Spring football, Sooner fans hardly knew ye.
As has become custom in Norman, Bob Stoops has sealed up Oklahoma's practices tight as a drum, leaving diehards in the dark as to how the squad is progressing. Namely, everyone wants to know how the D looks in folk hero Mike Stoops' second run as coordinator.
Saturday's Red-White Game, the final scrimmage of the spring, is supposed to be the fans' chance to get a peek at a team that they're hoping has been re-energized after falling flat in a disappointing 2011 season. However, a nasty forecast for Saturday means they might not even get that opportunity.
If the Sooners do take the field this weekend, don't let your eyes deceive you. Spring games, especially OU's, are built to be more vanilla than a tub of Greek yogurt. Bob won't show anything people haven't seen before, and the main objective will just be making it through the day without any injuries.
My advice: Key in on a few particular players or positions. Assuming the intrasquad game does go down, here's what I'd be watching:
*The rotation at offensive tackle
While no one will mistake this edition of OU's offensive line for the Hogs, the Sooners do return plenty of experienced contributors. It should make for some nice chemistry within the unit.
The one spot that could cause some headaches is left tackle. Senior Lane Johnson had his up and downs last season as the starter on the right side. Now, he's charged with protecting quarterback Landry Jones' blind side following Donald Stephenson's graduation.
Word is that Tyrus Thompson could be pushing Johnson for playing time, however. Also, Daryl Williams, the presumptive starter at right tackle, has long been considered a star in the making and may eventually end up on the left, anyway.
How James Patton rotates those three might offer some clues about what the line will look like in the fall.
*Mixing and matching the defensive backs
No one part of the team took more lumps last season than the secondary. Defensive backs coach Willie Martinez was sent packing, and Mike now has responsibility for the unit.
Mike is promising simplified coverage schemes on the back end, but getting the right people on the field to match his system is paramount. With surefire starter Aaron Colvin on the mend, it's difficult to say who will end up where. However, Tony Jefferson has locked down free safety, and Demontre Hurst has one corner spot sewn up, so watch who's rotating in at the other spots.
*Defensive personnel groupings
Pay attention to who's on the field when. Mike is more likely to sub in to fit the opposing offense's personnel than Venables was.
The number of tight ends on the other side of the field probably will dictate who's in the game and who isn't. Watch how personnel adjusts to those substitutions.
*The back-up quarterback race
The old adage says the second-string quarterback is the most popular guy on a football team. Sophomore QB Blake Bell did his best last season to prove the saying correct, sparking the offense from the Belldozer formation in short-yardage situations.
While he may be popular with the fans, Bell is still battling with junior Drew Allen for the second line on the depth chart behind Landry Jones. Supposedly, Bell is showing signs of greater comfortability running OU's standard offense. Keep an eye on which of the two signal callers demonstrates greater command of the O.
*What's Jaydan Bird's role?
Mike tends to prefer bigger, more traditional middle linebackers to man the MIKE position. Bird definitely fits the bill.
Tom Wort started under Venables the last two season, and that seems unlikely to change in the fall. However, reports are that Bird has shown out this spring. He certainly looked the part in the limited footage released from the Sooners' scrimmages.
How will OU work Bird into the mix? Will they even try?
As I've mentioned previously, no one guy is going to match what ultra-productive wide receiver Ryan Broyles brought to OU's offense. That said, Metoyer's name has been ringing out all spring.
The five-star recruit from Texas by way of prep school should pose a major threat to defenses with his ability to stretch the field and use his stellar body control to win battles for balls in the air. Watch how often Metoyer is running with the first team for an indication of how game-ready he is at this point.