Sooners want tailbacks more involved in passing game

NORMAN - Rhett Bomar envisions himself triggering a dynamic 2006 offense, pitching big-play passes with the greatest of ease.

Some on the shortest of routes.

If this spring is any indication, Oklahoma will increase the activity of Adrian Peterson and its other tailbacks in the passing attack, expanding the arsenal to put more playmakers on the edge in open space.

“Heck,” Bomar said, “I’ll throw it 3 yards on a screen and they’ll take it 50. That’s pretty good.”

That’s the hope, anyway. And that’s been an emphasis of spring, with Peterson and backup Allen Patrick heavily involved in the passing game, suggesting something different at OU, where running backs as receivers have been rare.

In Saturday’s Red-White game, the first two plays were designed short passes to Peterson. He and Patrick finished with a combined six receptions, matching the catch total of the game’s top two wide receivers.

The appeal, particularly with Peterson, is simple: get him away from the crowded spaces inside where 300-pounders clog lanes to the open areas where linebackers and safeties would be pressed to make a play one-on-one.

Advantage Peterson.

“We never got to it maybe as much as we should have a year ago,” said Sooners co-offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson. “He’s running through loaded boxes. When you get him out on the perimeter, there’s not five, six or seven arm tackles. There’s one arm tackle.”

Bomar likes those odds.

“He’s going to be dangerous,” Bomar said.

First, Peterson must become a better pass receiver and pass blocker. The two go hand in hand, since screen plays typically start with the running back first revealing himself as a blocker, before breaking outside of oncoming rushers.

For now, Peterson is an adequate receiver. Patrick may be better, which gives him a chance to earn some third-down consideration.

“I think Adrian catches the ball OK,” Wilson said. “He’s not great at it.”

But Peterson has been pushed to improve, with the sales pitch centered on how he can improve himself and the Sooners in ’06, as well as his own status as a pro prospect when the time comes.

Transforming Peterson into a dual-threat isn’t automatic. There are reasons few teams feature their backs in pass patterns. Not many arrive at college with the required skills or understanding of pass blocking or route running. Even fewer are willing to learn.

“I know these are things that can make me a better player,” Peterson said. “And I’m working at becoming better.”

As for his hands, Peterson said all he needs is opportunity.

“I can catch the ball,” he said. “You’ve got to throw it to me.”

Peterson was credited with 31 yards on three receptions in the Red-White game, but his yardage was limited since he was whistled down on contact, a measure of protection the Sooners have applied to their star all spring, outfitting him with blue jerseys or blue numbers to signify no hitting.

Quentin Griffin once caught 10 passes in a game - one shy of the school record - yet is the only running back among the top 10 in receptions for a season or a career at OU.

Sooners running backs of the modern era have simply not been utilized much as receivers.

In two seasons at OU, 22 games, Peterson has just 14 catches for 62 yards. Only once has he caught more than two balls in a game.

So it’s going to take an emphasis, by the staff and by Peterson, to get him more involved.

“We’re going to get him the ball more in the passing game this year,” Bomar said. “We have him coming out of the backfield a lot where he’s maybe the second or third read, depending on what the defense does.

“We’ll dump it down to him if something’s there and let him make a play in the open field. Everybody knows he’s a great player.”