Quick hitter: Jay Boulware, Part I

Sterling Shepard, OU punt returner?

In this two-part series, Sooners Illustrated allows OU special teams and tight ends coach Jay Boulware speak about his second year in Norman and how things are going.

One of the major changes with Oklahoma in the last year has been the addition of Jay Boulware. Known for his special teams acumen, Boulware has brought his skills to Norman as special teams and tight ends coach.

His first season was very impressive in special teams, while tight end remains a work in progress. Now with a full year under his belt, Boulware addressed the media last week to talk about how things are going at both positions.

How much work have you put in so far in preparation for the spring?

A lot of work. We've had a lot of meeting time this spring, which is a little different than last spring when I first got here. We've been focusing on drill work and identifying our personnel and trying to get them in the right spot. We've been fortunate this spring to be able to work a lot more guys. We had some mid-semester guys come in here and some guys that were redshirted, so I'm in the process of evaluating all those guys and try to put them in the right place.

Coming off a great season, how is punter Jed Barnett doing?

He's continuing along with the process. He's a guy, when he first got here, or when I got here actually because he was here first, I had to convince him to buy into what I was doing. It was somewhere around the middle of the spring, he started saying, you know, what you want me to do, I'll do. It was too late to really see in the spring, but it started to build up in the summer. He's gotten better and better and had a great season.

Sticking with special teams, how is the process going in finding kick/punt returners?

When we get our whole football team on here in the summer, that's when I'll identify and make final decisions on that. We have a lot of freshmen coming in and we have a lot of guys who are busting their butts right now. We won't make any final decisions until towards the end of fall camp."

Looking at this team on special teams, it feels like it will be a fast group. How do you assess things?

You always need speed. I have a few spots where I'm looking for guys to excel. I'm really looking forward to those freshmen coming and seeing what they have to offer.

Do you notice a difference in the energy of the program right now? The swagger coming back?

Anytime you come off a win in a bowl game that gives you momentum. It makes you a little more motivated to work and be ready in the spring. For me personally, I didn't notice the change. To me, this was just OU. I didn't notice we weren't where we needed to be or we were where we need to be. Whether we win our last game or not, we're still OU.

How did you evaluate things going into your first year as the special teams coach?

I watched the previous year. I knew Jalen Saunders was a special player. He ended up being first in our league in punt return this year. I evaluated the entire time. I evaluated every single rep we made the year before special teams. I made notes, everything like that. Only bad thing is I can look at all the tape, but until you see them performing, you never know.

What have you seen from Sterling Shepard to know he could be the guy for punt returns?

I watched Sterling all last year. It remains to be seen his impact he'll have on us. He has the right mentality. He'll get a shot, for sure. Is he the guy at OU? I don't know. I don't want to eliminate anybody.

Have you found the next Jalen?

First off, there's not another Jalen. They're their own guys. If the unit itself ends up playing where it was at toward the end of the season, then we'll be fine. I'm excited, and I plan on us excelling.

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