With more than three weeks until Oklahoma plays again and recruiting dying down for Christmas break, we decided to put together some very early preview information for 2014. First up, we'll go through each of the offensive position groups.
Departures: None for now
Returning starters: Trevor Knight (RS-So.) and Blake Bell (RS-Sr.)
Returning contributors: Kendal Thompson (RS-Jr.)
New names to watch: Cody Thomas (RS-Fr.) and Justice Hansen (Fr.)
The Oklahoma State game did little to clear up the Sooners’ ongoing QB soap opera. Maybe the bowl game will provide some clarity?
The QB issue is the biggest thing holding OU back from being a true top 10 team College Football Playoff candidate. It’s the difference between 10-2 again and having a chance for a perfect season.
Right now, it looks like OU will go with a zone-read scheme and the battle will be between Knight, Thompson and Thomas. If OU goes with a passing spread scheme, then it looks more like a battle between Bell, Knight and Thomas.
To be honest, five QBs in spring isn’t going to work for sharing reps. Some sort of attrition is needed to streamline the process. And to get the offensive cohesion needed, can OU really continue to practice and run two different schemes.
Could Cody Thomas pull a Jameis Winston/Johnny Manziel and seize the starting job as a redshirt freshman? Everyone who has access to practice raves about the kid: best arm and prospect since Sam Bradford; a mobile version of Bradford with a bigger arm.
Hansen is enrolling early and will probably redshirt unless something drastic happens to the QB depth. He’s versatile enough to fit into whatever OU decides to do.
Projected starter: ?
Departures: Roy Finch, Brennan Clay, Damien Williams
Returning starters: None
Returning contributors: Keith Ford (So.) and Alex Ross (RS-So.)
New names to watch: David Smith (RS-So.), Samaje Perine (Fr.)
Lots of transition, but running back is perhaps the deepest, best-recruited position on campus.
Ford looked very impressive in a short trial this fall before some fumbling and ankle issues sidelined him. He showed power and moves. Alex Ross, if he can stay healthy, will be his main competition for the feature back role in the spring. Ross is also a big, powerful back, but he brings true track speed to the position as well. Finally, David Smith looked great in the 2013 spring game when Ross was hurt and OU didn’t want to overwork the veteran backs.
Which back can provide that every-down ability to pass block and be a receiving threat? In addition, OU is bringing in deluxe power back Samaje Perine (think Jerald Moore), who will challenge for playing time. Cale Gundy isn't finished recruiting yet and could bring in a JUCO speed back or another every-down candidate.
Projected starter: Right now, OU’s leading rusher for 2014 should be Ford.
Departures: LaColtan Bester, Jaz Reynolds, Jalen Saunders
Returning starters: Sterling Shepard (Jr.)
Returning contributors: Durron Neal (Jr.), Derrick Woods (RS-So.), Austin Bennett (So.)
New names to watch: Dannon Cavil (RS-Fr.), K.J. Young (RS-Fr.), Jordan Smallwood (RS-Fr.), Mark Andrews (Fr.), Dallis Todd (Fr.), Jeffrey Mead (Fr.)
Hard to quantify the loss of Saunders for the OU offense and return game. Shepard is the returning star and should take over the vaunted slot WR spot in his junior year.
Assuming OU continues to run a lot of three-wide looks, the Sooners have some different options with their younger WRs. Cavil and Todd provide that big archetype flanker at 6-4, 200-plus pounds. Both should compete during spring with Todd, who's enrolling early. Andrews (6-6, 225) provides a huge mismatch as a big WR – think Mike Evans in terms of how OU should use this talented athlete. Neal and Woods could play slot, but they are also big enough to play one of the outside positions.
Jordan Smallwood was hurt in August and redshirted, so his debut will occur in the spring. K.J. Young and Bennett should provide depth at slot. Lots of options here, but it’s going to be important that the WRs get in sync with the QBs.
Projected starters: Shepard, Todd, Neal, Woods
Departures: Brannon Green and Trey MIllard
Returning starters: Aaron Ripkowski (Sr.)
Returning contributors: Taylor McNamara (RS-So.), Sam Grant (RS-So.)
New names to watch: Dmitri Flowers (Fr.), Carson Meier (Fr.), JUCO TE?
The gold standard at H-back/fullback has left OU, and while Aaron Ripkowski is a very good blocking FB, he does not provide much in the way of dual-threat options.
OU has added early enrollee Dmitri Flowers, who is an H-back with a serious receiving game.
At TE, OU really needs to upgrade the position and get a true dual threat on the field. So many things would open up in the passing game from the zone read spread with a true TE on the field, especially in the red zone. OU recruited a big-time prep TE two years ago in Taylor McNamara. So far, his attempts to get on the field have been derailed by injuries and illness. Recently, there have been positive signs that McNamara is finally healthy and practicing at a level needed to get on the field. OU has been recruiting a JUCO mid-term TE to push McNamara. Hopefully, that prospect becomes a Sooner and is in this spring to battle for the TE slot.
Sam Grant seems likely to be moved to offensive tackle at some point. True freshman Carson Meier is a serious dual-threat TE prospect, but he is probably going to need a redshirt season to get bigger and stronger.
Projected starters: Rip (fullback), Flowers (H-back), McNamara (TE)
Departure: Gabe Ikard
Returning contributor: Ty Darlington (Jr.)
New names to watch: Alex Dalton (Fr.)
Gabe Ikard is gone, which will be a huge loss in leadership that is impossible to quantify.
However, for the first time in a while, OU has a ready replacement. Darlington won’t be able to replace the leadership of Ikard, but in pure football terms, he’s going to
be a great replacement. In addition, OU could use Nila Kasitati if Darlington struggles.
Finally, OU has recruited the center of the future in Alex Dalton. OU would probably like to redshirt Dalton, but injuries could force him into action.
Projected starter: Darlington
Departures: Bronson Irwin
Returning starters: Adam Shead (RS-Sr.), Nila Kasitati (RS-Sr.), Tyler Evans (RS-Sr.)
Returning contributors: Dionte Savage (Sr.), Tony Feo (Sr.)
New names to watch: Kyle Marrs (RS-So.), Jonathan Alvarez (Fr.)
Shead should replace Irwin, but you have to wonder if injury woes are finally going to force him to stop playing. It was rumored last spring, and Shead’s hurting again. OU will get back Tyler Evans after two years of being sidelined by knee injuries. If Evans can regain his old form, then this would be a massive boost to OL depth.
There’s the possibility of adding an additional freshman and perhaps a JUCO player. Marrs needs to make a move this spring into the two-deep. Alvarez, who can play center as well, will likely redshirt.
Projected starters: Kasitati, Evans
Returning starters: Darryl Williams (RS-Sr.), Tyrus Thompson (RS-Sr.)
Returning contributors: Derek Farniok (RS-Jr.)
New names to watch: Josiah St. John (RS-Jr.), Christian Daimler (RS-Fr.)
Tackle looks to be in good hands with Tyrus Thompson and Darryl Williams. JUCO Josiah St. John is a good bet to provide depth at one of the spots along with Derek Farniok. St. John has the talent to push both Thompson and Williams. Daimler and Marrs will have a chance this spring to get into the two-deep on the OL.
Position coach Bill Bedenbaugh is not done with recruiting. OU especially needs a high school OT. Ideally, OU will bring in one JUCO OT as well. It would be nice if OU could establish the tackles for 2015 after Williams and Thompson leave.
Projected starters: Thompson and Williams