Fall camp starts on Thursday.
Fall camp starts on Thursday!!!!!!!!
Football is almost here, people! Sure, we don't get any access. And sure, the information that leaks out of practices is limited at best. But it's still football. And that's all that needs to be said.
In a bit of a twist from years past, this Sooners squad has probably as many question marks of any OU team maybe since Bob Stoops' first year in Norman. The beginning of any new season always provides a number of storylines, but that fact is only enhanced this season given where this team is heading into the start of practices this week.
We're going to take a look at some of the more prevalent storylines and as always we're looking for your feedback, so comment early and often because FOOTBALL IS ALMOST HERE!!!
Dom Whaley's status - This time next year, ALL the talk will be about the quarterback position and who will become the next starting quarterback for the Oklahoma Sooners. Fortunately, that is still a year away and the quarterback position is as settled as any school's in the country. Therefore, it could be argued that the status of fan favorite Dominique Whaley will be of great interest to not just OU fans but the OU coaches as well.
Due to the limitations placed on the coaches during the summer, they have not had the chance to really see Whaley and how his recovery from a broken ankle has progressed. Sure, they probably get reports on players progress over the summer but this situation is different. It's different because no one is really going to know anything definitive about Whaley until he puts the pads on and makes that first cut.
Even with practices starting, don't expect any revelations as to how Whaly is actually doing. That's not the kind of information Bob typically allows to reach the public and even more to the point, expect the coaches to give Whaley plenty of time to ease his way back into things. They are fortunate in the sense they have plenty of other options at the position which allows Whaley that luxury, but at the same time what could that mean at the running back position?
Running back rotation -With or without Whaley (and obviously we're all rooting for 'with'), this will be a real challenge for position coach Cale Gundy. Obviously it's a "good problem" to have as they say, but nevertheless still a problem. Gundy could be looking at the possibility of having to manage carries between Whaley, Damien Williams, Brennan Clay, Roy Finch, Trey Millard, Danzel Williams, and potentially even true freshmen Alex Ross and David Smith.
You can't help but wonder if Whaley is a little slow to come back, what that does in terms of creating opportunity for some of those other guys. Now just to be clear, Whaley will not be getting Wally Pipp'ed. If you've followed OU football at all since Stoops arrived, you know that he and his assistants are very loyal to some guys and Whaley is one of those guys. If he's healthy, he's getting carries. With as much as the Sooners rotate backs, who actually "starts" the game means very little.
So how does Gundy begin to determine who will get carries? We'll take a stab as to his thought process of just that.
Obviously ball security is huge. Every coach hates fumbles, but it might even be fair to say that no coach hates them as much as Bob Stoops does. If a guy has trouble hanging onto the ball, he will very quickly become familiar with watching things from the sideline (see Brandon Williams circa 2011).
Trust is another huge thing with this Oklahoma coaching staff. The coaches have to know they can trust a player to know his assignment and be where he's supposed to be when he's supposed to be there. For that reason alone, we know Brennan Clay is going to be in the rotation. He's nothing if not reliable and whether or not the fans like it, that is something the coaches want from the running back position. The fan's complaint is that he's yet to prove that he's really an explosive player capable of making the big play, but clearly the coaches do not care about that and as such he'll have a role in the offense in 2012.
Despite being a JUCO transfer, Damien Williams has been on campus for awhile and participating in summer workouts which only increases his chances for playing time. He is a guy with very good (but not elite) speed even with his 200+ pound frame and also a guy who catches the ball out of the backfield very well. I've been very open about how big a fan of his that I am, so my bias is on public record. Assuming he can hold onto the ball during camp, I just don't see how they'll be able to keep him off the field once the games start.
Roy Finch and Danzel Williams are very similar players in my mind, so they'll likely be battling it out to see who can win that 'change-of-pace' back role. Though Finch could see some time in the slot at wide receiver in an effort to keep him on the field and get him the ball in space, which is something he excels at when given the chance. Of course, we saw that same experiment fail pretty miserably just a couple years ago when the Sooners moved Mossis Madu to the slot. So only time will tell whether or not that proves to be a similar mistake.
Then you have the two freshman. By all accounts, Alex Ross has been very (and I mean very) impressive during summer workouts. The list of true freshman who have come in and so quickly earned the respect to
much maligned Oklahoma S&C coach Jerry Schmidt can probably be counted on one hand. But if you can believe the message board reporting service, that is exactly what has happened this summer. Ross is big (6'1" 204 lbs) with true track speed and could be a guy that has simply worked too hard to be denied a shot once camp starts. We know the coaches respect players who put in that kind of effort, so if he's given the chance he may show them enough not to redshirt. The talk surrounding David Smith has also been quite positive, but it's hard for me to see anything other than a redshirt season for him since there are just so many other options.
