2014 Spring Prediction: The Light Comes On For Alex Ross

Image via Sooner Sports

Following the departure of three seniors from the 2013 squad, Oklahoma’s running back position could not possibly be more wide open as the Sooners prepare to begin spring practice this weekend (March 8th). While the trio of backs OU will have available this spring — Keith Ford, Alex Ross, and David Smith — certainly do not lack for talent, they also do not possess a wealth of experience. In fact, there are just 26 career carries between the three collectively.

After some albeit brief yet impressive glimpses as to his ability to run the football, many are operating under the presumption that Ford (a true sophomore) is the odds on favorite to win the starting job. But the enigma of the bunch remains the third year sophomore, Ross.

There is not a physical talent the Jenks (OK) product lacks in his game. 6’1″ 221 pounds and possessing legit sprinter’s speed, Ross has every physical trait you would covet in a prototypical running back. However, since his arrival in Norman the hype of his abilities has yet produce any type of tangible substance. By most accounts, it has been the mental aspect of his game that has frustrated the coaches and been the primary reason for his lack of playing time. There have also been some rumors of maturity issues and one might say we saw a glimpse of that this past year in the ULM game, when Ross foolishly shoved an opponent’s helmet drawing a personal foul penalty. Bob Stoops promptly removed him from the game, and Ross spent the majority of this past season almost exclusively on special teams duty.

Having watched this Oklahoma program closely over the past several years, it has become abundantly clear this OU coaching staff values trust over physical ability when/if forced to choose. If the coaches cannot trust you to be where you need to be when you need to be there, then it’s going to be very difficult for you to find your way onto the field. Ross’ position coach, Cale Gundy, spoke to this very point and in reference to why, as so many OU fans have been wondering, we haven’t seen much of Ross to date.

“He’s a beast,” running backs coach Cale Gundy said on signing day. “He ran a 4.4 the other day and he weighs 221 pounds. He’s strong as an ox.”

“But there’s more to it than running 4.4s and being strong as an ox,” Gundy continued. “You have take care of the football and keep people off the quarterback. You have to know your assignments because we play fast.” – Tulsa World

It’s not all that different really than what happened with Roy Finch, another player OU fans were constantly clamoring to see more of during his time in Norman. Regardless of how talented an athlete you may be, if you’re not putting in the work in practice and/or the coaches cannot trust you then, with this staff, you simply will not play.

And this is where we find Alex Ross with spring practices rapidly approaching.

Coming off a season in which he watched a true freshman, Ford, surpass him on the depth chart and receive the carries (even as minimal as they may have been) that he could have just as easily been his. Add to the fact that Oklahoma went out and signed Joe Mixon & Samaje Perine, two of the more highly regarded backs in the 2014 class, and the writing on the wall couldn’t be much clearer for Ross.

It won’t take very long at a school like Oklahoma and with a position coach like Gundy, both of whom have a long-standing tradition of churning out NFL quality running backs, before you’re recruited over. And, if I’m honest, I think that’s where Ross finds himself at the moment.

Gundy and OU have almost always used multiple backs, and I see no reason to believe that changes in 2014, but there are always going to be only so many carries for any offense, no matter how proficient. So, presumably, there could be a spot for Ross even if the light doesn’t click on this year. But I’m betting the idea of that type of reserve role again in 2014 is leaves a really bad taste in his mouth.

I’ll push my chips into the middle of the metaphorical table that this is the year Ross “gets it” and makes the necessary progress in the mental side of his game to pair with all of his physical gifts.

Now that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m predicting he relegates Ford to the bench or dictates that Mixon redshirts, but I am predicting that OU fans will get to see the Alex Ross they have expected to see since he signed with the Sooners.

If a combo of Ross and Ford are the players OU fans can reasonably expect them to be, and if Mixon can live up to even half the hype, then Oklahoma should be just fine at running back for not only 2014, but years to come.

  • Shifty

    I’d like to see him at KR as well…Two spots open back there and he has to be a fav to grab the main spot with his physical abilities including speed. His assignment will be pretty much be “run Forest run” if he lands Finches spot

    • Shaun Heinrichkäner

      Some say Michiah Quick would be best for that. We’ll see!

