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August 11, 2010OU freshmen running back Roy Finch took the handoff and ran toward daylight, just like he did hundreds of time during his high school football career. But on Monday morning, with Oklahoma donning full pads for the first time, this carry was a little different.
Waiting for Finch was heralded sophomore Ronnell Lewis. The man Bob Stoops has dubbed "the hammer", a name which describes the punishing nature of the talented linebacker's tackling ability.
"I was on the other field doing some other stuff and one of the players said, 'Is Roy okay?'" explained Cale Gundy. "I asked what happened and they said he took a big 'ole hit."
Gundy went over to check on his freshmen running back, the one player who has received more praise from teammates than any other true freshmen through fall camp, and asked Finch to tell him what just happened.
"Ronnell ran through the line of scrimmage and unfortunately for Roy nobody blocked him," Gundy said. "The Hammer came in true effect today, but he got back up. He said it was a hammer, it wasn't a sledge hammer and that's was good.
"I like it."
Finch's encounter with "the hammer", and his subsequent survival, means Gundy is a man with many options this fall at the running back position.
Demarco Murray remains the focal point of the Sooners' rushing attack. But behind Murray, five talented players are vying for playing time. Former five-star running back Jermie Calhoun has always been seen as the heir apparent to Murray.
But with Finch, Brennan Clay, Mossis Madu and Jonathan Miller all chomping at the bit for playing time, Calhoun will have to be very impressive in camp to stave off the competition for the backup role.
And even being a five-star recruit, questions still surround Calhoun. With most of his carries coming last season during mop-up duty, many wonder how good Calhoun can be at Oklahoma?
According to Gundy, everything has been good for Calhoun in fall camp.
"He's been really good. Comments were made yesterday that he looks like a different runner," he said. "Jermie's showed a lot of signs of being a great football player. He struggles a little bit with being mature at times, and as a young guy, that's college life and that gets back to when does that light bulb switch on? He has shown signs of it being on and he has shown signs of it flickering as well.
"We need it to be on and stay on the whole time."
Gundy says those signs of maturity will have a chance to take root this fall, when the grind of daily practices starts to wear on players. The grind of practice was something that wore on Calhoun back in the spring, when he missed several practices due to a nagging ankle injury.
"We're finally starting to put pads on, there's a little bit more contact and it's going to start getting hot, people are going to start getting tired," Gundy said. "Will people stay on the field? Will people start to get hamstrings, will they start to get groin injuries? Let's get back into this and play in the first week of the game and see if these guys still are the guys they are now."
If Calhoun isn't the player to backup Murray, look for Jonathan Miller to get a solid look providing he has fully recovered from microfracture surgery and a torn meniscus.
It's been almost a year of recovery for Miller since he suffered the injury during kickoff coverage against Texas A&M last season.
Miller is an intriguing athlete after he rushed just 18 times for 130 yards last season (good for a 7.2 ypc avg). Miller has good size and intriguing speed.
"I really just see myself as a straight-ahead runner," Miller said. "I make one move and go. I'm not going to say I'm slow or anything, I'm just trying to get to the endzone."
Miller is still working to get the feel back to his game after the injury. He's going through a similar rehabilitation process as Demarco Murray went through two years ago. Every day he battles the fear of uncertainty which comes with such a serious injury.
"There's times where I do feel a little pain, but that's natural," he said. "I talk to Demarco about his injury and he tells me that the pain is going to happen but that it's going to be okay. I don't really panic like that because I've seen what he's been through. If it hurts I just keep going hard and keep finishing."
Madu is a player who is a known commodity. He may not be the flashiest back on the roster, but he's a player who can make things happen with a solid offensive line in front of him.
The only real question is whether or not Finch and fellow true freshmen, Brennan Clay, are just too good to keep off the field.
Gundy says both players could be involved in kickoff return duties as both are working at that position during practices.
There's been highlights, people have seen them on the film and seen some things they can do and they're doing some of those things right now on the field for us," said Gundy. "When you start to get more full contact and you start hitting, that's when we'll get a chance to see how special the young ones can be and how quickly they can be special."
Gundy actually lights up when he talks about the potential of Clay and Finch playing immediately. Physically, he doesn't see an issue with their ability to play right now.
But above the shoulders is always the biggest challenge for true freshmen.
"They're very mature football players and they've adapted to college football pretty dang fast," said Gundy. "Their heads are spinning, there's no doubt. There are a lot of guys whose heads are spinning, but the biggest deal is still the transition from high school to college.
"They're as fast as anybody we have. You look at them without their shirts on and they are strong and as physical and they're well-developed. It's just how you can handle it mentally. They're looking like two young guys that can step in and play in the first game for us."
Both players are having their feet put to the fire going against players like Ronnell Lewis every day in practice. So many things are likely to come up between now and the first game which will determine whether the youngsters can succeed this fall.
Kind of like Cale Gundy's first question after hearing of Lewis' crushing blow of Finch
"Did he hold on to the ball?" asked Gundy.
Yeah coach, he certainly did.