NORMAN, Okla. -- Considering the overwhelming question mark hanging over the Oklahoma football team this preseason, this was a sight that would have pleased Sooner followers considerably. On the first play of a 45-minute scrimmage at the end of Wednesday evening's practice, man-on-the-spot Paul Thompson took the snap, faked a handoff and hit streaking tight end Brody Eldridge in stride for what would turn in to a 30-yard gain.
As encouraging as it was, the play also amounted to one of the few passing highlights for Thompson the entire scrimmage. Not that it diffused the praise bestowed upon the fifth-year senior afterward by his coaches and teammates. "He's played as well this week as he has the entire time he's been here," said offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. "If he keeps playing the way he's playing, we're going to be awfully good."
Indeed, Thompson, pressed back into quarterback duties following Rhett Bomar's dismissal, looked nothing but sharp running the offense, and it's clear he has the universal respect of his teammates. He's also undeniably athletic, and whereas previous offensive coordinator Chuck Long was more of a pro-style guy, Wilson, who's shown an affinity in the past for the shotgun-spread, isn't afraid to utilize his QB's running ability. Back when Thompson made his one, ill-fated start against TCU in last year's season-opener, "We were still in the Jason White-Josh Heupel-Nate Hybl mode," said head coach Bob Stoops. "It's been awfully good for us, but did we play to Paul's strengths? I don't think that we totally did."
It remains to be seen, however, whether those strengths lie at all in the passing game. During Wednesday's practice, Thompson was mostly solid with the underneath routes but often floated the ball or underthrew his receivers when going downfield. With Adrian Peterson in the backfield and a defense that should be one of the nation's best, it's not like the Sooners need Thompson to throw for 3,000 yards. But they can't afford to be one-dimensional, either, particularly with stud receivers like Malcolm Kelly (who made two out-of-this world catches Wednesday) at their disposal.
"It will come down to what the line can handle and what Paul is comfortable with," said Wilson. "We have a good enough team, playmaker-wise and defensively, that if we can take the negatives away, we could be explosive."
1. Reggie Smith will emerge as a national star this season. After earning freshman All-America honors as a starting strong safety last season, Smith has moved to cornerback and it's easy to see why. He's a playmaker of the highest order and showed off his closing speed on multiple occasions Wednesday. "He's just so natural at corner," said Stoops. "He's got really good ball skills."
Smith's profile will also rise considerably if the coaches follow through on an experiment they began earlier this week. Smith, already set to serve as the Sooners' top punt returner, lined up exclusively at receiver during Wednesday's scrimmage. Stoops envisions using him both ways eventually, like he did with former All-American Andre Woolfolk, but it's still early in Smith's initiation. "They've got me running about six plays," said Smith. "I think it would be great to get in there and make some things happen."