  • Jed

    If he gets over any negativity he may feel, he’ll be a valuable addition. As much as I love Ford’s style, and I do, Ross has all the tools to be equally if not more devastating. And when he breaks free….well, he’s gone.

    • j l

      ford runs a mid 4.3, think hes the fastest kid on the team right now.

      • Shifty

        where did you hear/see that? That’s ADish and I’d be pleasantly surprised if it were true

        • j l

          B/R had a fastest players list, and they had ford listed at like 4.34.

          He was running a 4.37 back in 2012( http://espn.go.com/colleges/oklahoma/football/recruiting/story/_/id/7822839/oklahoma-sooners-commit-keith-ford-working-win-texas-state-championship) , so 4.34 seems pretty realistic after a year with schmidt.

          • Jordan Esco

            No disrespect to the young man b/c I’m a HUGE fan, but there is no way in hell he’s a 4.3 guy.

          • j l

            you really dont think so? He sure seems bursty to me. I mean i guess he could lie about his time, but theres not much point in doing so once youve already committed. Did you read the link?

          • boomer-d

            High school quotes about speed from fathers and coaches should be takin with a grain of salt. Most 40 times (unless less you’re at some high level event i.e. combine) are hand held and highly inaccurate.

          • j l

            fair enough. Wonder how accurate the times the school keeps are, aka on their record boards.

          • thedeez

            Never trust a 40 time from anywhere but the combine, unless there’s evidence to support said 40 time, example being Alex Ross winning the 6A state 100m title as a junior. That being said, Ford does possess good speed, and I can see him clocking in the 4.4 range on a good run. For the record, AD never broke into 4.3 territory.

          • Gary Jackson

            It was AD’s top end speed that was so impressive. When he gets a step on you not too many will catch him. I hope Ross is the same way.

          • Jordan Esco

            What boomer-d said

          • Zack

            If he was 4.3 ish I doubt they would have benched him for fumbles

          • j l

            when you have a sure handed, reliable senior like clay, you can take that luxury. Especially running the game plan like we did last year, where turnovers could not be afforded.

            Its a shame they dont post more pics of the measurables board like they did with walkers 4.68. Id love to see the RB’s 40 times.

          • charlie

            Ross and Ford are probably both 4.4 guys but I doubt Ross runs with the same power. I think it will be Perine who is getting most of the leftovers by seasons end. I look for Mixon and Ford to be on the field together bc of Mixons ability to run routes from the slot or backfield. Mixon in motion with Knight running the zone read with Ford coming downhill.

          • SoonerGoneEast

            Ford broke 4.4 before he even got to OU.

          • Jordan Esco

            According to who?

            I’d gladly be wrong, but people throw around those 4.4 or 4.3 numbers a lot and rarely are they quantifiable.

            Whether he is or isn’t, from what we’ve seen of his running style 4.4 doesn’t really matter to me.

          • SoonerGoneEast

            Those were the numbers he clocked at the Parisi Speed School. I would think they’re recording times electronically as they are a pretty reputable organization with some pretty major successes in the areas of speed and strength development. You’re right though, you can’t always put a lot of stock into some of the numbers that are out there, so who knows.

          • SoonerGoneEast

            BTW, I could be wrong, but I think it was a 4.37 they clocked him at.

      • Jed

        I was not criticizing Ford; just pumping up Ross. He’s got a lower center of gravity than Ford, I believe, and fantastic balance. I wouldn’t be lying too much to say that he reminds me of a 220 lb Roy Finch.
        Very happy we have both.

        • j l

          oh i know you werent dogging him, just meant to point out that ford is actually quite a bit faster. im also quite happy to have both =)

  • Leroy Jenkins

    I’m rooting for Alex. I really enjoyed your article & hope he has a chip on his shoulder this Spring so he can contribute more in the Fall.

    And a quick thought on Mixon, feel free to disagree. I saw his Twitter picture was himself in an OU uniform next to the Heisman. Seeing that OU has great RB talent as you mentioned, I really hope he EARNS his playing time at OU. Nothing will be given to him, and I’ve got a feeling he might think he’ll come in right away & start. There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness, and I hope he has the work ethic to back up the expectations us fans have on him.

