When spring practice starts up, Oklahoma Sooners coach Bob Stoops typically gives his upperclassmen a light load, looking instead to find out where the youngsters stand. Heralded newcomers start to prove whether they're buzz-worthy or not, while the veterans take a backseat.
With spring practice starting this week, here are the 10 storylines for OU fans to keep an eye on.
1. Donald Stephenson's Development
After the 2009 season, the OU coaches let Sooner Nation in on a little secret that was equal parts encouraging and irritating: One of the team's most talented offensive lineman spent the entire year on suspension. If Stephenson really is that good, he would've helped during last season's 7-5 debacle.
And if Stephenson really is that good, it's yet another reason to expect OU's o-line will show significant improvement in 2010.
2. Jermie Calhoun's Spot in the Backfield Rotation
Position coach Cale Gundy clearly prefers a two-headed monster at tailback, and with Chris Brown out of the picture, it leaves a hole for someone to share time with senior Demarco Murray. Promising freshman Jonathan Miller will miss spring workouts rehabbing a knee injury, and Murray -- a known commodity already -- likely won't see much action. That should leave plenty of opportunities for the highly touted Calhoun to stake his claim to a spot in the rotation.
Heading into his third year in the program, it's time for Calhoun to make a move.
3. Justin Chaisson's Big Move
The cat is finally out of the bag: Chaisson is moving to defensive tackle.
If Bob Stoops cares, this decision gets Homerism's stamp of approval. Adrian Taylor's gruesome Sun Bowl injury has left OU distressingly thin on the interior. Defensive end, Chaisson's natural position, is stocked with talent. Chaisson wowed the coaching staff during his 2009 sabbatical, showing that he's the kind of talent that needs to be on the field.
Sounds like a good fit to me.
4. Which Tight Ends Are Doing What
Another attention-grabber on the depth chart was the shuffling among the tight ends. Centers Ben Habern and Brian Lepak are coming off of injuries, prompting at least a temporary move by Gabe Ikard to center. Meanwhile, the OU coaching staff listed Eric Mensik as a tight end, despite his contributions at right tackle in the final two games last year -- and the fact that his number has been changed to 69.
Aside from all the position swapping, offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson will undoubtedly be searching for someone, anyone to give the Sooners something, anything from the tight end spot. One name to watch is Lane Johnson, a late addition to the OU roster in the weeks before last season started. It sounds like Johnson is promising, but incredibly raw. Until someone else steps up, though, tight end is there for the taking.
5. Shaking Up the Secondary
The early departure of Dom Franks and graduation of Brian Jackson put new Sooner defensive backs coach Willie Martinez in the unenviable position of replacing both starting cornerbacks in his first season in Norman. Diminutive sophomore-to-be Demontre Hurst probably will take over on one side. Also, Jonathan Nelson, who had assumed a starting safety spot late in 2009, appears to be heading to corner permanently.
Of course, Nelson's position switch leaves a gap at safety. For now, the depth chart has Sam Proctor filling that hole. Seeing as Proctor was the one who lost his spot to Nelson in the first place last season, that should have OU fans at least a little concerned.
6. Tom Wort's Recovery
The OU coaches usually play their cards pretty close to the vest, but even they couldn't contain their excitement about the true freshman Wort prior to the start of last season. Needless to say, his season-ending knee injury in fall practice constituted a major kick in the teeth.
Even though he missed the entire season, the Englishman starts spring practice atop the depth chart at middle linebacker. Hopefully, this is more than just wishful thinking on Stoops' part. Additionally, OU has to watch how it handles Wort, as Sooner players seem to struggle with recurring injuries. (Or is that just me being paranoid?)
7. Miller Time
Wideout Dejuan Miller's uneven play was emblematic of '09 at OU. One week, the lanky sophomore would light up Kansas State. Another week, he wouldn't make it off the bench against Oklahoma State.
The New Jersey native tantalized OU fans all season with his athleticism and explosiveness. Yet, until Miller can develop some semblance of consistency, he will be nothing more than a bit player.
8. Good Must Get Better
Circumstances pressed plenty of offensive linemen into action before they were ready in 2009. Stephen Good, however, wasn't one of them, making his struggles something of a surprise.
The highly touted recruit was supposed to be one of the next great blockers at OU. Instead, last year proved he has plenty of room to improve.
OU linemen have historically made their greatest strides in their second seasons of significant playing time. Hopefully, Good is on schedule.
9. Filling In At Fullback.
Longtime starting fullback Matt Clapp has taken his talents to the NFL, along with a never-ending supply of sexually transmitted disease jokes. (Which are no laughing matter.)
Converted linebacker Brandon Crow often saw the field as a blocking back in short-yardage situations last season. Expect to see him continue in that role in 2010.
The real name to watch here is Marshall Musil, an athletic redshirt freshman out of Kansas. Rivals ranked Musil as the No. 4 prospect in the Sunflower State coming out of high school. He's supposed to possess a good mix of strength and straight-line speed.
How well can Musil catch? Is he a polished blocker? Those questions will likely determine how much time he plays this year.
10. Lots of Linebackers
If there's one position where the Sooners have more than enough depth, it's linebacker. Between now Utah State, nine guys will vie for the two spots vacated by Keenan Clayton and Ryan Reynolds.
Wort and The Hammer look to have the inside track to start along with Travis Lewis on the weak side. As converted safeties, Box and Ibiloye do have their pass coverage skills working in their favor, though.
Thankfully, having too many guys who can play is a far better problem than having too few.