the conference.
"We’ve got to be better in those situations," OU offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby said. "We spent a lot of time on that in the offseason, last spring and through the summer. Accuracy is a huge part of it. ... (Gabriel) has got to play better, and I’ve got to call it better."
Finding playmakers on offense will be key for the Sooners, who hope to get back on track after going 6-7 (3-6 Big 12) last season.
But with the first two days of fall camp in the books, Venables likes what he has seen.
"I'm seeing that maturation," Venables said. "There's a lot a lot of work to be done, but (I'm) really pleased with buy-in and leadership and toughness of the guys. They've looked good after the first couple of days."

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