    Of course I’m glad Mixon chose OU, but being compared to AD so much might not be a good thing. We’ve all seen previous recruits really hyped up that didn’t pan out.

    • Zack

      Previous 5* running backs

    • Shifty

      Cale said he was a mix of AD and Murray…pretty high praise…but he’ll have to earn it..Cale has put lesser backs on the field if they are getting it done in practice and are capable of protecting the qb

  • Doobie74OU

    I really like what I hear about Ross. “IF” the Light comes on he will be awesome! He is to talented and gifted not to succeed if he fully understands and fullfills his responsibilities! I’m cheering for him!

  • John

    Good read Jordan. You get a game ball. I’m hoping you’re spot on about Alex. He certainly has all the physical attributes to be an awesome RB. Like you, I’m hoping the mental aspects of the job no longer elude him.

    • Jordan Esco


  • bmrsnr

    In that same interview you referenced Gundy said that Ross improved significantly during bowl prep practices because he got to spend more time with Gundy instead of being on scout team.

    • Jordan Esco

      Good point. Didn’t mean to slight the kid for the work he’s already put in. Just saying it’s more point proving it now w/ the opportunity he (and the other RBs) have in front of them.

      • bmrsnr

        Oh, I didn’t take it that way, just pointing out progress has been made, so it seems, and that having 3 seniors ahead of him took practice time away from him.

        • Jordan Esco


  • Cary Newman

    I’m interested to see what David Smith will bring this spring.

    • blaster1371

      Me too. I’m think he will be a lot like Chris Brown. Seemed rather solid in last years spring game.

      • dahldennsull

        I think we just lump him into this category because he seems like a guy who can get the yards when the hole is there, and be serviceable change of pace back.

        That said, let’s not set our sights too low. I think DS is more of a poor-man’s CB, as I’m not sure Smith could be a 1,000 yard rusher unless he was ‘the-guy’, while Brown did it while in a time share with Demarco.

        If you can have 2 fast, big punishing backs as the time share, instead of a one electric and one solid and serviceable, no coach is going to turn down the first option. It’s been really rare we’ve had this opportunity, heck any team has had it. But look at what UGA was like when Gurley AND Marshall two years ago, or Wisconsin with Gordon AND White, Baylor even with Martin AND Seastrunk. It’s so much harder on a defense when the guy gets a breather and his timeshare comes in and is just as strong and fast and continues to punish your line and linebackers.

        If we can get Ford and Ross to turn into this 1-2 punch, it could be lethal

  • Boomer4life

    With 4.4 speed Kick return would be fun to watch!

  • pitbull17

    I really hope you’re right Jordan. I was just sure that Ross would be all over the field last year. Hopefully the light has came on for him and our biggest problem on O is not having enough carries to go around.

  • BR

    Is there any concerns with so much raw talent in the backfield of any of these young men getting frustrated and look to move on??? I certainly hope not cuz i dig ’em all.

  • Shaun Heinrichkäner

    Boy howdy I can not wait!

  • Don Mitchell

    I seriously doubt you see him on KR ..but he and Ford would be my choice for KR something we have lacked in the past and that is a powerful guy who can shed tackles and use their legit speed. Like I said this is going to be an intersting year for OU. I penciled them into the title game three times in my life…this goes back to 75 I had the same feeling about the 04 85 and 2000…..and I am doing it again this year which would make a good story BTW
    Think about it, one of these guys will get hot at RB, then you have Knight with a year under his belt, Bell at TE (who knows the Off very well of course) solid line play and great depth at receiver, coupled with that monster defense that OU will field I just dont see a weakness, maybe in the secondary but great D line will balance that out.

  • Sooner Ray

    I’ve always liked Ross and I really hopes it clicks for him this year and he gets to show what he’s capable of.

  • nate g

    It’s all about protecting the QB. The reason Finch got so few carries.

  • Derrick Purdy

    I thought that Ross looked good coming out high school. I hadn’t heard about why he hadn’t had playing time. I assumed that he had redshirted or that he was suspended for a few games because of the hit on the ULM player. That was disappointing. He needs playing time this year or he should transfer because I don’t see him getting playing time over Ford and Mixon next year.