Gresham's Role Growing In No. 4 Oklahoma's Offense

Thursday, November 8th 2007, 11:24 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ Jermaine Gresham had to learn to help Oklahoma run before he could fully show off his skills in the passing game.

It should come as no surprise that Gresham turned into one of the top targets for the No. 4 Sooners (8-1, 4-1), considering his reputation as one of the most skilled basketball and football players in the state coming out of Ardmore High School.

Head coach Bob Stoops called the 6’6 sophomore the most physically talented tight end he's ever coached.

``Nothing like that guy. Just the power and strength he has is amazing. The speed he has is amazing,'' OU Head Coach Bob Stoops said. ``We can run our gassers, our conditioning drills, out there over and over and the guy never gets tired. There's a lot to him, for sure, and he's got great hands.''

Gresham's abilities are quickly filling up the stat sheet. He tied fellow tight end Trent Smith's school record by catching four touchdown passes against Texas A&M last week, and he now leads the team with 10 receiving TDs. The school record for a season is 15 by Mark Clayton.

Stoops agreed without hesitation when asked whether Gresham's physical talent would make him comparable to Adrian Peterson, but at the tight end position. Peterson set the NCAA freshman rushing record with 1,925 yards and finish second in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 2004, then set the NFL single-game record with 296 yards rushing for the Minnesota Vikings last week.

When he was at Oklahoma, coaches bragged similarly that Peterson was always leading the post-practice sprinting sessions.

``I know that's saying a lot, but in that regard, his abilities and his endurance and his speed, everything together for a tight end, he's one of those type of guys,'' Bob Stoops said.

All that talent wasn't getting showcased much of his freshman season, though, as Gresham's struggles to pick up the team's blocking schemes cost him playing time and he compounded matters by developing fumbling problems when he did get on the field.

``There was just a time a year ago as a young player with high expectations and unbelievable talent, he was still a receiver learning to be a tight end,'' offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said.

Gresham progressed with blocking through spring and fall practices, but even a few weeks ago Wilson said it was clear when opponents saw him on the field, they were preparing for the Sooners to throw the football. It finally clicked in Oklahoma's 62-21 win at Tulsa in Week 4, when Wilson came away impressed with Gresham's commitment to blocking.

``To be a complete player, to put you on the field, you need to do everything and not go in and being the passing tight end,'' Gresham said. ``Being a complete player throws the defense off.''

Two of Gresham's four touchdowns against the Aggies came with Oklahoma operating out of a formation with three tight ends bunched on one end of the line. It's a recipe in deception aimed at opposing defenses.

``You get three big guys 250 pounds-plus on the same side and you've got to respect the run,'' said tight end Joe Jon Finley, who lines up alongside Gresham and Brody Eldridge in the set. ``But with the athleticism of the three tight ends ... in there we're able to spread it out a little bit too.''

The formation became even more difficult to defend when Gresham started using his 262-pound frame to deliver punishing blocks, and when Eldridge proved he was more than a blocker by catching a few passes.

``It's very unique and really became a big staple for us a year ago when we understood what quality players all those guys were. It gives you a lot of options running the ball and throwing it because they do both really well,'' Coach Bob Stoops said.

``They're good strong blockers, you can get multiple sets with them and then you can release them and they have the ability, the way they run, to get deep. It gives you a lot of versatility.''

In typical form, Gresham credited his coaches for helping him add 25 pounds to his frame, for putting him in position to make those touchdown catches and even for driving him to improve himself.

``Sometimes I'd be like, 'Wow, why are you doing this to me?''' Gresham said. ``But in the long run, hopefully it will pay off.''