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Spring Review: How Oklahoma Got Significantly Better in the Quarterback Room

Jackson Arnold's arrival elevated things, but Jeff Lebby and Dillon Gabriel worked on specific elements of the game, and Davis Beville and General Booty have grown.

With spring practice in the past and the NCAA Transfer Portal spring window now closed, it’s the ideal time to assess the Oklahoma roster heading into summer.

AllSooners has compiled a 10-part series, position by position, reviewing the Sooners’ spring and where that position goes from here.


Quarterback

Oklahoma got better in the quarterback room in spring practice, that’s obvious.

But beyond just landing a 5-star recruit, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Jeff Lebby strongly believes the Sooners improved across the board.

“We're in a much better place in that room than we were a year ago,” Lebby said. “That’s for sure.”

That’s because OU landed Jackson Arnold in recruiting, and Arnold embraced his new role by enrolling early, competing all spring and then, by the spring scrimmage, showing why he’s already settled in as the backup.

“At some point,” Lebby said, “he’s going to be the face of Oklahoma, which is exciting.”

That’s also because returning starter Dillon Gabriel went into the spring with a short list of things he needed to get better at — and accomplished that, Lebby said.

“I’m proud of his growth,” Lebby said. “We had a very narrow vision of what it needed to look like through 15 practices. Very pointed, very direct. He was able to accomplish a lot of what we wanted to through 15 practices.”

And, one would assume, the Sooners’ reserves are better now than they were in 2022 because they’ve actually had time on task, they didn’t just arrive over the summer — like last year. Davis Beville and General Booty had an entire fall season to practice and study, they grinded through Jerry Schmidt’s infamous winter workouts, they utilized a whole spring practice period, and now, for the second time, they’re “messing with Schmitty in the summertime.” Of course they’re better in 2023 than they were in 2022.


For More Spring Reviews


Starting with Gabriel, Lebby needed more consistency out of his fifth-year senior. Gabriel had two 400-yard passing games in 2022, but also had two games under 200 yards, struggled in the elements, missed open receivers for big gains or key conversions and generally can play better football.

After throwing for a career-high 3,653 yards and 29 touchdowns in 13 games as a true freshman at UCF with Lebby as his offensive coordinator in 2019, Gabriel passed for 3,570 yards (career-high 357 yards per game) and career-best 32 TDs as a sophomore in 2020. The 2021 season was a wash as he broke his collarbone just three games in.

But last year, after transferring to OU, Gabriel’s numbers were strong: 3,168 yards despite missing 1 1/2 games, 25 touchdowns. The left-hander completed 62.7 percent of his passes — a career-high for a full season — and grew immensely as a leader.

Per usual, Lebby reviewed Gabriel’s performance last fall and found that accuracy was occasionally an issue because Gabriel didn’t always trust his protection and his fundamentals broke down.

“We wanted to clean a couple of things up fundamentally,” Lebby said, “like slowing him down in the pocket, being a little better protectionally and being able to get us in the right protections in certain situations. He’s taken unbelievable ownership in that, which has been great to see. There’s been great growth on the grass with him, being able to take the meeting room to the field.”

“Yeah,” Gabriel said, “that was, I think, the main thing that let us have a successful spring is just figuring out what I need to get better at and just verbalizing it, but then also seeing it every day, reading that typically before every practice. But just having that in the back of my head every time I’m playing has helped me a lot. Also, just seeing it come to fruition in my play, it’s a great feeling. Just having that and Coach Lebby and how we were able to build that out, it helped me big time.”

Another area Lebby wanted to work on — and needed to see improvement — was in situational football: third-and-short, fourth-and-1, goal-line plays, two-minute offense (moving fast), four-minute offense (moving slow) and so on.

“We always talk about numbers and statistically this and that,” Gabriel said, “but the truth is sometimes you’ve gotta go out there and just make the damn play. Kind of think with that approach and have an emphasis with situational football has helped us.”

There’s another way Gabriel got better: he had Arnold nipping at his heels. After a static 2022 season, competition from Arnold has made him better.

“The sky’s limit for him,” Gabriel said.

Make no mistake: Gabriel is the starter. But the fact that Arnold is already his backup, after just one semester on campus, says something.

“He’s a young man that has great vision and understanding of his impact and what he can do with the class and was able to do it,” Lebby said. “Incredibly appreciative of him and the family. … Without a doubt, he’s been so strong, so good, so loyal. Been about his business.”

To his credit, Arnold realized quickly how things are different at OU compared to Guyer High School in Denton, TX. School is harder, practices are harder, and workouts are much harder — even though he kind of made football look easy by engineering what should have been a game-winning drive in the Red/White Game if not for a dropped pass in the end zone.

“I gotta work harder,” he said. “It’s not as easy as high school, obviously. I had that good drive at the end but there were some plays that were my fault. I have to go back and look at them and execute properly and just work harder and study harder. Everything is on another level in college.”

“With the way he started and the negative plays and situations he was put in as he was on the field,” Lebby said, “I loved the way he was able to battle back and do some really good things there at the end of the game and put us in a position to make the play on the 2-point conversion to go win it for the Red team. I was just proud of him for sticking with it.”

Lebby saw lots of improvement from Arnold over the course of spring ball. So did Gabriel. And so did Arnold.

“I feel really good compared to January,” Arnold said. “I was talking to Coach Lebby about it the other day with how far I’ve come since January in learning the plays, executing them, practicing and whatnot. I’ve come a long way and I feel comfortable. I had a couple of mental busts today (in the scrimmage) that I want back but overall I feel really comfortable.”

“I’m proud of the spring he’s had,” Lebby said. “This guy has come in and worked incredibly hard, taking the coaching. The rest of the room has been big brothers to him. That’s been fun to see. We’ve got an incredibly unselfish unit.”