So being that we're now less than a month away from spring practices starting (even with Bob's decision to push things back to March 21st), I thought it would be as good a time as any to put the spotlight on a couple positions/players expected to step up heading into the 2011 season. Last year's format was an interesting one in that Stoops allowed the players to draft their own teams as well as abandoning the funky scoring system and while nothing official has come out about this year I'm guessing we'll see something similar.
As we saw last year during spring ball, there were a number of guys who stood out and some were able to carry that momentum over into the regular season, while others were not. WR Kenny Stills certainly made a name for himself as an early enrollee freshman making multiple long receptions and laying the groundwork for an outstanding true freshman season. Others like Marshall Musil, who by most accounts was the star of the game, were not able to maintain their success and were relegated to a backup role.
I think most rational OU fans do not expect the 2011 class to have quite the impact that 2010 did, but there are three kids already on campus (two of which could contribute, but more likely just one) and a handful coming in during the fall who could see time as well. But this is about the guys who are already there and as we're all aware, a good spring can lead to a great fall so I'll give you who I have my eye on and as usual I expect you to pick me up in the comments with anyone you're looking to step up.
RS FR QB Blake Bell- Might as well get the obvious one/s out of the way first. I think most of us are familiar with the Good Landry/Bad Landry theory here on CCM (we can now add Landry/Uncle Rico as well) and the calls of at least a portion of Sooner Nation for Bell to possibly replace Landry as the starter in 2011. Well I think we can all agree at this point that's not happening, but there will be an intense battle this spring for the primary backup spot. Personally, I think Bell will be given every chance to grab that spot as I'm not alone in my belief that he is OU's future at QB1 but he'll be competing with a guy in Drew Allen who will be going into his third year in the system. That kind of experience can, and usually does, go a long way in the eyes of the coaches as more than any other spot on the field the coaches want a guy under center they know they can rely on. I think Bell edges Allen in pure talent, but you simply can't discount the fact that Allen has more time in the system. No slight meant to Kendal Thompson, I just don't really see him factoring into the battle in his first year on campus.
FR RB Brandon Williams- I know most would have you believe that the savior known as Malcolm Brown down in Austin will be the name everyone is talking about in 2011, but I'll put my money on Williams over Brown every day of the week. In my opinion, this kid has a burst like we haven't seen in any OU RB during the Bob Stoops tenure short of possibly a pre-injury DeMarco. AD was an all-timer and I'm stopping way short of comparing the two before this kid ever steps on the field, but this kid has the chance to be special. I LOVE the fact that he's already on campus and participating in a D-1 S&C program! If he's able to put on 5-10 lbs of muscle between now and the Tulsa game he could legitimately be the Robin to Roy Finch's Batman (hell, he could supplant Finch as the starter if Roy can't stay healthy). If the idea of this o-line creating even the tiniest seam, because that's all Finch or Williams will need, doesn't excite the heck out of you then you might be requested to turn in your OU fan card.
Defensive Tackles- Much like the safety spot below, there is no shortage of candidates for Sooners at the DT spot. A weak spot on the 2010 defense after losing their hear and soul in Adrian Taylor, the 2011 squad looks to build on a fairly solid performance in both the Big 12 Championship game against Nebraska and the Fiesta Bowl against UConn. The bright light on the DT spot got even brighter when news of Stacy McGee's arrest broke earlier this week. So while it remains to be seen whether or not he misses any time, he will most assuredly start the season in the doghouse potentially creating an opening for some of the young talent OU has at the position. RS FR Torrea Peterson appears to be the most likely candidate considering he was poised to play as a true freshman (no small feat at OU) before suffering an injury. Coach Shipp has loaded up at DT in the past two recruiting classes so you could also hear the names of RS FR Eric Humphrey, FR Marquis Anderson, or RS FR Damon Williams. Class of 2011 DTs Jordan Phillips and Jordan Wade are incredibly talented, but will probably need a year before actually seeing the field.
The Slightly Less Obvious
Safeties - JR Javon Harris is widely believed to have one spot locked up, the other safety spot however is still very much in play. SR Sam Proctor (the leader in the clubhouse, albeit slight), SO Kevin Brent, RS FR James Haynes, and SO Gabe Lynn are just a few of the names in consideration. I think Proctor has to be considered the favorite due to being a senior and on-field experience (even though his is pretty limited), but the coaches have raved about Haynes at different times in 2010. OU fans have expected big things from Brent since he arrived on campus, but he's yet to make any impact as he continues to battle through injuries. There has also been some discussion of moving standout sophomore Tony Jefferson away from the LOS and the nickel spot he played Between Harris and whoever secures the other spot, they have a difficult task replacing Jon Nelson and Q. Carter so it will be imperative that Coach Martinez find a pair that can match the stellar play expected from the other members of the OU secondary.
SO RB Jonathan Miller- I think most OU fans are assuming that dynamic sophomore Roy Finch will be the starting RB, but I'm of the opinion that Miller will initially take on that role. That's really more of a gut feel and honestly, like these last couple of years, Coach Gundy has so much talent at his disposal that it's really more of a co-starter situation anyway. I think Miller, Finch, Williams, and Clay all see time in 2011 and all in some way have something to prove, but Miller coming off a voluntary redshirt season arguably has the most to prove. Miller showed flashes in mop up duty during 2009 and he looks to recapture some of that now essentially two years removed from knee surgery. Again, just a gut feeling on my part that he nudges his way slightly ahead of the rest of the group and could really take on that "Chris Brown type" role.
RS FR DE Geneo Grissom- This was another member of the 2010 class who the coaches had every intention of playing before an injury derailed his chances. Grissom is an absolute monster at the DE spot and while the starting spots should be locked up by Frank Alexander and The Hammer respectively, any good defense needs to have a solid rotation of fresh guys ready to come in. OU has options in JR David King, RS FR Chuka Ndulue, and former five star recruit JR R.J. Washington, but to me Grissom is the guy OU fans will be the most excited about.
RS FR G Adam Shead- This kid is the definition of your road grating offensive lineman. It's no secret that OU has had trouble consistently opening holes up front for their RBs, so Shead emergence throughout practices last year is a promising one. For me what's most exciting is he's not some converted TE who is too undersized to truly be playing inside. This dude is already 300+ and moves incredibly well for a kid his size, so expect to see him pulling on plenty of OU run plays next year. Shead will have every opportunity to compete for one of the guard spots and I fully expect him to win a starting role. If he can get his hands on a guy, game over.
Well, that's probably enough out of me but I know there are plenty of other guys out there so jump into the comments and make a case for your guy/s. Football of any kind, even practices, can't get here soon enough so hopefully in some small way this will help to ease the withdrawal we are all currently suffering from!