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June 12, 2009DALLAS -- Bob Stoops made his annual trip to Dallas on Thursday night for a Sooner Caravan stop with the knowledge that it won't be his last in the months to come.
Oklahoma will open their season in Arlington inside Cowboys Stadium against BYU. They'll also make a trip back to the metroplex for their annual showdown with Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
And should things play out as many predict, the Big 12 Championship game will be held back where it all started for the Sooners, at Cowboys Stadium.
"It's such a great venue and everyone is looking forward to seeing the first game there," said Stoops regarding OU's season opener in Jerryworld. "It really is amazing and to play a great team like BYU, it is a challenge."
The Sooners are taking on something few teams in college football have the stomach to do in this day and age - a difficult non-conference schedule.
But going across the Red River to play two regular season games is a blessing for a program that lives off the rich talent in the state of Texas.
"Everyone knows the recruiting base here and how much we recruit in this area and that's a big factor in our success and it will continue to be," Stoops said.
Stoops' trip to Dallas signals the ramping up of the summer tour to meet with boosters and fans through trips such as these. But while Stoops signs autographs and takes pictures with fans who are anxiously awaiting the arrival of the 2009 season, football players such as Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy and Jermaine Gresham are hard at work back in Norman.
Off-season conditioning is in full swing as players build toward kickoff with strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt.
And this summer, they are already being joined by the incoming class for next season.
If the key to success is built through the offseason, count the youngsters converted.
"Everyone, anymore, they want to come in and they want to play," said Stoops of his freshman class who are no longer incoming, but arrived. "You've got to get in and you've got to get with the program to have a chance to play. It appears to be a good looking group."
MURRAY BACK AND HEALTHY
The youngsters will be mixed with veterans throughout the next two months, and they'll learn how difficult the summers can be.
One of those veterans will be Demarco Murray, who has rejoined his teammates this summer after rehabbing a hamstring injury suffered in last year's Big 12 Championship game against Missouri.
"He feels great, just talking to him, he says he's running and feels great," said Stoops.
Stoops also discounted any lingering effects from the hamstring surgery Murray underwent following the 2008 season, at least not to the same degree that Murray struggled last season during the early going.
"It's just totally different from the complications (he had) with his knee," Stoops said. "That was a lot different and a lot more complicated."
As for Murray's role as a kick returner, Stoops doesn't seem to be hesitant about sending his starting running back out on the field during kickoffs. But he wasn't willing to make a definitive statement on role as a returner either.
"We'll see, that's still a possibility," said Stoops. "We'll see how those other guys do. You're asking me something that's way too far away."
HIGH ON THE SECONDARY
Stoops also addressed his secondary and the need to find one more player to fill a safety spot this fall. Although Stoops coaches the cornerbacks, his highest praise was for Quinton Carter.
"Quinton Carter was in the championship game and started and played as well as anybody," said Stoops. "In fact, he was player of the game twice last year.
"If he wasn't injured, he would have started more last year."
It's hard to find any spots on the defensive side of the ball entering the fall with question marks. But Sam Proctor is the likely starter at the strong safety position. But walk-on Emmanuel Jones has been impressive. And even though he's listed as a backup to Carter at the free safety position, he could move over and help out should Proctor not take command of the strong safety position.
As for the cornerback rotation, Dominique Franks and Brian Jackson are expected to be one of the best duos in the country heading into 2009.
Jamell Flemming returns to the team after failing to maintain his academics during the spring. Stoops sees the potential for Flemming to add depth to an already strong secondary.
"He has a chance to be a good player," said Stoops of Flemming. "He'll continue to grow. The natural process is that you continue to improve. The ones who don't, they won't play."
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