And then of course there is Trey Millard. Oh, how we've heard the coaches plans for Trey Millard. Once again, Bob has come out and said that the plan is to get Millard more involved in the offense. Of course we heard the same thing before last season started and then we waited, and waited, and waited only to be disappointed once the season came to an end. I'm convinced (and I know I'm not alone) that there is not a thing on the field he cannot do well if given the opportunity. Sure he plays fullback, but he is one of the best players on the offense. Period.
In my perfect world here is how things would shake out - Whaley and Damien Williams split the lion's share of the carries. Millard would get at least five carries (minimum) a game and not just 'FB-blast' up the middle carries either, get creative with it. Finch and Clay would be used in spots, while Ross and Smith would redshirt (And not because I'm down on Ross, quite the opposite actually. Because I'd hate to see them waste a year of eligibility t give the guy a couple carries a game in garbage time like they did with Brandon Williams last year).
Here is what I think will actually happen - (Assuming Whaley comes back) Whaley would get like 55%, Williams and Clay would split 35% in some fashion, Finch and Millard would get 9%, and Alex Ross would get 1% because they'd do exactly what I just said above they shouldn't. (Assuming Whaley didn't and/or is slow to come back) Williams and Clay would split 65%, Finch would get probably 20%, Millard 10%, and Ross 5%.
(Ed. note - Ok, my apologies because they really got out of hand, length wise. And yes, that's what she said.)
What can the tight ends show Heupel -Everyone is talking about the wide receivers, and for good reason, but the tight end position actually has even more questions. Granted, Heupel did not appear to be all that interested in the position last year so it's probably fair to speculate just how much of an impact said questions actually have. Adding to the intrigue surrounding the OU tight ends was the move of Geneo Grissom from the defensive side of the ball to give the Sooners yet another inexperienced option.
At this point, tight end has to be considered a total crapshoot. We think we know what we have in Brannon Green (solid blocking, underrated receiver) and Taylor McNamara (outstanding receiver, very athletic), who have both been in Norman since the spring. But both have also never played a snap at the D-I level, so until that first game you really can't know if they can be counted on.
If they could get nothing else out of the position, I would hope they get solid blocking in the run game. That was supposed to be Green's greatest strength and there have even been some reports that Grissom has proved quite adept at it as well. I think you can also expect to see Millard get some snaps at tight end, both to keep on the field and to keep him involved in the pass/run game.
Who steps up at wide receiver -Some OU fans may not feel like that statement applies to Kenny Stills because (at this point) he's the only returning receiver from last year, but there are probably a lot more OU fans who feel it applies to him more than any other wide out. And to be perfectly honest, I think that's fair. He is going to be looked to as that #1 threat and will need to step his game up accordingly.
Behind Stills, the name many look to next is Trey Metoyer. He certainly did not disappoint with his performance in the spring game and in a way probably made things even more difficult for himself by increasing Sooner Nation's expectations for him with said performance.
After Stills and Metoyer, it's a collection of true freshmen and, at least as of the time of this post, one JUCO option. There certainly will be no shortage of talent available, but much like tight end the position is seriously lacking in experience.
I'm going to avoid getting super in-depth here because we have some other things planned to address already in the works, plus it's not as if this is a new development. We've been talking about it all spring/summer, so we've hit on pretty much all the relevant topics.
Can the offensive line live up to the hype - This one is pretty simple. The offensive line has been referred to as "the best since 2008" on many an occasion and that is certainly high praise. They return four starters and several other players who received snaps last year. The coaches are very confident in the guys they have returning, but we (as OU fans) have been down this road before. There has been more than one instance where we heard the offensive line praised for "all the work they put in during the offseason" and "how great they look" only to be burned once the lights came on. I'm not saying the coaches are wrong or that this can't in fact be the best offensive line since 2008. I'm just saying I want to see it, on the field, with my own eyes first. After all; fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me . . .
I could go on (What is Blake Bell's role in this offense? How could they actually consider not starting Adam Shead? Will Heupel focus on the run game?), but at 2,000+ words this is already much longer than I originally planned. So I'll end it here, but please by all means keep it going in the comments.