OU football roster rebuild through recruiting, portal like 'Christmas' for Brent Venables

The Oklahoman
Brent Venables isn’t one to be glass-half-empty.
The OU coach wasn’t one to get too down on things last year when the Sooners stumbled to a 6-7 mark, their first losing record since 1998.
He certainly isn’t going to be down this year after a number of players — quarterback Dillon Gabriel among them — jumped into the transfer portal following a 10-2 regular season.
As Venables looks to add in the portal and on the recruiting trail as the early signing period opens Dec. 20, he’s savoring the process.
“For the next month, it’s kind of like Christmas every day,” Venables said Thursday in San Antonio in a press conference for the Alamo Bowl. “It really is, I say that. There’s a lot of work that goes into it, as Coach (Jedd) Fisch can attest to, as well.”
Among the players entering the portal so far have been Gabriel, running backs Tawee Walker, Marcus Major and Daylan Smothers, safety Key Lawrence and offensive lineman Savion Byrd among others.
Others figure to follow in the coming days, while other players will also start making their decisions to enter the NFL Draft known, as linebacker Danny Stutsman reportedly will do.
But Venables isn’t fazed.
“I love relationships,” Venables said. “I love finding great people that also align in the values and the respect and appreciation for all the great things that Oklahoma has to offer.”
It’s not easy, but no one is going to feel sorry for his program either.
“It’s all hard,” Venables said. “I say this all the time, but it’s all good. It does present many challenges, but whatever challenges it presents Oklahoma, it presents the same thing for everybody else in college football. So I love a challenge.
“I’m a competitive person by nature. We’re all for the most part, some people would probably beg to differ, but we play by the same rules. In some ways right now there are no rules. I say that tongue-in-cheek.”
The Sooners made their first transfer portal addition Wednesday, when Michigan State offensive lineman Spencer Brown committed to the Sooners.
Last season, OU added several players in the portal that made a significant impact — wide receiver Andrel Anthony from Michigan, offensive tackle Walter Rouse from Stanford, linebacker/cheetah Dasan McCullough from Indiana, safety Reggie Pearson from Texas Tech, defensive linemen Trace Ford from Oklahoma State and Da’Jon Terry from Tennessee among them.
“It’s a little less work than we had a year ago at this time,” Venables said when comparing December of last year to what he’s going through now. “Not much, (though).”
Venables said he wasn’t surprised by the moves for the most part.
“We’ve had a handful of players that are 'in the portal,’” Venables said. “We look at them as seniors, as graduates, as guys that weren’t going to be a part of our program after this season. The only thing you don’t know is whether or not they’re going to try to go to the NFL or they’re going to try to decide to use that additional year of eligibility somewhere else.
“You have to make adjustments, if you will, when it comes to your depth. That’s a real thing. But other than that, I love putting puzzles, the pieces of the puzzle, together. I’ve always really enjoyed that. Trying to find great people. That’s exciting to me.”
The Alamo Bowl against Fisch’s Arizona squad figures to give the Sooners a jump on preparation for next season, when OU makes the move to the SEC.
That includes significant playing time for freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold and probably several other young players who didn’t see much action this season.
Last season, the bowl preparation as much as the game helped players like running back Gavin Sawchuk and offensive lineman Jacob Sexton — who was injured early in the Cheez-It Bowl — propel themselves to significant growth that benefitted the Sooners this season.
Alamo Bowl
No. 12 Oklahoma vs. No. 14 Arizona
KICKOFF: 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas (ESPN)

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