Oklahoma Sooners Spring Football Preview | Receivers & Tight Ends

Crystal LoGiudice-USA TODAY Spor

With eleven available bodies at the position, depth isn't an issue for Oklahoma at wide receiver but experience could be a whole new issue. The Sooners had to say goodbye to Jalen Saunders and Lacolton Bester after the Sugar Bowl and now must begin the process of looking to replace their star receivers. There's no shortage of candidates, as I've already mentioned, and this could be one of the best position battles this spring.

The Incumbent - Junior Sterling Shepard (5-10/193) - At this point you'd have to say that Shepard is the only receiver who has solidified a spot in the receiving corps. Catching seven touchdown passes in 2013, and rushing for another, Shepard will be one of Oklahoma's key playmakers on the offensive side of the ball in 2014.

The Race - Wide Open - Jay Norvell has been outstanding at cultivating talent at the receiver position and 2014 almost presents a blank canvas for the coach who has seemingly mastered the position. Looking at the roster that Norvell is working with, there isn't a single senior listed. This means that Oklahoma's coaching staff has a young but raw group to work with this spring. History shows us that youth hasn't necessarily been a hindrance as multiple guys have played huge roles within the offense as either true or redshirt freshmen.

Names To Watch - Junior Durron Neal (5-11/199), Sophomore Derrick Woods (6-1/188), Sophomore K.J. Young (6-1/185), Sophomore Austin Bennett (6-0/163), RS Freshman Jordan Smallwood (6-2/202) - Seriously, when we said there were a ton of options we meant it. Neal, Woods and Bennett all have game experience and Smallwood is the big body receiver that you like to have as a possession guy or someone to line up on the outside. I would expect to see a whole lot of these guys, and very little of Shepard, this spring. Oklahoma already knows what Shepard can do but they've got to surround him with other threats and that is what the real spring battle is about.

Synopsis - The receiver position is going to be exciting to watch, both this spring and in the fall, but there is still a lot to be worked out. Don't undervalue the importance of chemistry between the receivers and quarterback Trevor Knight as well. That'll play just as important of a role as what these guys are able to do once the ball is in their hands. The real challenge for Jay Norvell is to narrow down a talented field to just three or four guys to be on the field at once.

Tight Ends - It'll be a glorious day when the Sooners return to using the tight end as an offensive weapon again. However, game flow and personnel have to dictate that and let's not forget that we did see Oklahoma use the tight ends as receiving targets multiple times during the final few games of the season. What does that mean for 2014 though? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Incumbent - Sophomore Taylor McNamara (6-5/246) - He has the body and, we assume, the hands to be very good at the tight end position. The knock against him has been blocking and going into his third year in the program (he's a RS Sophomore) you'd think that he's had plenty of time to improve in that area.

The Race - Senior Blake Bell (6-6/252) vs. Sophomore Isaac Ijalana (6-5/250) - While McNamara has had plenty of time in the system as a tight end, both of these guys are new comers - Bell via position transfer and Ijalana by junior college transfer. While we could see three tight ends on the field at various times through out the season the reality is that only two of them will be used in the passing game. If McNamara is one then this position race will determine the other.

Names To Watch - Blake Bell - I have a theory about Blake Bell and I'm curious to see how it plays out. There's no questioning the play-making ability this kid has but you have to wonder about his learning curve at a new position, with just one season of eligibility left. My theory is that he'll be used in a variety of positions and not just as a true tight end. Yes, I'm saying that the OU coaching staff will get creative in the way that they use him. I would expect to see him line up anywhere from tight end, to slot, to wide out, to fullback/halfback to even a snap or two at quarterback. Not for sure exactly where Blake Bell will be on the field but its going to be fun watching.

Synopsis - Regardless of how it plays out, the tight end position has to make a return to being an offensive weapon for the Sooners. Not just from an X's and O's standpoint but from a recruiting perspective as well. The Sooners need the tight end and they need it in a bad way. That puts more focused on this spring to see it begin to progress.

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