The art of 'Oklahoma'

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The coach stopped by today to confirm reports that I will be permitted to pick a limited number of matchups in next Monday evening's "Oklahoma" drill. Jack Del Rio made it clear, however, that my participation in the creation of this wonderful event will be limited, but that's to be expected of the senior editor of the team's website, an otherwise ink-stained member of that small sideline group that "never played the game."

Hey, coach, that's fine with me. I'm just happy to contribute.

But, you know, coach, I've been around the block a few times and I just so happen to know a thing or two about "Oklahomas" and, if you don't mind, I'd like to give you some advice on how to run a really, really good "Oklahoma."

I remember trying to talk Tom Coughlin into using the "Oklahoma," but he wrinkled his face and gave me a "don't-give-me-that-macho-crap" look. You see, Coughlin was an offensive coach and he never conducted an "Oklahoma" in his eight years as Jaguars head coach. He thought it was all bluster.

So what's wrong with a little bluster? I would say.

Del Rio knows all about good "Oklahomas." He was in New Orleans when Mike Ditka was the coach. You gotta know "Iron Mike" was an "Oklahoma" guy. Del Rio said Ditka ran it every day in camp and he ran it so long that players would hide in the back of the pack to avoid being called.

That's what I'm talking about. Yeah, baby, let's get a little blood on those bags. Well, not really, but you gotta talk that way to have a really good "Oklahoma." Yeah, Tom, it is mostly bluster.

You know, in that whole training camp of 1995, the one in the 106-degree Wisconsin heat in which Coughlin is legendary for having punished his players, he never made them do an "Oklahoma." I had just arrived from Pittsburgh, where the "Oklahoma" had always been a rite of passage, and I watched in disbelief. No "Oklahoma?" Are you kidding me?

Yes, "Oklahoma" is a rite of passage. It's a tone-setter. It's a beautiful way to kick off the start of full-pads practices.

Boy, I could tell you about some legendary "Oklahomas." Oh, the fights; they were beautiful. There were a lot of laughs, too.

The Jaguars did their first "Oklahoma" under Del Rio last summer. That made it the first "Oklahoma" in Jaguars history. It was not legendary, however, because it was very brief.

I'm not complaining, coach. I understand that this is a new NFL and no coach wants to have to explain to the fans, the media and his owner why he would subject the team's star lineman to a drill that just ended the player's season.

"Have you ever known anyone to get hurt in an 'Oklahoma?'" I asked Del Rio.

"Never," he said.

"Neither have I," I said.

But I understand. This is the new NFL. The Neanderthal days are gone. Darn it!

Anyhow, should the coach wish to lengthen this year's "Oklahoma" and heighten its drama and deepen its bluster, I will offer these tips on how to run a really good "Oklahoma."

  1. Build suspense—Put the two blocking bags (please don't use those fluorescent plastic cones) on the ground before practice begins and let them lie there, strategically arranged. The first part of practice should begin on a field as far as possible from the blocking bags. The bags will beckon.
  1. Play to the fans—As the "Oklahoma" event becomes a training camp ritual, fans will know what the two blocking bags mean. They will know that this is where the Jags will do the "Oklahoma" and the fans will know to gather "around" the bags. Also, move the bags as close to the fans as possible. Make the area intimate. It'll get the fans involved and you can't have a really good "Oklahoma" without a lot of energy from the fans. Let the fans feel the "Oklahoma." Let them feel what real football is.
  1. Coaches must be involved—This is especially true for the offensive and defensive line coaches. In a perfect world, the two line coaches might even have a heated exchange. You know, "Hey, coach, get your guy's hands off my guy's mask." Coaches should make terse comments for everyone to hear.
  1. The matchups are critical—Put the highest-drafted or top rookie lineman against your top veteran lineman, relative to positions, of course. For example, Khalif Barnes vs. Reggie Hayward would've been a good matchup last year; highest-drafted rookie lineman vs. number one free-agent acquisition. That's called good theater. If you have guys who tend to get under each other's skin, they're perfect combatants for the "Oklahoma" because this is very definitely a get-under-your-skin drill.
  1. It's like a woman's skirt—A good "Oklahoma," like a woman's skirt, should be long enough to cover the subject but short enough to make it interesting.

I offer these tips as a long-time "Oklahoma" devotee. The drill isn't going to win you any games, but fans love it, it'll tell you a little bit about the animal instincts vs. technical skills of your players, and it's the perfect kickoff to the first full week of training camp.

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