The problem with writing any kind of recruiting update this early into the recruiting season is that it’s guaranteed to be out of date before it's published – sometimes before I’ve finished writing it. This update was delayed because I was holding out hope for news at quarterback that came in the form of a verbal commitment from Austin Kendall.
I’ve suggested that OU’s recruiting efforts this year should be largely judged on QB and linebacker. The Sooners landed a big one.
After decommitting from Tennessee, Austin Kendall (6-3, 200) from Waxhall, N.C., a top five passing QB by almost every recruiting service and a top 50 player according to Rivals. Kendall flew to Norman for an unofficial visit, received an offer and vaulted to the top of OU's target list. Three weeks later, Kendall verbaled to OU, ending QB recruiting.
Kendall is an excellent fit for the kind of offense Lincoln Riley will run. He has excellent accuracy and touch in the passing game and shows nice mobility, getting “garbage” yards and moving the sticks while not taking big hits. He does not have an elite arm, but he does a great job finding different release points to complete the pass and does a good job under pressure. In these highlights from his junior year, I like the fact that Kendall’s not just hitting his first quick read to a wide open outside receiver. Instead, Kendall is working the whole field.
Grabbing a top five QB is a huge win for Riley in year one. Kendall has already started contacting recruits on Twitter, and he is also planning to enroll early, which takes some of the sting out of not signing a QB in 2015.
We've already covered the Sooners' offensive wish list. This is a best guess of the top defensive targets on the recruiting board, with a bias to being as objective as possible about OU’s real chances. Names are going to appear and disappear off these lists several times as the year goes on.
Defensive Line: 3 spots
The loss of Jerry Montgomery hurt big time, so some of the elite kids here aren’t really in play any longer. Fortunately, Monty signed six quality players in two classes, so he left behind some very good, young depth.
OU will probably look to sign two to three kids, with an eye toward taking a flyer on elite talent to upgrade the roster.
Chris Daniels (6-4, 270, 4.9) – Could play inside or at end in OU's scheme. Athletic, powerful prospect who has visited Norman already for a junior day event.
Kendall Jones (6-5, 350, 5.5) – Yes, that height/weight is right. Nicknamed "Hulk" for obvious reasons, Jones would fit best into a nose guard role in a 3-4 D. He’s powerful, but not a super quick athlete.
Michael Williams (6-3, 285, 4.8) – Another DL prospect from the Dallas area who probably projects at DE. Williams has visited Norman for a junior day event.
Amani Bledsoe (6-5, 275, 4.8) – Before the position coaching change, Bledsoe was a strong early bet to commit to OU. Now, it looks like Diron Reynolds has some work to do to rebuild the relationship. Bledsoe is the perfect 3-4 DE prospect – big wingspan, very athletic and can carry 285 to 290 pounds while still keeping his speed.
Linebacker: 5-6 spots
With one mission accomplished at QB, it’s time to review the second area of massive need.
There’s a question mark in terms of numbers and the mix of athletes due to OU’s defensive front question marks. Principally, is OU going to ever play a true 3-4 scheme?
OU already has one outside linebacker committed in John Michael Terry, who could flex over to TE/H-back, but there are a bunch of offers out there. OU’s approach to LB recruiting offers seems more balanced than in years’ past. Not just offering every top-ranked LB and delaying offers to regional kids. OU’s made a nice mix of offers to both groups.
Dontavious Jackson (6-3, 240, 4.65) – The top MIKE LB OU's board. The entire world of college football wants him. OU’s got a shot here. Jackson is good friends with Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and has already made a visit to Norman.
Caleb Kelly (6-3, 225, 4.5) – A top 50 player nationally, Kelly is the perfect every-down WILL LB OU needs. Rush off the edge, cover a slot WR – the kind of LB that will turn the tables on defending spread defenses. Kelly looks every bit as good as Malik Jefferson did last year.
Pernell Jefferson (6-3, 230, 4.6) – Like his teammate and future Sooner Arthur McGinnis, Jefferson is a powerhouse. A physical player who projects at inside backer for OU.
Marvin Terry (6-2, 225, 4.5). Terry had a huge year as a junior with 23 sacks. He’s probably a rush OLB in the OU scheme, but he’s athletic enough to possibly play another LB slot. He’s very interested in OU, and his teammate is future Sooner Prentice McKinney.
Mark Jackson (6-4, 225, 4.7) – Watching Mark Jackson in the state final game against Rodney Anderson and Ole Miss-bound receiver Demarkus Lodge, they were easily the three best athletes on the field. Jackson would be a pure pass rusher, an OLB for OU big enough to hold the edge at about 245 pounds when he fills out. OU is involved with Jackson and should get a visit.
Isiah Chambers (6-4, 240, 4.75) – Like Jackson, another edge pass rusher with big-time potential. OU has to have players like this to effectively run the the 3-4 and attack passing games.
Bryce Longquist (6-3, 220, 4.5) – This California-based LB has speed to rush the QB while also playing in space and providing coverage. OU is involved, along with a host of other teams.
Jeff McCulloch (6-3, 230, 4.7) – McCulloch is part of the excellent group of LBs from Texas this year. He’s camped very well and could be a MIKE LB or an OLB.
Calvin Bundage (6-3, 200, 4.55) – Right now, Bundage is playing strong safety. He has the frame to easily carry 220 to 230 pounds without losing speed. He’s physically dominant at SS, but Bundage has the power and speed to make an excellent college WILL LB.
Defensive Back: 3-4 spots
OU just signed a big DB class and previously signed a quality DB class, so it’s hard to project too big a number here. Then again, the talent and depth issues in the secondary were the talk of spring, so maybe new position coach Kerry Cooks will reload with another big class after some attrition.
I’m thinking at least one pure cornerback, one pure safety and a player who could project at either spot as a nickelback. Cooks is in better shape than most new coaches due to the fact that Notre Dame recruited Texas and the South heavily as well. He knows most of these prospects already.
Jared Mayden (6-1, 185, 4.45) – The P.J. Mbanasor of this class. Big, athletic, shutdown corner. His dad played hoops for OU, but it took Cooks taking over for OU to be a real factor here.
Brandon Burton (6-1, 190, 4.5) – Yes, OU has offered another kid at Juniper Sera H.S. in Gardena H.S. Yes, he’s more likely to go to USC than anywhere else. But he’s interested in OU, and look for the Sooners to get an official visit.
Nigel Knott (6-0, 175, 4.5) – This Tennessee corner has offers from everyone, but he has mentioned OU in his top 10 on Twitter. He’s an elite athlete with connections to SEC teams, but OU might be in line for a visit.
JoeJuan Williams (6-3, 200, 4.5) – Another SEC-area DB prospect Cooks has offered. Cooks recruited the entire SEC region for ND, so he’s not afraid to go in and compete for top talent.
Eric Cuffee (6-1, 185) – Top talent from the Waco area. OU battling Baylor, Texas A&M and others.
Parrish Cobb (6-1, 170, 4.5) – A second DB from the Waco area. All the Big 12 and SEC teams are involved.
Maurice Chandler (6-1, 195. 4.45) – Juco prospect from NEO. A big-time physical freak at DB. OU has offered, and Chandler seems in line to graduate early. He could plug into any spot in a five-DB every-down scheme.
Chanse Sylvie (5-11, 190, 4.5) – More of a safety prospect out of Shreveport. SEC teams starting to get involved.